Driving workforce productivity: What does it take?

by Lucy Hook23 Aug 2016

Trying to increase productivity in the workforce without influence from the top-down is like "the equivalent of buying a car but not having a licence to drive it,"Darren Gibson, Ernst & Young Asia-Pacific People Advisory Services leader, told HRD.

Improving productivity in the workforce requires 'active change management', that must be driven at every level: "It can't just be an email that goes out," Gibson said.

"When it comes down to it, you're asking people to do more for less...it has to be really strong and active change management, across all levels of an organisation."

HR leaders should approach workforce productivity with three elements in mind, he said - faster, better, and cheaper - but accept that there must be some kind of trade-off.

"The challenge is, you can only use two of those. So if it's going to be faster and better, the chances are it won't be cheaper. Or if you're going to do it better and cheaper, the chances are it won't be fast." 

And strategy-wise, Gibson said he is increasingly seeing HR leaders looking at productivity from an analytical perspective, in Asia and the US and Europe too.

"Whether that is labour costing - so having a true understanding of what the labour cost is relative to the output of an organisation - or whether it's around time and attendance - so do you have the right people, in the right place, with the right skills, at the right time, for the right cost."

Leaders must understand the analytics around all those elements to truly understand what the demand is - and then finally, the costs.

Only with this understanding can HR leaders can work out what the skills are that the business already has, and which skills need to be bought in, rented, or developed.

In Singapore, the challenge in driving productivity is in understanding how to incorporate automation and digital tools into the process, Dilys Boey, Asean People Services Leader, Ernst & Young, said

"We are a high-cost country," she said.

"It's about how we embrace the automation tools and how we embrace technology and digital, but at the same time upskill ourselves to be more insightful as digital gets more pervasive," she explained.

Ultimately, engaging with the topic of workforce productivity can act as a great lever for HR to increase its relevance, according to Gibson, and help get the 'seat at the table' that all HRDs are looking for.

"Where I see really smart HR practitioners operating is outside of the room. They are working very closely with finance and the operational side of the business, and alongside strategy, before they even raise it at that executive table," he said.

One of the obstacles to this, is the level of financial and analytical skill within HR, which Gibson said is not always high-level enough.

So how can HR get external support? 

"Its about presenting with fact and a data-based argument," he said.

"Make it very factual, and suddenly you have not only a seat at the table, but you become a driver at that table, because you are saying - our workforce is our most expensive cost, and this is how we can get more out of it." 

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