Identifying Gaps in Productivity – A Case Study

A certain new subdivision of a company managing a 5-year project approached me recently.  They had been formed 6 months previously, and were in the process of setting up administrative and operational systems in order to support the implementation of the project.  This involved establishing all office systems including administration, filing, communication and logistics.  They needed me to provide guidance and support to the project staff in setting up the required administrative systems.

Their brief was to

  1. Review the current project administrative systems
  2. Work with their headquarters to compile Standard Operating Procedures
  3. Assess the administrative staff capabilities and needs against job functions/responsibilities
  4. Recommend changes and additions to current systems and staff functions
  5. Provide on-the-job training in establishing the project administrative systems.

What was clear to me from this brief was that they had identified both systems and training as areas of reduced productivity, which needed to be addressed.

After reviewing the company documentation to find out what the goals of the organization were, my first step was to consult with the administrative staff to find out exactly where they stood regarding their systems and training.

What emerged during the interviews was very interesting.  Although there were areas of reduced productivity in their current systems which I identified and addressed, it seemed that there was a much larger problem:  the management.

The problems experienced were the following:

  • The manager of the subdivision was the typical example of a micromanager.  Although a very intelligent and competent individual, he could not trust his staff to do their work without his continual interference.  His frustrated staff, instead of supporting him and the goals of the organization, did everything they could to undermine him.
  • There was confusion among the staff as who to report to, as the existing reporting structure was not adhered to.
  • The administrative staff had no job autonomy.  They were constantly interrupted as line staff had “emergencies.”  Some of these “emergencies”  had nothing to do with the goals of the organization, but were of a personal nature.  The administrative staff had been reduced to running personal errands for fickle staff, and the core administration was not being attended to in a timely and efficient manner.
  • There was no means to evaluate the job performance of staff, resulting in some staff being overworked while others had nothing to do.  The staff had no motivation to perform well.

To remedy the management problem, I suggested that a team building exercise be held.  Each staff member could give a short presentation of what they do, as well as what they don’t do, what a typical day looks like, what is working/not working, what admin support they required, etc.  My idea was that this could lead to greater understanding and respect for each other’s roles in the workplace, and clarification as to who to go to when certain matters need addressing.

With excellent team building facilitators, the results of the team building was fascinating.  The managers realized what they were doing to their staff, and a process of forgiving each other and finding ways to work together more productively resulted.  It emerged that there was also conflict between the various managers, which impacted the staff, who were in turn forced to take sides.  To address this, a management platform was created, where the managers could get together and support each other on a regular basis.  They also had guest speakers on occasion, to help train them informally on how to manage their staff more effectively.

Examining the management was not part of my scope of work.  I examined the management because if there is insufficient management, no matter how well the systems work and how good the training and implementation thereof are, there will still be areas of reduced productivity.  It was clear that the productivity of the admin staff was directly impacted by the insufficient management.

My evaluation of the systems, training and management were not done in isolation to the real people who worked within the subdivision.  The subdivision was very fortunate to have staff who were highly qualified, loyal, dedicated, and goal-directed, and who, despite the problems they experienced, tried to make the best of the situation.

Once the management improved, overall productivity improved and the project could finally take off.

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