Posted: 10 May 2021 7 min. read

Humanizing productivity and performance

Productivity and performance in times of disruption

Access the full report PDF of Humanizing Productivity and Performance

Going virtual: An opportunity to define shared outcomes

Now more than ever, productivity is top of mind for business leaders—and rightfully so. By being thrown out of the routine of our day-to-day work, we have started to see the fissures in that routine that were not obvious before. There’s a lack of clarity in why we do certain tasks, how to do them digitally, and how to measure results. In order to effectively operate your business and manage your talent in this new reality, you likely need to redefine what success looks like, asking: What is productivity? How can it be measured? And how can people’s performance be evaluated virtually?

This paradigm shift serves as a catalyst to perform a health check on your organization, allowing you to more clearly define what productivity looks like and refocus on desired outcomes. And while you are at it, you can also cultivate a stronger sense of team well-being by being even more intentional about checking in with your team members. This health check, and the subsequent changes you make to the work your team does and how they do it, allows you to exercise key habits that can help you continuously adapt to rapid market changes in the future.

While we feel that defining clear metrics and goals is essential, we are not advocating for organizations to monitor workers’ every move, implement tighter controls, or micromanage work. We feel these behaviors can be detrimental because they send a message of distrust, neglect workers’ need for autonomy, and confuse activity for productivity. If approached from a place of trust, focusing on a shared outcome can motivate teams—but producing greater value, not greater output, should be the goal. Let us explore what productivity is; why quantifying it matters; and how that can help you better manage, measure, and reward your workforce in a virtual environment.

Productivity: it is more than the output

During times of uncertainty, a natural inclination of even the best leaders might be to tighten controls and look at the most obvious measure of productivity: output. We like to look to what is certain, and output metrics are often easy to define and quantify. Output feels familiar and safe. This is the way it has always been done. For over a century, output has been the goal, from the production of Model T Fords on the assembly line to Taylorism and the application of production principles to the workforce. This hyper-focus on output is found in modern practices like Lean and Six Sigma as well. We like trying to optimize, find efficiencies, and look for tried and true solutions. These are necessary activities, but they are not sufficient for driving value.

The problem with focusing solely on output is that the world is no longer predictable. The metrics of success from the past are not necessarily indicative of future success. This has never been more apparent than now—who could have foreseen in December 2019 that the world would change so dramatically, so quickly? With this in mind, the question becomes: how do we define success targets in a rapidly changing environment?

Productivity today cannot be defined as the rate of output per unit of input. After all, why does it matter how many widgets people produce if nobody wants to buy them? Instead, we need to look at productivity as creating more value with the same resources.

To do this, it is not just about making people and machines more efficient—it is also about defining the value you are hoping they will create.

Performance management practices that enable greater productivity

  1. Communicate shared outcomes and expectations
  2. Define the behaviors, team norms, and values that matter
  3. Establish agile goals to define individual outcomes and measures of productivity
  4. Create transparency into goals within and across teams
  5. Check-in often, but do not check-up
  6. Measure progress against goals and clearly defined performance criteria
  7. Recognize and reward contributions toward agreed-upon outcomes

Looking ahead: Managing performance and productivity

The benefits of defining productivity and rethinking performance management will likely pay dividends beyond the current crisis—though we recognize the need to make adjustments in your approach and implement new practices in response to today’s challenges. Getting in the habit of doing routine health checks on both organizational objectives and team norms and behaviors can enable you to be more agile and responsive in the face of future disruptions. Research suggests that highly engaged workforces are more profitable and productive; so, we believe that slowing down today, reflecting on the right outcomes you hope to drive, and communicating those clearly to your team will promote greater engagement and cohesion and allow you to increase productivity tomorrow.

Authors: Stephen Lancaster-Hall, Joan Goodwin, Joshua Davis, and Melissa Marts

Get in touch

Joan Goodwin

Joan Goodwin

Performance Management Practice Leader

Joan leads the Performance Management practice for Deloitte Consulting LLP and is a specialist leader in Deloitte’s Human Capital, Workforce Transformation practice. Joan has led dozens of global PM Redesigns and also leads clients through Future of Work transformations and defining Remote/Hybrid Workforce Strategies by taking a human centered approach to reimagine how work is done and evolving workforce skills and capabilities. Her leadership role encompasses the development of new performance and talent management service solutions focused on creating meaningful employee experiences that result in increased levels of performance. Joan has a wide range of consulting experience in multiple industries including Technology, Media and Entertainment, Financial Services, Life Sciences, Biotech, Healthcare, Power Utilities, Manufacturing—as well as others. Prior to Deloitte she has spent 20 years working with the C-Suite in large scale culture transformations.