Denis Pombriant

White Collar Productivity

For a long time we’ve associated the idea of productivity with more. That’s a good association and one that most dictionaries would agree with. But in the modern, digital world, the question is more what?
Back in the day, productivity was measured in units of output—widgets made, time saved and maybe resources not consumed.  But fast forward to today and you realize that early computerization went into automating the old idea of productivity. Computer controls have given us nearly flawless production in factories—many of which have moved to low wage countries to push the efficiency and productivity paradigm even further.
Call that blue-collar productivity.
The white-collar variety is another matter. When blue-collar productivity was the rage, there weren’t enough white collars to worry about. Improving white-collar productivity didn’t translate into meaningful differences at the bottom of the balance sheet. But today is very different.
While there are more white-collar jobs than ever, our addiction to casual dress leaves it a distinction without a difference. Nonetheless, the need for white-collar productivity has never been greater. Despite having at our disposal the most powerful computers and networks in history, too often when it comes to productivity we default to spreadsheets—the electronic equivalent of a pad of paper and a nifty mechanical pencil. And we measure what we’ve always measured.
With such tools we still measure units produced and the time it takes to produce them. So we know how many sales calls we made but our understanding of the quality of those calls is fuzzy. And with fuzzy knowledge we get forecasts that resemble hairballs. The problem is not limited to sales. In customer service our measures say a lot about what’s important and too often solving the problem is mixed up with time in queue or the nebulous experience. How do we improve?
It’s an old idea but it’s true that the tools you use define the solution you can hope to build. That’s a fancy way of relating the story of the man with a hammer who sees the world’s problems as a nail. We don’t need to get out of that paradigm—the world does indeed have nails to be driven—but we need to expand it.
In selling, our addiction to spreadsheets adds complexity rather than reducing it. If we’re going to improve our sales forecasts, we’ll need to get beyond counting the quantity of effort to additionally focus on the quality of efforts. It’s tough to make that shift but it is within our grasp and it starts with not only collecting data about our selling but also analyzing it in ways that spreadsheets can only do with massive effort.
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