Productivity Should Not Be The Highest Priority

People, nature, and democracy should come first, in business and society

Quote of the Moment

Whereas capitalist societies subordinate the imperatives of social and ecological reproduction to those of commodity production, itself geared to accumulation, socialists need to turn things right-side up: to install the nurturing of people, the safeguarding of nature, and democratic self-rule as society’s highest priorities, which trump efficiency and growth. In effect, it must put squarely in the foreground those matters that capital relegates to its disavowed background.

| Nancy Fraser, What Should Socialism Mean in the Twenty-First Century?


In Has COVID-19 Permanently Changed Business Strategy? What Experts Say , the MIT SMR Strategy Forum asked an expert panel a question:

The answers were relatively tame, but a few high notes emerged.

Olenka Kacperczyk of London Business School strongly agreed:

In times of uncertainty, the ability to adapt is an important source of a firm’s competitive advantage. Therefore, I would expect the pandemic to increase the critical importance of strategic and operational agility. In terms of the former, I anticipate that business strategy will be more frequently used to detect and to navigate unanticipated shifts in the market, such as shocks to the demand of products and services or disruption of established business models. In terms of the latter, operations will have to be reinvented to increase resilience to environmental jolts.

Those that disagreed made what I consider empty arguments.

Those who disagree that COVID-19 has permanently changed business strategy (making up 31% of responses) point to the fact that despite disruptions and some permanent changes for workers and businesses, the fundamentals of strategy remain consistent for organizations. As Bruno Cassiman, professor at IESE Business School, puts it: “The principle of creating value and developing a competitive advantage to capture part of this value has not changed.” Lori Rosenkopf of Wharton agrees, noting that while the content of strategy has likely changed, “it’s the role of a great strategist to be anticipating a wide variety of outcomes and building contingency plans.”

We’ll see what these folks say in a few years, once the dust has settled.

I applaud Caroline Flammer (see Nancy Fraser’s quote, above):

Caroline Flammer of Boston University disagrees that the pandemic has permanently affected business strategy (yet) — but points out that it should. As she writes, “the current pandemic is one among several other system-level crises that the (business) world is facing. Others include climate change, social injustice, and poverty, to name a few.” Flammer argues that in order for businesses to remain competitive and address grand challenges, companies need to start making more permanent shifts in thinking and “adopt a system-level approach in their business strategy.”

And another glimmer of useful insight:

A common thread through responses, across the spectrum of agreement, is that the forced experimentation of COVID has brought many necessary shifts in business thinking. As panelist Joshua Gans concludes, “The takeaway should be that businesses were doing too little experimentation before.”

Share work futures


Rose Bently of Humu makes some great recommendations about truncating meetings in Want a More Productive, Happy Team? Kill the 60-Minute Meeting:

One of the easiest ways to combat the burnout and fatigue that can happen in a remote work environment is to change the typical "meeting culture" that's long characterized much of the professional world. Simply put, it's time to reconsider how days are structured and to decrease the amount of time spent in meetings.

Each leader should examine three things before making this shift: how meetings are currently structured, the amount of time employees spend on video calls, and if the information originally slated for a traditional meeting can be discussed in an alternate setting.

Following are four ways to increase meeting effectiveness. They're strategies I've implemented with my team since the new year, and I'm seeing positive changes in both employee happiness and productivity.

I’ve summarized her points:

Cancel Your 60-Minute Meetings — change all 60 min meetings to 45 mins, 45 mins to 30, and so on.

Set an Agenda and Desired Outcome — 'It doesn't have to be overly detailed, but attendees should see a plan when they sign on.'

Provide Attendees With Materials to Review in Advance — send a short video in advance (or a document?) 'outlining what you hope to cover and accomplish in the meeting'

Set Meeting-Free Times — she mentions meetingless 'focus Fridays', and perhaps meetingless Monday mornings, too.

Basically, Bentley wants us to claw back as much time from meetings as possible.

In Want a Can’t Miss Productivity Tip? Forget About Being Productive., Sydney Ember wanders all over the place. But an interaction with Brigid Schulte stands out [emphasis mine]:

Brigid Schulte, the director of the Better Life Lab at New America and the author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” said American culture has long believed that working longer means working harder and being more productive, despite the flaws in that way of thinking. She noted the idea that there is a “productivity cliff” — workers are only productive for a certain number of hours, after which their productivity declines and they may begin making mistakes.

“We’ve long had this really erroneous connection between long work must mean hard work and productivity, and it never has,” she said.

Productivity may also no longer be the be-all end-all it once was.

The pandemic has prompted a collective awakening, borne from a constant and immediate fear of contagion and death, over cultural priorities. For many people, especially the percentage of workers who remained employed and are able to work remotely, personal productivity — at least in the sense that it means producing the most at work, in the most number of hours — is no longer necessarily even the goal.

Outcomes, not productivity.


Scott Kirsner, The Biggest Obstacles to Innovation in Large Companies:

What are the most common barriers to innovation in large companies? According to a survey of 270 corporate leaders in strategy, innovation, and research and development roles, they are: politics, turf wars, and a lack of alignment; cultural issues; inability to act on signals crucial to the future of the business; lack of budget; and lack of the right strategy or vision — in that order.

In 6 Myths About Empowering Employees, David Marquet offers some frank insights, like this:

Myth 1: The route to empowerment is a program.

You can’t implement a bottom-up concept in a top-down way.  This inherent self-contradiction dooms it.

The first step always needs to be a commitment from the group that they want more authority and more decision-making. Generally this follows a frank discussion. If the team wants empowerment, you are off to the races. If not, you learned that you’d be wasting your time. Try again in six months.

I have started reading The Gig Mindset Advantage by Jane McConnell, which is a study on moving from traditional organizational and corporate thinking toward something better. My only reservation is the name, which echoes the ‘gig economy’ — Uber and the like — which we need to dismantle. But her perceptions about what’s wrong in business, and the changes that need to be made are solid.