A Coming Fall in Productivity

A Coming Fall in Productivity

Due to the move to Work from Home, which began in China on January 23, in Italy on March 9, much of Europe by March 15, and the US, with California, on March 16. By the end of March, 77% of work was performed remotely in North America, the most significant amount of any continent.

Aternity, through its Global Remote Work Productivity Tracker, has analyzed data to determine if employees have become more productive Working from Home. Overall North American productivity increased 23%; however that this was due to Canada. The United States experienced a 7.2% decrease in productivity.

However, while productivity has fallen, what I am hearing from clients and colleagues is that they are working harder and longer than ever before. These stories are not just hearsay. According to data from NordVPN, U.S. homebound employees are logging three hours more per day on the job than before the city and state-wide lockdown. As a result, we are working longer and are less productive. That is because we are overworked, stressed.

While companies sent employees home, the companies had not prepared for employees working from home. The employees did not have the tools they needed, e.g., workspace, VPN access, Internet bandwidth, let alone employees having the space, lack of distractions, and stress to perform. Lines of responsibility got confused. Many leaders did not rise to the occasion, and many who were previously not considered leaders, did, further confusing the traditional environment. Many situations did not have solutions that prior experience provided, increasing confusion. Finally, many companies didn’t have an appropriate culture and were not checking in to see how employees were doing personally and what they needed to succeed.

The bosses at the Canadian federal agency Parks Canada put it succinctly in a Tweet. The Tweet had an accompanying set of principles for working remotely under Covid-19, namely:

  1. You are not “working from home,” you are “at your home, during a crisis, trying to work.”
  2. Your personal physical, mental, and emotional health is far more important than anything else right now.
  3. You should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours.
  4. You will kind to yourself and not judge how you are coping based on how you see others coping.
  5. You will be kind to others and not judge how they are coping based on how you are coping.
  6. Your team’s success will not be measured the same way it was when things were normal.

Enough companies have not articulated these principals.

At the beginning of the crisis, the adrenalin rush energized many. As an HBR article noted, a CEO said that the crisis allowed unusual freedom of movement, both strategically and as a leader. The relief from budget constraints, the suspension of market expectations, and the welcome escape from the conformity of the daily routine all contributed to his unexpected reaction to working during the pandemic. However, the adrenaline-fueled pace of the initial crisis response spluttered. Problems were more complicated and exhausting. The glory faded. Fuses were short.

As Jay Forte recently said to my Vistage Groups, ask yourself about your leadership approach, and your employees about your response that affected engagement and retention:

  • What Worked?

  • What Didn’t Work?

I expect many of us would learn a lot from this that could lead to improved performance.

As we open up and people return to work, I expect we will see a further fall in productivity. Some business leaders are pushing for a return to the office because they believe productivity will increase; it may result in the long term, but not immediately. Many have been working long hours under lots of stress, not just work stress, and the pace is unsustainable. Were are entering a “Regression Phase” where people get tired, lose their sense of purpose, start fighting about the small stuff, and forget to do basic things like eat or drink — or they eat and drink too much. Even with opening up, many of the stresses will not disappear, and the regression phase will continue. Many people are depressed and not even aware of it. Robert Klitzman, at Columbia University, estimates that about 50 percent of the U.S. population is experiencing depressive symptoms. If CEOs and business leaders don’t start paying attention to the condition of their employees, productivity will fall even further.

One client informed me that they are now encouraging employees to be furloughed for a week or two just to turn off and relax. By being furlough, they still get insurance benefits, can claim unemployment, including the federal government’s $600 weekly payment, and have not used up vacation days. Cisco has realized the issue and gave its 75,000 employees the day off on Friday to recharge over a now four day weekend.

Also, when everyone is back, look at:

  • Disrupting the team, change players, reassign roles. I have often reorganized my office and home because a reorganization makes it feel new. Disrupting the team does the same thing and provides new energy.

  • Calibrate your team’s emotions. Understand where they are concerning “safety,” “stress,” and “family pressure.”

  • Aim for the future. Think about where you are going to provide a new purpose more than just surviving.

Therefore, it up to CEOs and business leaders to look at their workforce and determine what is working, what isn’t, and how to recharge them and reduce their stress. Empathy is the greatest tool you have in your toolbox, and use effectively will lead to much much more significant results. As I have said before, how you behave during this period will define your organization for the next decade. That will affect who you can recruit and retain. So remember the moral of the tortoise and hare, “you can be more successful by doing things slowly and steadily than by acting quickly and carelessly.”

Copyright (c) 2020. Marc A. Borrelli

Recent Posts

Do You Truly Know Your Core Customer?

Do You Truly Know Your Core Customer?

Knowing the profit of your core customers is key to building a growth model. Many companies have identified core customers that are generating a sub-optimal profit and so they cannot realize the profits they seek. Identifying the correct core customer allows you to generate profits and often operate in “Blue Ocean.”

The Greatest Own Goal or the Greatest Collapse

The Greatest Own Goal or the Greatest Collapse

The European Super League collapsed within days of launch due to hubris and the founder forgetting the key parts of their business model, value creation, sales, and value delivery. The collapse might bring a high price.

Does Your Financial Model Drive Growth?

Does Your Financial Model Drive Growth?

Working with many companies looking to grow, I am always surprised how many have not built a financial model that drives growth. I have mentioned before a financial model that drives growth? Here I am basing on Jim Collin's Profit/X, which he laid out in Good to...

COVID = Caught Inside

COVID = Caught Inside

As we emerge from COVID, the current employment environment makes me think of a surfing concept: “Being Caught Inside When a Big Set Comes Through.” Basically, the phrase refers to when you paddle like crazy to escape the crash of one wave, only to find that the next wave in the set is even bigger—and you’re exhausted. 2020 was the first wave, leaving us tired and low. But looking forward, there are major challenges looming on the horizon as business picks up in 2021. You are already asking a lot of your employees, who are working flat out and dealing with stress until you are able to hire more. But everyone is looking for employees right now, and hiring and retention for your organization is growing more difficult.

Why is there not MORE common sense

Why is there not MORE common sense

“Why don’t they use common sense?!” You may have said this phrase yourself, or heard it with your managers, when discussing an employee’s actions. However, the frustrated appeal to “common sense” doesn’t actually make any meaningful change in your organization. We all make decisions based on the information we have and the guides we have to use. So if the wrong decisions are being made in your organization, it’s time to examine the tools you give decision-makers.

Do You Understand Your Costs to Ensure Profitability?

Do You Understand Your Costs to Ensure Profitability?

You can only determine profitability when you know your costs. I’ve discussed before that you should price according to value, not hours. However, you still need to know your costs to understand the minimum pricing and how it is performing. Do you consider each jobs’ profitability when you price new jobs? Do you know what you should be charging to ensure you hit your profit targets? These discussions about a company’s profitability, and what measure drives profit, are critical for your organization.

Sunk Costs Are Just That, Sunk!

Sunk Costs Are Just That, Sunk!

If you were starting your business today, what would you do differently? This thought-provoking question is a valuable exercise, especially when it brings up the idea of “sunk costs” and how they limit us. A sunk cost is a payment or investment that has already been made. Since it is unrecoverable no matter what, a sunk cost shouldn’t be factored into any future decisions. However, we’re all familiar with the sunk cost fallacy: behavior driven by a past expenditure that isn’t recoupable, regardless of future actions.

Do You REALLY Know Your Business Model?

Do You REALLY Know Your Business Model?

Bringing clarity to your organization is a common theme on The Disruption! blog. Defining your business model is a worthwhile exercise for any leadership team. But how do you even begin to bring clarity into your operations? If you’re looking for a place to start, Josh Kaufman’s “Five Parts of Every Business” offers an excellent framework. Kaufman defines five parts of every business model that all flow into the next, breaking it down into Value Creation, Marketing, Sales, Value Delivery, and Finance.

Want the Best Results, Get out of your Comfort Zone

Want the Best Results, Get out of your Comfort Zone

Introduction

How do we get the best results for an issue, product development, marketing plan, etc. within our organizations? Typically, we give it to our “A” Team for the area where the problem is, and they are known for getting the best results. However, do we know that we are getting the best results and not a Local Optimum?

Algorithm designers know of Local Optimum in developing algorithms, especially concerning NP-Hard Problems. A Local Optimum is “a solution that is optimal (either maximal or minimal) within a neighboring set of candidate solutions.” A Global Optimum is the optimal solution among all possible solutions, not just those in a particular neighborhood of values.

An example of an NP-Hard problem is the Travelling Salesman Problem – A traveling salesman (TS) has to visit some number of towns using the shortest route. To illustrate using a simple example, the traveling salesman has to visit ten cities shown below.

Their X, Y coordinates show their positions.

One way of solving the problem is to:

  1. Find the shortest route between Start and any town (A).
  2. Find the shortest route between that town (A) and the next closest town (B)
  3. Repeat for each town.
  4. Calculate distance from the last city back to Start

Below is the result of this solution. While it may not be obvious, the answer is not the optimal one, but rather a Local Optimum.

There are ways to improve on the solution using several different methods, i.e., branch-and-bounding algorithms. Implementing a branch-and-bound algorithm into the above, we get the following answer, which is a Global Optimum.

So How to Find Global Optimum Solutions

While the above works for algorithms, what about business decisions? Do employees make first-best choices? And do their choices converge to the optimum if the underlying problem repeats itself over time? Research shows results to No and No. So, what do we do? The best way is to get out of your Comfort Zone or Change Your Environment. What is meant by “Change Your Environment” and “Get Out of Your Comfort Zone?”

Change Your Environment & Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

In Changing Your Environment, you have to either remove the method that you have always used for the solution or put limitations on how you can approach the solution so you can find new and creative solutions.

Below are five examples of where either Changing Your Environment or Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone led to optimal solutions that previously were unfound.

1.     Tube Strike

On February 5th and 6th, 2014, the London Underground (“Tube”) was subject to a strike causing significant disruptions to the network, and the closure of some, but not all stations. As a result, some commuters had to experiment and explore new routes during this period, while others could go to work as usual. On February 7th, services returned to normal. A research project looked to see if those commuters that the strike impacted switched back to their original commuting paths? Or did some of them stick to alternative ways that they may have found during the disruption? By revealed preference, the latter possibility would suggest that they prefer the newly discovered alternative to their old habit, which would indicate that these commuters failed to find their best option before the strike.

The results showed that the strike on the Tube forced many commuters to experiment with new routes and brought lasting changes in their behavior. Changes in behavior were stronger for commuters living in areas where the underground map is more distorted, which points to the importance of informational imperfections. Information resulting from the strike improved network-efficiency as many commuters stuck with their new routes. Search costs alone are unlikely to explain suboptimal behavior.

Thus, if we force people to change their methodology by preventing them from using what they have used in the past, we may find they develop new methods that are better at generating an optimal solution.

2.     Embrace the Shake

While in art school, Phil Hansen developed an unruly tremor in his hand that kept him from creating the pointillist drawings he loved. Devastated at the loss of his art form, Hansen floating without a sense of purpose. Then a neurologist made a simple suggestion: embrace this limitation and transcend it. As a result, Hansen developed many new ways of expressing his creativity and creating art. Once he embraced the restriction, he found that there were more opportunities available. The video below is from Hansen’s Ted talk on “Embracing the Shake.

3.     Oblique Strategies

Brian Eno has helped introduce unique conceptual approaches and recording techniques to contemporary music and is considered one of popular music’s most influential and innovative figures. He has collaborated with artists such as David Bowie, U2, Coldplay, to name just a few, as well as producing albums for many artists including Talking Heads and Devo.

In 1975, Brian and Peter Schmidt published Oblique Strategies, a deck of 2.8” in × 3.5” printed cards in a black box. Each card offers a challenging constraint intended to help artists (particularly musicians) break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking. Each card contains a gnomic suggestion, aphorism, or remark, to break a deadlock or dilemma situation. A few are specific to music composition; others are more general. For example:

  • Use an old idea

  • State the problem in words as clearly as possible.

  • Only one element of each kind.

  • What would your closest friend do?

  • What to increase? What to reduce?

  • Are there sections? Consider transitions.

  • Try faking it!

  • Honor thy error as a hidden intention.

  • Ask your body.

  • Work at a different speed.

  • Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify

  • Not building a wall; making a brick

  • Repetition is a form of change

There are several editions of the cards, and while some versions are expensive and rare, some of the less expensive ones are available on Amazon.

Many musicians working with Eno have used Oblique Strategies in creating their records, namely, R.E.M. and Coldplay. However, Oblique Strategies were most famously used by Eno during the recording of David Bowie’s Low, “Heroes,” Lodger, and Outside. According to Carlos Alomar, who worked with Eno and Bowie on all these albums, is a fan of using the cards, and later said “at the Center for Performing Arts at the Stevens Institute of Technology, where I teach, on the wall are Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards. And when my students get a mental block, I immediately direct them to that wall.”

While Oblique Strategies are primarily for artists, I am sure many of the cards would be great to help the creative juices within your teams who are searching for innovative solutions.

4.     Team Composition

The impact of diversity on group functioning is complex. A research paper looked at the effects of a newcomer joining the group, where the group was seeking to identify a murderer given a set of information about the case. In each case, the individuals (members of sororities and fraternities at Northwestern) had twenty minutes to examine evidence and make an individual decision regarding the most likely suspect. Then they were put into teams of three of a shared social identity and given twenty minutes to come to a group decision regarding the most likely suspect; after five minutes, a fourth person, the newcomer, joined the discussion.

In looking at the impact, the researchers conducted research looking at six situations:

Social Similarity of the newcomer to the old-timers: “in-group” vs. “out-group.”

X

Opinion Agreement: the Newcomer, has No opinion ally, One opinion ally, or Two opinion allies.

On reaching a decision, each of the group members individually completed a post-discussion questionnaire, assessing their opinions of other group members, about the group discussion process, levels of social identification with their sorority/fraternity, and their final belief regarding who committed the murder. Diverse groups, those with “out-group” newcomers, had less confidence in their performance and perceived their interactions as less effective; however, they performed better than Homogeneous groups with “in-group” newcomers. The performance gains were not due to newcomers bringing new ideas to the group discussion. Instead, the results demonstrate that the mere presence of socially distinct newcomers and the social concerns their presence stimulates among old-timers motivates behavior that can convert affective pains into cognitive gains.

So, want better results, change the team. Add people who are not part of the usual group, maybe someone from another office, to increase diversity. The effort may generate results that surprise you.

5.     Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert

Those of you who, like myself, enjoy jazz, have undoubtedly heard Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert, his legendary performance, which produced the highest-selling jazz piano album and solo jazz album of all time – over 3.5 million sold. So how did this excellent performance come about?

Vera Brandes, a 17-year-old young German student, part-time promoter, and avid jazz fan, was responsible for organizing the concert. For Keith Jarrett, who had played with Miles Davis and Art Blakey, this was to be the biggest solo concert of Keith Jarrett’s career, as Brandes had sold out the Cologne Opera house.

Jarrett was a renowned perfectionist, was meticulous about his pianos, and possessed perfect pitch. At Jarrett’s request, Vera had arranged for a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial concert grand piano for the show. However, the opera house staff provided the wrong piano – a much smaller Bösendorfer baby grand, which was in miserable condition and badly out of tune.

Learning that there was no time to get a replacement piano, Jarrett threatened to cancel the show. Jarrett was in bad shape as he had been suffering for several days from excruciating back pain, which had resulted in a run of sleepless nights. Having driven 350 miles, the five-hour drive to Cologne from a concert he’d given in Zurich further exacerbated his condition. Given that situation, it was no wonder that the pianist was ready to call it a day.

Vera Brandes, with a sold-out venue, refused to give in and over a brief dinner managed to coax Jarrett to perform. Meanwhile, the opera technicians spent several hours trying to make the piano playable and sound halfway decent – at least to an untrained ear. While the technicians managed to tune it, they couldn’t do much to improve its tone and timbre, which was defined by jangly high notes and a less than resonant bass register. Besides, the piano had several malfunctioning sustain pedals.

Even so, the pianist – wearing a back brace to give him extra spinal support – eventually went out on stage at 11.30 pm, as the concert was following an opera performance. To deal with the recalcitrant piano, Jarrett often used ostinatos and rolling left-hand rhythmic figures to give the effect of stronger bass notes, and he concentrated his playing in the middle portion of the keyboard. ECM Records producer Manfred Eicher later said: “Probably [Jarrett] played it the way he did because it was not a good piano. Because he could not fall in love with the sound of it, he found another way to get the most out of it.” All of this changed his environment and took him out of his comfort zone. The result: battling through pain and exhaustion, Keith Jarrett gave one of his most memorable concerts ever.

As mentioned above, they recorded the concert. It produced the highest-selling jazz piano album of all time. Before the show, when Jarrett was of the plan to record the show, he objected as he said it would be terrible given his condition and the piano. However, his manager persuaded him to go ahead with the recording so that he would have a benchmark of “terrible.” Thank goodness for us who enjoy the music.

So next time your team has a challenge, change the environment, and get them out of their comfort zone by providing something that they cannot rely on as heavily as they have in the past.

 

Conclusion

The above examples have shown how a change in the environment or taking people out of their comfort zone produces much more significant results, moving us from a local optimum to a global optimum. Is it time to challenge your teams to create “global optimum” solutions by changing their environment or taking them out of their comfort zone?

Finally, I would recommend you listen to Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert, David Bowie’s “Heroes,” and Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. Also, you should listen to the BBC’s oral history, “For One Night Only: the Koln Concert.” produced by the BBC.

Copyright (c) Marc Borrelli, 2020

Recent Posts

Do You Truly Know Your Core Customer?

Do You Truly Know Your Core Customer?

Knowing the profit of your core customers is key to building a growth model. Many companies have identified core customers that are generating a sub-optimal profit and so they cannot realize the profits they seek. Identifying the correct core customer allows you to generate profits and often operate in “Blue Ocean.”

The Greatest Own Goal or the Greatest Collapse

The Greatest Own Goal or the Greatest Collapse

The European Super League collapsed within days of launch due to hubris and the founder forgetting the key parts of their business model, value creation, sales, and value delivery. The collapse might bring a high price.

Does Your Financial Model Drive Growth?

Does Your Financial Model Drive Growth?

Working with many companies looking to grow, I am always surprised how many have not built a financial model that drives growth. I have mentioned before a financial model that drives growth? Here I am basing on Jim Collin's Profit/X, which he laid out in Good to...

COVID = Caught Inside

COVID = Caught Inside

As we emerge from COVID, the current employment environment makes me think of a surfing concept: “Being Caught Inside When a Big Set Comes Through.” Basically, the phrase refers to when you paddle like crazy to escape the crash of one wave, only to find that the next wave in the set is even bigger—and you’re exhausted. 2020 was the first wave, leaving us tired and low. But looking forward, there are major challenges looming on the horizon as business picks up in 2021. You are already asking a lot of your employees, who are working flat out and dealing with stress until you are able to hire more. But everyone is looking for employees right now, and hiring and retention for your organization is growing more difficult.

Why is there not MORE common sense

Why is there not MORE common sense

“Why don’t they use common sense?!” You may have said this phrase yourself, or heard it with your managers, when discussing an employee’s actions. However, the frustrated appeal to “common sense” doesn’t actually make any meaningful change in your organization. We all make decisions based on the information we have and the guides we have to use. So if the wrong decisions are being made in your organization, it’s time to examine the tools you give decision-makers.

Do You Understand Your Costs to Ensure Profitability?

Do You Understand Your Costs to Ensure Profitability?

You can only determine profitability when you know your costs. I’ve discussed before that you should price according to value, not hours. However, you still need to know your costs to understand the minimum pricing and how it is performing. Do you consider each jobs’ profitability when you price new jobs? Do you know what you should be charging to ensure you hit your profit targets? These discussions about a company’s profitability, and what measure drives profit, are critical for your organization.

Sunk Costs Are Just That, Sunk!

Sunk Costs Are Just That, Sunk!

If you were starting your business today, what would you do differently? This thought-provoking question is a valuable exercise, especially when it brings up the idea of “sunk costs” and how they limit us. A sunk cost is a payment or investment that has already been made. Since it is unrecoverable no matter what, a sunk cost shouldn’t be factored into any future decisions. However, we’re all familiar with the sunk cost fallacy: behavior driven by a past expenditure that isn’t recoupable, regardless of future actions.

Do You REALLY Know Your Business Model?

Do You REALLY Know Your Business Model?

Bringing clarity to your organization is a common theme on The Disruption! blog. Defining your business model is a worthwhile exercise for any leadership team. But how do you even begin to bring clarity into your operations? If you’re looking for a place to start, Josh Kaufman’s “Five Parts of Every Business” offers an excellent framework. Kaufman defines five parts of every business model that all flow into the next, breaking it down into Value Creation, Marketing, Sales, Value Delivery, and Finance.