Industrial Goods and Services
Productivity guzzlers: 5 things wasting time & energy of talent at professional services firms
11 Apr 2020

CEOs, BU Heads and CHROs must find the answers to two critical questions if they ever want to improve employee productivity and revenue generation per employee:

  • What percentage of the time are my employees spending on what activities and how does it vary across departments?
  • What do high performers do differently to be more productive and what do low performers spend more time on? 

Productivity is an art. All productivity measures often follow bell curve rules, where both, too much and too less of a given activity will cause drag in productivity. Hence, it is important to find the right balance that optimizes productivity. As if this wasn’t a tough enough problem to solve, changing technologies, client requirements, employee behaviors and lifestyle trends, keep moving this balance and there is no status quo.

Let us take the example of a professional services firm we worked with. The firm had implemented multiple technological and behavioral initiatives for improving productivity across its global offices. There was an immediate improvement in employee productivity and the benefits were clearly visible in employee performance scorecards. But, within three years of implementation, the majority of the same initiatives surprisingly became “productivity guzzlers”. This is because the external environment changed with respect to procurement, third-party technologies, and industry ecosystem. We conducted a productivity improvement exercise across multiple global offices and suggested some new initiatives and tweaks to existing initiatives that drove a productivity increase of 12%.

At Praxis, Productivity Improvement is a core offering of our overall People Value Creation (PVC) practice within Organization & Talent. From our team’s experience working with dozens of organizations across the globe, we have realized there are 5 major productivity guzzlers at professional services firms:

  • Technology: Technology is a double-edged sword. Technology is evolving at such a rapid rate that a system or tool that works today will often become obsolete in 3-5 years of time frame. Tools like CRMs, internal reporting, and dashboards, workflow portals, etc., often end up consuming 5-8% of employee time and are a big pain point if not kept in pace with the pace of innovation. Training on tools, technology upgrades, mobility, bringing in new tools (e.g., communication, video conferencing, etc.), redefining requirements of compliance/processes and rationalization of tools can unlock 3-5% of employee time
  • Internal discussions: Informal team meetings often end up consuming 15-20% of employee time at professional services firms. Employees love to talk and show what they are working on. Though this is necessary, this is relatively higher at the mid-management levels. Generating behavioral changes, defining standard practices for informal catch-ups and team hand holdings can unlock a further 2-3% of employee time while maintaining the quality and quantity of communication.
  • Not planning the day: From our experience, less than 20% of employees spend 10 minutes or more at the beginning of each day planning it. Planning helps employees prioritize time allocation and really “drive” outcomes rather than be “driven” by external forces. We observed the top 20% of performers have a strong habit of planning each day before starting work. Spending 2% of time planning can improve productivity by 3-5%.
  • Low-value activities: With changing landscape of industries, mid and senior management often accumulate 10-15% time on low-value addition activities every 3-5 years. Activities that are high-value addition often become a low value with time, and it is critical to reallocate tasks and outsource/specialize internally certain low-value tasks, which have a strong business case for doing so. Outsourcing / internal specialized teams lead to a further 2-3% of productivity uplift.
  • Travel: Travel is necessary, and it is non-negotiable. But the time spent on traveling can really be optimized. Senior and mid-management are increasingly spending 10-15% of their time on travel. Moreover, travel also has a cost implication. Prioritizing employee travel, providing mobility tools/software, and bringing in discipline to club meetings with travel can further unlock productivity of 1-2%

"The answers to productivity growth often lie within organizations. They just need to be searched for."

The productivity improvement toolkit at Praxis is tailored for each organization and type of business. Through our tried and tested approach, we often unlock 5-7 high impact initiatives that drive productivity improvement of 15% and above. Our methodology comprises of qualitative and quantitative surveys, time-motion observations, tracking technology deployment and internal data sources advanced analytics to arrive at a realizable productivity improvement plan for your firm. Moreover, we work “with” your employees and not “against” them, because productivity improvement is a win-win objective. 

Authored by (at the time of writing):

Aryaman Tandon, Leader, Organisation Productivity Practice

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