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By Francis Wade

Friday, 28 June 2013.

In my last column, I described the need for companies to hire the best using an assessment centre.

But what does a company do in the short term to have employees do the work of more than on person? This is no idle objective.

In the United States, as the country emerges from the recession, productivity is rising. The reason: companies are refusing to hire new employees even as their bottom lines improve. In other words, their profits are increasing, but they are keeping headcount and wages at recessionary levels.

At Fortune 500 company United Technologies, for example, profits have increased to US$57.7 billion in 2012 from US$42.7 billion in 2005. However, their workforce has remained unchanged for seven years.

Four days after their stock price hit a new high this year the company laid off a further 3,000 workers, on top of the 4,000 let go in 2012.

Jobless recoveries are becoming the new normal around the world, and I'd bet that they'll be a fact here in Jamaica. Local companies need to develop ways to effectively ask employees to do more, to keep up with global trends. How can this be done?

At this time, most companies are 'bawling for murder' as they adjust their businesses in order to survive the recession. It's led them to force their employees to accept the new reality - do your job, plus more, or else! Most employees, happy to be receiving a salary, comply willingly.

However, when this force is applied stupidly, it retards productivity. Customers experience a deterioration in service as incompetence appears to spread like wildfire. As employees fail to improve their capacity for work, deadlines are missed, email lies untouched in inboxes and stress multiplies.

In effect, the company has given its employees basket to carry the extra water.

While it's necessary to ask employees for more, simply doing so in isolation and without support, training and tools is, well ... stupid.

Instead, what's needed is a joint vision, supported by the facts. A few years ago, I travelled to the Washington DC area and observed a sidewalk being replaced in a matter of two days. Although I lived in the US for over two decades, I was still astounded by the speed and couldn't help but compare it to how long it takes to fix a pothole here in Kingston.

However, most Jamaicans have never travelled abroad, and haven't seen these higher standards firsthand. Some have benefited from working with expat Chinese here in Jamaica and were to exclaim in a television interview: 'Dem Chiney do de work a two s'maddy!'

The facts need to be brought home each and every day to our employees - we aren't the Usain Bolts of the world when it comes to worker productivity. Right now, we can't make it past the heats.

The good news is that we are a competitive people, and just sharing the facts around our low performance can help build a new commitment in all parts of a company to much higher standards - a new vision.

GREATER PRODUCTIVITY EVERYONE'S JOB

What would it be like in our companies if every person were engaged in improving their productivity?

One way to start is with simple goals. For example, the goal of arriving at work on time might appear to be trivial to an executive who drives a fully gassed, air-conditioned company car.

However, to an employee who has two kids in school who must take public transportation, the challenge is much more difficult. By comparison, getting the average Jamaican worker to the job on time is a much more difficult task than doing the same in Tokyo where the trains run within seconds of their intended arrival times, New York or London.

Unfortunately, very few local companies take the challenge seriously. They leave the task in the hands of employees, who often fail, in spite of their best efforts.

Galvanising employees around such a simple goal can be one way to discover what Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, calls a "keystone habit".

Paul O'Neil, former CEO of Alcoa, focused on a seemingly small, unimportant habit to turn the company around. In his case he focused on habits to boost employee safety.

The point is focusing on small things that everyone cares about can help spark a behaviour-driven transformation.

It's a harsh reality. Companies that don't get better will fall behind by failing to improve the value delivered to customers. However, it takes skill to ask employees to do the work of more than one person: it's a capacity that local companies need to develop quickly.

Francis Wade is president of Framework Consulting and author of 'Bill Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure'. Send feedback to columns@fwconsulting.com 

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