Historically, companies in emerging markets have not focused on measuring the productivity of their grey-collared labour. Indeed, outside of service delivery companies, whose bread and butter is productivity management, Indian managers have long had the mindset that non-headquarter labour is cheap, and therefore any problem can be solved by throwing more bodies at it.
This shift in underlying economics, amplified by the recent economic stress, is encouraging many organizations to take a re-look at their workforce productivity. A study by EY on Physical Return and Work Reimagined supports this trend, finding that 49% of organisations are looking to change performance measurement metrics at work.
My experience with outsourcing myriad processes from Indian corporates suggest 3 key elements to getting this right:
- Define the right metrics
How do you measure the productivity of a security guard? Or that of a janitor? How do you know if a salesperson can really deliver more than what traditional thumb rules suggest? Leading companies today are stretching their imaginations to devise cost-quality-service level metrics for all such roles. For example, measuring how many square feet of space each janitor covers. And counting how many times a user complains about the quality of their work. Or measuring how alert a guard was during the night. For a salesperson, it matters not just how many sales they made but also how well they stuck to the defined beat, and what the subsequent default or return rate was.
- Platformise the work
The above metrics would have historically been very difficult to measure. Thankfully, the recent spate of digital technologies has solved this problem for us. If anything, the last few months have demonstrated that workers across the board can be allocated tasks and managed on completion remotely, via digital workflow management platforms. These platforms have multiple benefits from reducing the need for physical proximity to allowing more tailored coaching and training and allowing managers to improve their own time allocation and productivity.
Today, for example, a janitor can be assigned a beat via a workflow management app. As they execute each step, a well-placed QR code can capture the actual duration of work, allowing more optimal deployment in future. The workflow can be linked to sensors in each part of the building which call them in only when there is a mess to be cleaned up or replacements to be made. They can be paid a bonus for going beyond their regular work flow, allowing productivity upsides to be shared. Where they have been slower than expected, they can be offered specific remedial training via videos. Any complaints lodged against QR codes mapped to their name can be immediately traced and addressed.
Similar platforms are today being built for a variety of occupations from security guards to salespeople to construction workers. These platforms allow for a greater pace of learning and increase worker involvement through more targeted training and coaching.
- Train the middle manager
Harder than building the technology is getting managers to adopt it. Digitised workflows often require a significant change in processes themselves (e.g., allowing the system to allocate work rather than doing it yourself), and require middle managers to be able to allow insights from data-driven dashboards to override their own native judgements and biases. Driving adoption requires significant training, novel incentive systems, and often, extensive people rotations.
In fact, the task for top management is to use data to monitor the progress of their remote workers themselves and thus be role models for the behaviour they would like to see. The biggest learning from my experience is that where top management outsources the job of change, it largely doesn’t happen.
Metric-driven and technology-led management can increase productivity by 20% and higher in many front-line tasks. Capturing this prize however is not trivial, and requires real management purpose and focus.