Training or Processes: How to improve your workforce productivity?
Many companies seek to improve their workforce productivity with the help of consultants or by implementing various strategies. Unfortunately, the gains achieved with traditional methods rarely meet the test of time.
These traditional methods – the ones most companies lean on to improve workforce productivity – can be grouped into two approaches: training and process optimization. Let's discuss why these approaches are useful, but generally fail, when used alone, to result in sustained improvements in behaviors and outcomes for organizations.
In this article, we will see that:
- Training develops knowledge, but not reflexes;
- Process optimization allows the implementation of good practices, but not continuous improvement;
- The proliferation of unsuccessful initiatives increases the risk of team demobilization;
- Coaching enables the perpetuation of theoretical knowledge and the implementation of good practices in a culture of continuous improvement.
First of all – what is training? Training can be described as “the process of learning the skills you need to do a particular job or activity".
When training managers on topics that are crucial to workforce productivity, for example, their leadership role, our objective is for this transmitted knowledge to be put into practice across a range of different behaviors. In other words, the hope is that managers will adopt and maintain these behaviors over the long term, leading to observable and sustainable improvement in performance.
Unfortunately, while it can contribute to the adoption of new behaviors, training by itself cannot sustain them.
A case in point: training and behaviors
Let's use an example from outside the workplace: your doctor tells you that you are at higher risk of heart disease. He explains your heart's anatomy, potential problems, and some healthy lifestyle habits you need to take up to improve your health.
Now... How long will you actually read the labels on everything you buy at the supermarket? How long will you make sure you get 8 hours of sleep a night, drink 1.75 liters of water a day and run 5 km every other day?
Why is training not enough to improve workforce productivity?
Training develops knowledge, but not reflexes and habits. It’s relatively easy to adopt good behaviors during training and immediately thereafter. But most of us abandon these new routines as soon as we return to our daily routines. The results can't improve much that way.
If these reflexes and behaviors don’t become second nature to us over time and we see only limited results – it becomes much simpler to control our cholesterol by merely taking a few supplements or medications.
As a general rule, the greater the urgency to act, the more good intentions persist. But for how long?
Also known by the Japanese term Kaizen, the process-based approach is at the heart of continuous improvement in organizations. This approach to improving workforce productivity focuses on tackling a specific problem, most often using process optimization tools. For the most part, these exercises are conducted by consultants or in-house experts who attempt to reorganize a given workflow by involving employees from the concerned sector.
The Process approach is relatively simple to master and generally translates into quick results.
However, once the process optimization initiative is over – if those responsible for sustaining the improvements have not truly internalized the new behavior – any performance gains will fade as the improvement team moves on to its next priority.
Why does process optimization not lead to lasting results on workforce productivity?
Let’s take the health example again. This time, you hire a private trainer to help you become a champion in your chosen sport. They create a personalized program for you, with exercises that help you improve your technique and endurance…
Let’s say the trainer, after designing the program and making sure you have everything you need to follow it, moves on to their next client and you don’t see them again. You’ll get a little better, but the results won't be overwhelming.
Flavor of the month and disengagement
Training and process-based approaches to improving workforce productivity usually generate positive results and, of course, they do have a place in organizations. However, they are not sufficient to bring about lasting behavioral changes with a long-term impact.
When gains start to fade, organizations tend to try other initiatives in the hope of a better solution to performance issues. These new initiatives are often no more than variations of the same approaches, which in turn only lead to temporary results.
These multiple unsatisfactory attempts – where employees are asked to become more agile and resilient only to start all over again with a new approach – lead to the "flavor of the month" effect, causing team members to lose interest and become less committed.
So, how can we ensure that the knowledge transmitted through training is actually used on a daily basis and that optimized processes are put into practice over the long run, all the while keeping teams engaged?
The missing ingredient: coaching
To truly change behaviors and drive lasting results, nothing beats the presence of an outside observer that can offer feedback and perspective in real-time.
Here are 3 reasons why manager coaching is such a success:
- A coach can highlight things that the person being coached – whether an athlete or a manager – would never notice on their own.
- They can also track the improvement of behaviors over time and assess the impacts of the transformation.
- Likewise, when a coach follows up on our progress, after providing observations and feedback on previous occasions, it makes it much easier to feel accountable for the results. And of course, one’s level of commitment will be much stronger.
By accompanying managers in their daily work, coaching is all about transforming knowledge into behaviors and process optimizations into work habits. How do we achieve this? By encouraging best practices to become rooted in our daily way of working. By doing so, they become the reflexes that lead to a lasting positive impact on workforce productivity.
Impact of workforce productivity improvement approaches
To make this happen, we must look at behaviors as an entry point into performance and not as a supporting element or a "nice to have". And to make them tangible, we must be able to measure them.
Coaching is a highly concrete way to help managers adopt best management practices in their interactions with team members. Proaction International’s experts offer support based on coaching and training of teams, optimization of tools and processes as well as digitalization of management.