Surveys Produce Jaw-Dropping Gains in Knowledge and Service Worker Productivity!

In knowledge work and in most service work, productivity improvement requires the elimination of whatever activities do not contribute to performance. Non-productive activities sidetrack and divert from performance.

Eliminating such work may be the single biggest step towards greater productivity in both knowledge and service work. Generally speaking, most problems can be converted into opportunities. That's the guiding principle underlying the proper use of employee surveys.

Examples abound. Peter F. Drucker told how one survey achieved jaw-dropping gains in knowledge worker productivity in an article in the California Management Review.

He provided an excellent example of how nurses in a major hospital were asked these questions in an employee survey:

"What is your task? What should it be? What should you be expected to contribute? What hampers you in doing your task and should these obstacles be eliminated?

"The nurses were sharply divided as to what their task was, with one group saying ‘patient care’ and another saying ‘satisfying physicians.’ However, they were in complete agreement on the things that made them unproductive.

"They called them ‘chores’: paperwork, arranging flowers, answering the phone call of patients relatives, answering the patient bells, and so on. All—nearly all—of these could be turned over to a non-nurse floor clerk, paid a fraction of a nurse’s pay.

"When the nurses were freed of chores, their productivity nearly doubled, as measured by the time at the patients’ bedsides. Further, patient satisfaction more than doubled and turnover of nurses (which had been catastrophically high) almost disappeared all within four months…"

The point? Knowledge workers—engineers, project managers, sales representatives, call center managers, quality specialists and the like—must be continually surveyed if obstacles to their performance are to be identified and eliminated.

The Power of Asking the Right Questions

Knowledge workers and service workers should always be asked: Is this work necessary to your main task? Does it contribute to your performance? Does it help you do your job?

If the answer is "no," said Drucker, the procedure or operation must be a "chore" rather than "work." It should either be dropped altogether or engineered into a job of its own.

Improving the productivity of knowledge workers and service workers demands well-constructed, first-rate surveys and focus groups. It demands an understanding of the right questions to ask, a methodology for obtaining truthful (i.e., unbiased) answers and a command of simple statistical tools that enables collected data to be correctly analyzed and interpreted.

More Examples

Sales people in department stores always complain that they are spending too much time wrapping packages (especially at Christmas time) rather than selling. Their complaints are usually met with a deaf ear.

However, the most profitable department stores finally figured out that it’s best to assign a dedicated group to wrapping packages. This gives the sales people more time for selling. Again, this is just another example of turning employee complaints into productivity gains.

Still another example of is the all-too-common complaint by many marketing professionals that they are spending more time crunching numbers rather than applying the art and science of marketing to getting and keeping customers. The usual remedy: Ignore their complaints.

Now guess what happens? They quit. All that training and company/industry-specific learning is lost. The cost is enormous. And yet hidden from view.

The solution? Hire a dedicated group of business/marketing analysts to crunch the numbers and discover misallocation of marketing dollars and find new marketing opportunities.

HR as a Strategic Value-Adding Partner

Countless seminars, conferences and books have been devoted to the subject of making HR a strategic business with other functions in an organization. The proper use of employee surveys is a perfect example of how this can really happen.

Employee surveys reveal factors that inhibit productivity. Dangers and weaknesses, as expressed by employees, indicate where to look for business potential. To convert employee dissatisfaction into opportunities brings extraordinary returns.

In many instances, all that’s needed to accomplish a major transformation is the attitude of executives to pay heed to employee complaints. Again, this is just another example of the power of discovering exactly what’s irking employees and converting their complaints into productivity boosting activities.

Complaints are problems. Turning problems into opportunities is one of the essential jobs of every manager. And an incredible enabler of this task turns out to be employee surveys.

In many instances, an organizational or work process change is required to free-up employees to do what they are paid for doing—nursing, selling, marketing. Both HR and the relevant business group should work together on acting upon the results of the employee survey.