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Digging deep into company knowledge to improve productivity

on August 9, 2010

(Here’s an article I wrote last week at the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe, California. For more coverage, check out the Techonomy blog.)

So often when I attend conferences there’s this driving desire to define the subject of the talk before we begin discussing. Objectively, it’s a good idea, but it rarely allows you to launch your session with a bang. Regardless, here goes:

Productivity = Output / Input

In the long run productivity drives the wealth of nations and the competitiveness of companies. Being productive still matters.

Productivity’s hurdle

“If HP knew what HP already knows,” said HP’s Lew Platt of his company’s inability to know at a high level what all the employees know at a ground level. One possible solution for this type of company myopia is to “narrate your work,” suggests Dave Winer. It sounds egotistical and narcissistic, but providing that information to higher ups allows deeper insight into the organization.

Best Buy is an organization that is obsessive about developing a balanced scorecard with regard to productivity. It includes many factors beyond generating revenue. The scorecard allows the business and employees to focus on something and see productivity success, explained Gretchen Zucker, Executive Director of Ashoka. Best Buy is a client of Ashoka and Zucker said that just having the score inspires Best Buy staffers to become fanatical about that score. They’re obsessed with getting straight A’s.

In addition, Best Buy listens to its employees at an extreme level. For example, the sale of big box TVs is very difficult for them to predict. Instead of using analyst numbers, Best Buy talks to their blue shirts on the floor as to which TVs they think will sell best. As a result, Best Buy has developed a more savvy prediction model of their large screen TVs.

The end of employment for all?

Technology is part of the culprit with pattern recognition and heightened communications. “A computer took my job.” Hear that one before? A significant number of knowledge workers will soon no longer be valuable.

Even though this has always been the case, I argue that we’re seeing a more rapid creation of new jobs than we’ve ever had before. Think of all the jobs that exist today that weren’t around five years ago. Or upon the creation of the Internet industry, millions of knowledge worker jobs that simply didn’t exist before.

Where do you choose to improve productivity?

Looking back at the equation we used to define productivity…

Productivity = Output / Input

Most companies try to focus on the output to increase productivity. But selling your output is something you can’t necessarily know or define. There are so many factors that are out of your control. Conversely, your input can be completely in your control and you can define the entire scope of what it takes, and what you need to reduce in input to create the same or more output.

Creative Commons photo attribution to hawkexpress.

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