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Where Does All The Time Go


Surprisingly, the so-called information revolution hasn't always delivered the kinds of productivity improvements that were promised. Michael Hammer, one of the fathers of re-engineering commented a few years ago in the Harvard Business Review that "...heavy investments in information technology have delivered disappointing results - largely because companies tend to use technology to mechanize old ways of doing business...Instead of embedding outdated processes in silicon and software, we should obliterate them and start over."

Not only have productivity gains from technology been mixed, but many of the side effects have been totally unpredictable. For instance, who would have predicted junk faxes, repetitive strain injury, computer hackers, software viruses, system crashes, cell phone dropout, printer jams and telephone tag?

To its credit, technology in the workplace has been able to enhance service, eliminate mundane tasks and shorten communication time. At its best, technology replaces simple, repetitive tasks that deal with calculating, transmitting or organizing data. In the past, this was largely the domain of clerical jobs, many of which have been eliminated.

But technology can't easily replace white collar jobs such as managers, planners, sales people, engineers, technicians and supervisors. Their jobs involve planning, supervising, budgeting, allocating, selling, analyzing and reporting. Most of all, their jobs are about thinking.

Technology can't change the basic nature of thinking jobs. It can only assist the individuals performing them. The research we conduct for clients on how employees spend their time is proof of this. These organizations are looking for productivity improvement and recognize that the diagnosis of time, if done in a user friendly way, can be a useful tool in understanding organizational change.

What have we learned? Take outside sales reps for instance. Despite all of the technological tools that sales people have at their disposal, the average amount of time spent in face to face or telephone selling averages only 11.3 hours per week. This represents about 24% of a typical 46.3 hour week. The second biggest chunk of time is administrative tasks. These are duties such as writing internal reports, filling out paperwork and going to meetings that take up a whopping 8.8 hours per week or 19% of the time.

The key for successful sales reps is finding more time to sell, pushing their average up to 35% or more. Their success strategies involve not just more technology, but better planning. In one recent study, participants in a distribution centre logged above average coaching and planning time. This correlated with above average average selling time and, not surprisingly, higher sales.

Sales & Marketing Magazine recently conducted a study of sales people's gripes about what got in the way of their ability to sell. Remarkably, three of the five top complaints dealt with technology; automation angst, the E-Mail morass and the debilitating sea of data.
Yet these technologies were promised to bring about a kind of productivity nirvana. This simply hasn't been the case.

Technology is like the ante in a poker game. Before you begin playing, you have to ante up your quarter or dollar. But this only lets you play the game. It doesn't allow you to win. The way to win is by making better choices about what cards to discard, combined with wily bluffing and strategic betting.

In the work environment, technology is just the ante. You have to pay the price to have all of the technology at your disposal. But real strategic advantages in productivity come from getting people to work on the right things. Superior performance results from superior people, not just the latest technology.

Mark Ellwood is a productivity consultant dedicated to improving people and processes through consulting, training and facilitation. Reach him at mark@GetMoreDone.com or www.getmoredone.com.

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