How can CEOs use Technology to encourage Productivity?
By Sarah Towers, Entec Si.
ONS data published in July revealed that labour productivity in the UK was 0.6 per cent lower in the first quarter of 2023 in comparison to the same period in 2022. Whilst productivity has been notably stunted since the global financial crisis in 2008, factors such as poor communication and an overload of administrative work continue to weaken outputs.
Technological breakthroughs and generative artificial intelligence (AI) – a form of AI that generates media such as images or text – are offering a solution to this problem. With advancements in automation and the evolution of cloud computing already upgrading workflows, the introduction of new technology promises to revitalise workers by reducing manual tasks and unlocking opportunities for creativity and collaboration. However, such implementation is not a fast-track solution. For the best results, CEOs and senior leaders need to prioritise digital adoption, proactivity and cultural change to actualise higher productivity within the organisation and deliver change for good.
Barriers to Productivity
According to the G7 productive business index, the UK is lagging behind nearly all of the world’s largest developed economies because of failures to invest in and enhance technological adoption, innovation, management and leadership. Embracing technology does not equate to better productivity alone, and by far one of the greatest barriers to a good output is a workforce that does not understand how to use the systems at their fingertips. Whilst there is no question that technology is an enabler of productivity, historically most evident in the time saved using emails rather than paper letters to communicate, digital adoption is the real key to a more productive workforce.
Inefficient workflows are another inhibitor of a positive yield. Often, this stems from workers being required to communicate with multiple partners, leaders and colleagues in order to complete tasks. This can sap productivity as much as siloed working and, as such, leaders should endeavour to challenge workflows that are slowing positive results. A recent survey of 31,000 people across 31 countries conducted by Microsoft found that nearly two thirds of employees reported not having enough energy or time to carry out their job. It follows that CEOs need to identify the employees with the most efficient workflows and encourage this style of working across the organisation. Change is necessary to sustain productivity in the long-term, and creating one evolved workflow, with a few tweaks to accommodate individual needs, will help to remove such barriers.
The Technological Opportunity
In a tech-centric world, the impulse to invest in new technology can be difficult to ignore. However, it is important for CEOs to make investment decisions based on what their organisation, and workforce, require to achieve the best results, via the most efficient means. One trend that is cropping up more frequently is the introduction of robotic systems to automate simple, but regular tasks. Doing so transfers the responsibility of time-consuming practices like drafting emails or assembling data, from person to machine, freeing up the workforce to add value elsewhere. Automated chat boxes are a good example of this, allowing users to exploit their intelligence without having to upload data first.
Progress in low code platforms and collaborative tools means teams can now benefit from easier methods of communication and data sharing, in one location. Application software is therefore a sound investment for any organisation because it dramatically cuts down the time workers would ordinarily spend using spreadsheets or speaking to colleagues individually, for instance.
Huge amounts of innovation on the Internet of Things – a network of physical assets that collect, share and process data over the internet – has equally opened up opportunities for improved productivity. Real time data collected by smart sensors can provide insights into anything from the efficiency of manufacturing machinery to supply chain deliveries. Mist computing – a network of microchips or microprocessors that feed small amounts of data to a central system – and fog computing – digital infrastructure such as smart buildings that can collect and process data without a central system – are at the heart of this innovation. Such advancements spare workers the toil of managing data themselves, speeding up operations and redirecting efforts to optimise other areas of the business.
Timing Your Investment
To reap the business benefits of new technology, it is wise for CEOs to consider investing sooner rather than later. For organisations with a lower risk threshold, this might mean waiting for competitors to trial out new tools to avoid paying research and development (R&D) costs. When embarking on a digital change, it is best practice to adopt an iterative approach to investment. Before committing fully to delivering change, senior leaders should invest a fraction of the budget to test the new technology and build a small business case for it.
Following this, businesses should invest a further five to 10 per cent of the budget in piloting and gathering insight through surveys. Making the decision to hold off on a digital transformation is still a valid choice if initial testing indicates that the technology won’t boost productivity or engender change for good. Above all else, senior leaders should focus on the benefits the technology will bring for their people and business. Cutting through the online frenzy surrounding AI is a key part of this; to be successful, digital changes should cater to the needs of an organisation’s people and stakeholders, placing them at the centre of the transformation.
The Power of Adoption
To embed digital change effectively, every end user in the organisation needs to understand how to use the technology introduced and the benefits it will bring. No two situations are identical, and CEOs should be aware of any factors that are unique to their people or organisation which could impact adoption and the change journey.
Training is a must but should be delivered via incremental, bite-sized modules where possible. This will not only encourage workers to engage with learning by reinforcing retention rates but provide consistent productivity if all users are able to successfully learn how to use the new technology at the same speed, and in the same way. Cramming training into a few, larger sessions only risks a smaller percentage of the workforce achieving adoption.
In the context of digital transformations, changing the organisation is often the smarter choice rather than moulding the technology to suit the workforce. CEOs should aim to challenge how new technologies are being utilised and encourage workers to apply their training for best practice. Analysing engagement with the technology will help this effort but should not be used negatively against employees. Instead, CEOs should be sensitive and communicate directly with the workforce to establish any barriers to adoption, and how best to overcome them.
Culture is Crucial
The introduction and adoption of new technology can help to boost productivity. However, for this to be achievable, CEOs need to ensure the correct due diligence is taken to support the new measures and embed strategic changes successfully. Cultivating an honest and open culture that listens to and looks after the organisation’s people is vital. Pressure from senior leadership to be productive has been shown to have a detrimental effect upon workers; one survey conducted by Slack found that 63 per cent of workers make an effort to keep their online status as active and more than half feel pressure to respond to messages quickly, even when they are sent outside of hours. For the most fruitful outcome, CEOs need to remain open-minded and ensure all opinions are listened to throughout the change.
This includes challenging organisational hierarchies and putting the client, then workforce, first. Outlining the hard purpose of the organisation is an essential action as it will provide a stable foundation for employees to work from. In turn, this will help to encourage productivity by making the work more fulfilling and helping employees to understand the improvements new technologies will provide for their workflows, and the customer base as a result.
CEOs and Productivity
Investments in new technology present an opportunity for better productivity in the C-suite too. With new applications and software promoting connectivity, senior leaders can now spread decision-making across virtual chats and in-person meetings. This option can remove obstacles such as coordination and accommodates different working styles to ensure all leaders can express their opinions.
Technological developments in the collation and management of data have equally bolstered CEOs with better insight into the organisation’s productivity. Moving away from a reflective view of performance, CEOs can now discern how the organisation is performing and how it will perform in future. Having this digital twin of the organisation empowers CEOs to prevent negative outcomes, make improvements and drive organisational change. Many businesses are now adopting a data, digital and technology framework and are joining flows of data in order to be proactive, rather than reactive, to reinforce productivity.
There is no question about the opportunities technology provides to better organisational performance, but it is fundamental that CEOs exercise sensitivity when implementing digital change.
People should always be placed at the core of any change journey and responding to their needs throughout will help to make digital adoption and productivity growth a reality.
Sarah Towers is the Operations Director at business change consultancy, Entec Si.