96 – A corporate services productivity initiative. Are you sure?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         360 words

lawn mower

How long is it since your corporate services team decided to make some improvements to their productivity? Maybe they had to take a budget cut o show some leadership when their Group Manager was asking everyone else to make cuts. Maybe they genuinely think they have produced the same or more value at less cost. Sometimes they aren’t seeking to improve productivity, they are simply complying with the recommendations of yet another internal audit and the opportunity has come up for what seems like greater efficiency. After all, isn’t being more efficient hard to argue with?

Whichever way it happens, the flow on effects are always the same. Someone downstream gets to do more work. Not much more work. Just a few minutes. Usually it is busy people trying to deliver services to the community who have to find the few minutes. On top of the few minutes that they found last time. And the time before that. And before that.

There is no accountability for the transfer of work from the centre to the frontline. What seems like a lot of effort or resources in the corporate services team becomes a very small amount of work for lots of people in service delivery teams. But the minutes add up and it is really no saving at all. In fact, I can think of examples where the cost increased along with the risk as people were asked to perform functions they didn’t know how to perform and that they had no time to perform. The trouble is that no one notices except the individuals burdened with the new administrative task.

Some of my favourites are decentralisation of the administration involved in purchasing, recruiting, and correspondence. I have yet to see one of those systems designed to help deliver services to the community.  Electronic records management has turned us all into filing clerks. Not only do you have to do the work, you frequently have to do it in poorly designed and cumbersome systems made to control record retention not provide information to support decisions.

I have a colleague who suggested he might adopt the same approach to making savings in the mowing service. He could drop a mower at the civic centre for someone to use to mow the grounds and ask them to ring when they have finished so that he can pick it up. If they don’t know how to use it or don’t have the time, they will just need to work it out.  He would make a labour cost saving.  Now, isn’t that a productivity gain?