10/15/2014 05:04 EDT | Updated 12/15/2014 05:59 EST

How To Narrow Canada's Productivity Gap

There has been a lot of discussion lately about part time workers, workers on demand, and productivity against the backdrop of Canada's lagging productivity. As a country we work more and produce comparatively less than developed countries we like to compare ourselves to.

There are plenty of theories as to why that is. My take? We are too engaged in work.

Sounds counter intuitive yes, but my research backs that up. In simple terms, senior leaders are afraid to change and develop their "team" and prefer to focus on task rather than on the people that work for them. Technology has made us less people focused and more task obsessed. Hundreds of emails a week and more meetings than most people can handle have taken the focus off developing people -- the real job of management according to Peter Drucker -- and forced leaders to micro manage and focus on task. This hurts productivity because too many employees are producing the bare minimum, sucking oxygen out of the office air and doing little else.

Sure there is some activity: emails are being received and sent and meetings are scheduled and attended, but that's about it. No one is really learning, but they are oh so engaged with task, so they tell you. And senior leadership likes it this way. Nothing is changing therefore in their minds nothing will change and they will still have a job after their next performance review.

This is the very definition of low productivity, little or no change.

Productivity is low not because of the length of the workweek or corporate reinvestment but because people can't be productive if they don't feel valued. Elton Mayo pointed this out in the late 1920s but in the race to create "shareholder value" we have forgotten his wise counsel.

Since I conducted my dissertation research six years ago I have been focusing on human capital productivity, which I defined loosely on Peter Drucker's and Elton Mayo's work. I base my peer to peer training systems on indexing, diagnosing and subsequently treating workforce deficiencies that derail innovation and productivity. You can't fix what you can't measure and we measures human capital productivity. What leaps out during this process is how little employees trust senior leadership to do the right thing for employees and the organization, rather than what is best for top management.

You get a different perspective when you focus on the bottom 80 percent of the workforce that Mayo focused on. These are the people who are most important to an organization's success yet get the least attention from the top. These are the team members who meet with clients, fix problems and/or sell product. They keep the machine running. They are also the pool from which you could -- and should -- be drawing your leadership from and thereby lowering you cost to hire ratios. This is the group who we spend our time with because this is the group that has been ignored for the last 30 years. Over the last six years we have worked with this century's emerging innovators, people who know something is broken and have the tenacity of purpose to change the status quo including the largest companies in the world, bureaucracies, and privately held firms. What we have found is astounding.

The data indicate that the senior leaders of organizations are too engaged, meaning they question change. Although engagement is great, it often leads to reluctance to change and unwillingness to participate in and with the unfamiliar. These feelings are often accompanied by a sense of burnout or tiredness, causing leaders to be very cautious about executive leadership and new initiatives. Senior leaders have very little trust in their executive or "working rich" because based on experience they know they are next to go if the numbers disappoint in any given quarter.

Our research over the past six years tells us that the neglected 80 percent are leaving or job shifting in droves because they see an entrenched leadership that may fret about productivity or engagement but don't make necessary adjustments because they fear change.

Research also demonstrates that the stronger the economy gets, the less willing senior leadership are to change and the more restless that 80 percent becomes.

Can Canada's "productivity gap" be narrowed? Yes it can, but only after senior leaders recognized that it's much more their creation than it is of their work force. Let's talk less about the productivity gap and worry more about the widening gap between what management does and what 80 percent of their employees want and need.


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