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Why Productivity Is the Wrong Measure of Value

by Carol Rozwell  |  August 3, 2017  |  6 Comments

During an inquiry on creating a digital workplace, yet again the question of productivity came up. Specifically, the client asked how they could measure whether their investment in the digital workplace initiative was actually making employees more productive

Right intent. Wrong question.

Productivity is a vague and abstract notion. It is also notoriously difficult to measure in any way that connects to the business outcomes that should be the impetus for the digital workplace initiative. Aside from some anecdotal evidence – statements such as “It was easier for me to . . .” or “It took me less time to . . .” – actual measures of productivity are not useful and they may be misleading.

Let me give you an example from my work as a Gartner analyst as a case in point.

Analysts commit to writing a specific number of research notes during the course of the research year. The fact that an analyst met the deadline for completing the research is an easily determined outcome. It showed up on on time or it did not.

The determination of business value is a combination of factors including the quality of the note and the relevance to a particular constituency of clients. Quality is assessed at many point during the production process and ultimately by the readership when the research is published. While a quality score without more specific information is not a perfect measure, it is some indication of value.

Let’s delve more deeply into the productivity issue of creating research. There are applications that assess a worker’s productivity by counting the number keystrokes/minute – kind of like the old WPM measure from years back when I took a typing class. The less amount of time the person spends hitting keys, the less productive they are considered to be.

But wait a minute! Does this work for the analyst who uncovers new and insightful information during the course of their work? The analyst likely will need to stop typing to consider the implications of the findings. Maybe they will call a colleague to talk over what they found and get a second opinion of how it fits into the starting premise of the research – or totally negates it. The point is that while the analyst appears to be less productive by the numbers, they will produce a better piece of research by stopping to think before they take up writing again.

There are a number of useful research notes that provide ideas about how to develop a business case and a metrics framework to measure the success of digital workplace programs. The point of this blog is to recommend you think beyond the productivity concept and search for outcome measures that are more tightly correlated with business value.

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Carol Rozwell
VP Distinguished Analyst
11 years at Gartner
21 years IT industry

Carol Rozwell is a vice president and distinguished analyst on Gartner's Digital Workplace team. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Why Productivity Is the Wrong Measure of Value

  1. Brian Wood says:

    Well, productivity is one of the many potential areas of performance management, and the priorities of these dimensions of performance vary based on the unique value proposition of the organization. If an organization bases their value proposition on efficiency, then defining and measuring it is an important part of the “right question”, but it cannot be assessed in a vacuum, it must always be in the context of the overall performance matrix and methodology. Improving one dimension of performance often comes with a cost to other areas, so it is a balancing act, and not one that is often addressed explicitly because executives are too risk averse and are not willing to say something like it is OK to give up some top line revenue, or to reduce our margin if it makes our solutions more efficient for our customers… Holistic performance management is the only way to optimize overall performance across all important dimensions

  2. Anson Antony says:

    Agreed!!This is actually a client expectation change that has to be driven right from the beginning of the digital workplace initiative project. Yes of-couse productivity is important but definitely that should not be the first and foremost priority. Completely agree with your point!

  3. I highly appreciate your keen to create this post.

  4. Found your post interesting to read.

  5. Shirley De Vries says:

    This is helpful. I am in the process of writing a set of “rules” that can be used by my staff to guide decision making. One of the rules is that organizational efficiency overrides individual efficiency. It is difficult to explain this to individuals who are impacted unless as an organization there is an understanding of the bigger goal that warrants the trade-off.

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