What Does It Mean to Be Productive?

Learning professionals and the Human Resources team should be having conversations about how productivity is defined and measured to determine both pay and the organizational hierarchy.

Does productivity entail having deliverables every week that are completed with tangible end products/services? Or can productivity mean developing ideas for new business ventures regularly, pursuing those ventures, and seeing some of them coming to fruition? If it can be both, should the two types of productivity be considered equal?

It’s the difference between the person who has concrete assignments that must be completed on a weekly or monthly basis with hard deadlines versus the person who deals primarily in ideas, planning, and meetings. As we all know, the person with fewer, rather than more, tangible deliverables is often the one who has a higher-level position and higher salary.

Last week, I received research out of the UK, sponsored by RingCentral, showing what workers in Britain thought of their own productivity. Key highlights include:

  • 1 in 10 (10 percent) of workers currently feel unproductive, and one-fifth (20 percent) say they feel burned out at work.
  • More than half (54 percent) of business decision-makers are “quiet quitting” and disengaging from their work.
  • When working from home, more than half (51 percent) of UK employees feel more productive. This increases to 59 percent of information workers when working from home, compared to 34 percent when working in an office.

Measuring Productivity Fairly

The question becomes: What measures of productivity are the most meaningful and fairest for determining how much each employee should be paid? The higher-level employee with fewer tangible deliverables often benefits from the productivity of the lower-level employee whose job entails almost nothing but tangible deliverables. Therefore, the productivity of the lower-level employee is used as evidence that the higher-level employee should be paid more. In other words, if the department the higher-level employee manages had a profitable year due to the many tangible deliverables of the lower-level employee, the department head gets credit for that.

Learning professionals and the Human Resources team should be having conversations about the productivity question, and how productivity is gauged and used to determine both pay and the organizational hierarchy. Should a person who is solely an “ideas” and meetings person be in the position they are in? If you have downsized staff in recent years, having a person whose sole contribution is as a “visionary” may no longer make sense. It may make more sense in a downsized organization for the heads of departments to be a hybrid of ideas people/visionaries and daily/weekly/monthly tangible deliverables people.

Hybrid Department Heads

Having an employee, who has enough support to devote a portion of their time to ideas, planning, and meetings, but who also is doing at least some hands-on work, does two things:

  1. It offsets the workload for those whom that person manages.
  2. It creates department heads who are able to be better leaders.

These kinds of leaders know how to do the same work those they manage are doing. They know exactly what their people are experiencing in their day-to-day use of the company’s software and other systems, not to mention the organizational bureaucracy challenges they face, to complete the tangible deliverables. A leader like this can be a more effective “visionary,” as they will know the challenges their employees must overcome.

A leader who is personally disconnected from what it takes to complete the tangible deliverables often will run into practical stumbling blocks to implementing their vision. You can argue that they could consult with their employees before putting their implementation plans into action. However, nothing replaces personal, current familiarity with the work one’s employees are doing.

If you’re going to pay an employee more money and provide a higher title with greater prestige, it often makes sense to expect tangible deliverables from them—more than just evidence of higher departmental profitability, which may have much more to do with their employees’ work than their own contribution.

How do you measure productivity, and the value of each employee, in your organization?