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Tag: Productivity

Photo Credit: "Andy Grove" (CC BY 2.0) by jurvetson
Thoughts on KPIs from High Output Management

Thoughts on KPIs from High Output Management

I am a strong advocate for the power of key performance indicators (KPIs).  These indicators help guide and focus departments, act as leverage when requesting resources, and provide insight when diagnosing trends before they become significant problems.  They apply as much to a personal level of accountability as they do for a department or company.  I am re-reading Andy Grove’s book, High Output Management, and he has an excellent chapter covering KPI concepts.

In chapter 2, there are many pearls of wisdom for managing with the power of KPIs.  Mr. Grove’s thinking about this area has influenced me greatly over the years.  I do not agree with all his positions, but I am significantly aligned with his methods and have tweaked some of his concepts to meet my needs.  Take about six hours of your life and sit down with this book and a notepad.  His book is a quick read and worth every minute of your time.

Personal Key Takeaways from High Output Management by Andy Grove

Performance indicators provide specific focus points for people and elucidate elements of the highest value operations.  We are awash in information overload, and just because something is trackable does not mean it should.  A good performance indicator should focus on supporting organizational goals.  This may be done from a preventative position such as monitoring equipment performance to detect quality issues before a system failure occurs or maintaining expected levels of performance.  Andy Grove reminds us that indicators draw our attention, so we must be careful in our selection process, so we do not become myopically focused or blinded to other business factors.  He advises that indicators should be paired together to help prevent too narrowly focusing our attention.  This is an outstanding idea and naturally flows from using performance indicators to paint a story of operations.  Additionally, he goes on to discuss the concepts of leverage around the highest steps in the production cycle. This is an area that is simple to think about but often forgotten. The first letter of KPI is “Key.” Leaderships’ attention to the highest value elements of production is import and KPIs help keep attention where it belongs.

Mr. Grove advocates for the measurement of outputs as a more efficient indicator because results are what matters the most.  I differ here as I feel that both activity and production are too closely related in many industries and should be tracked as a pair.  For example, sales calls to the right customer targets are strongly correlated with sales performance.  Furthermore, salespeople activity should be monitored as a leading indicator of sales, potential diagnostic of marketing messaging, evaluation of sales training, and as a diagnostic for industry access trends for the customer base.  Again, we need to look back at his warning about focus and attention.  Managers need to pay attention to the right things.  What we track will become the focus of the team so a balance must be made to ensure that people do not go through the motions to make the KPIs look good while the underlying performance begins to falter.

Key performance indicators are hugely beneficial when combined with actions.  This is a straightforward concept but not often followed.  Mr. Grove cautions that performance indicators are useless if we are unwilling to take action based on the indicator’s signal.  If we are resistant to do what is necessary to keep our KPIs within acceptable ranges, then we either have the wrong KPIs, or we need to alter our management practice. It takes great fortitude to make changes when things look like they are going well on the surface, but the KPIs are beginning to tell us a different story.

Adjusting during the good times is often more challenging than making adjustments during the hard times.

If you have not guessed, I have great respect for Andy Grove.  He is one of the leaders I have admired for years, and I feel that his legacy will continue to shape management thinking and the technology that he helped bring forward.

Photo Credit: gross
Miss Me Yet?? No, Not Really…

Miss Me Yet?? No, Not Really…

Back in February, I decided to close or curtail the use of a significant number of my social media accounts. At the time, this radical action included the likes of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, discussion forums, and general new sites. The first week was troubling as I felt a nagging sensation that I was being delinquent by not looking or logging into these platforms. For Twitter and Instagram, I did not have much of a choice as I closed my account. I also closed my tumbler account and unfollowed nearly all, if not all, WordPress blogs. There was a distinct feeling of loss as if my favorite security blanket went missing. I finally understood Linus.

After a month, the feelings of neglect and loss are all but dissipated. There is no sensation of obligation or failing to meet other people’s expectations regarding my involvement. There is a surprising upside to the amount of free time that has been created. It is a lot easier to find time to work out and see friends when you do not have as many digital obligations. This is not to say that I am some overgrown child that lives in their mom’s basement. We all have a lot of things competing for our time and attention and this is a surprisingly easy group of items to cut out to allows us to spend time more meaningfully with those that actually matter.

Just doing my part to keep my life a little simpler…

Photo Credit: Hanisch
The Upside of Maintaining a Healthy Work-Life Balance

The Upside of Maintaining a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Increases in employee engagement and performance occur through the aligning of the organization’s culture and mission (Katzenbach, Steffen, & Kronley, 2012). This arrangement creates synergies that positively reinforce the firm’s cultural values, beliefs, and behaviors. A healthy high-performance culture leverages the tools and techniques brought about by the technology revolution to experience significantly higher levels of productivity but at the expense of employees work-life balance (Butts, Becker, & Boswell, 2015, p. 763). There is insufficient research that definitively demonstrates negative social, family, and health outcomes related to poor work-life balance (Beauregard & Henry, 2009). However, research does conclude that organizations experience higher levels of productivity when work-life balance is maintained, and employees experience improved levels of satisfaction and lower levels of stress (Beauregard & Henry, 2009). Organizations need to realize the potential upside to their business by ensuring their employees support a healthy work-life balance.

The executive leadership of many companies builds high-performance cultures that significantly value individual and group contributions. These companies focus on hiring the right individuals and expect well above-average levels of productivity and decision-making. Often, initiatives and projects have significant work expectations and demanding timelines. There exists unwillingness to allow for slack or adjustment in any externally communicated schedule because of competitive position or Wall Street reactions. This places a considerable burden on employees to perform while under higher levels of sustained stress. For shorter periods of time, employees can maintain at these output levels. However, over time, the poor work-life balance will lead to employee disengagement, burnout, and reduced productivity (Beauregard, 2014, p. 772).

If organizations fail to enact greater levels of work-life balance, employee burnout and disengagement will continue to increase.  

These realities spur increased employee turnover and institutional knowledge loss. Regrettable employee turnover, lost knowledge and relationship disruption leads to lower organizational productivity and innovation. These firms will create the loss of competitive and market positions they wish to avoid by failing to adopt greater levels of employees work-life balance.

When the leadership chooses greater flexibility in employee scheduling, work and project product deliverables, project assignments, restrictions on after-hours communication, and mandatory use of vacation time, the employees should experience improved levels of satisfaction and lower stress. By implementing the needed policy changes and appraisal process while maintaining the current expectations of productivity, a company will continue to meet the needs of its employees and core business aims. Remember, an engaged workforce lowers turnover, increases productivity, and encourages innovation to flourish.

Photo Credit: Barner
Developing professional personal KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)

Developing professional personal KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)

KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) can be used for companies, departments, and individuals. At the person level, KPIs are valuable tools in both professional and personal aspects of life. In the past, I have discussed KPIs for departments, but I found that the discussion applies equally well to individuals. This goes beyond the traditional annual goal-setting process. However, it does start with a deep understanding of those goals, and the outcomes the goals are designed to create.

After annual goals are established, I translate those goals into quarterly milestones. They can take the form of a traditional milestone or actions that must be completed by particular deadlines. The same process is completed for each month. This helps ensure that monthly activities support quarterly milestones, which will deliver on annual goals.

KPIs should build on one another to tell a compelling story of performance.

Looking at the monthly deliverables, we can now begin to brainstorm on the main performance indicators. This translates into daily, weekly, and monthly actions that must be taken correctly to deliver on those goals. As with all key performance indicators, they must be measurable and designed to reinforce positive actions, monitor for deviations from established norms, or prevent an adverse outcome.

Salespeople often monitor call volumes on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. This is an excellent KPI. However, assessing how customers move through the sales continuum is an equally valid KPI. This helps prevent poor quality calls for making the KPIs look good while not delivering the primary business result.A cautionary note: KPIs should not be another to-do list. These are items that are done consistently over extended periods and deliver results. They are important, regular, and can be measured.

Every individual operates at a distinctive level and so there KPIs will look remarkably different based off of their level of service to the organization. Personally, my professional KPIs do not resemble anything like anyone else on my former teams. I have KPIs focused on the synthesis of information into something actionable. Another professional KPI is the number of business processes that I review or create that develop into meaningful improvements. Projects are full of KPIs, including completion rates, on target versus at-risk activities, and responsiveness to information requests. There is no limit to the form of KPIs can be developed.

A second cautionary note: KPIs should inform a person about their productivity level. The capturing of KPIs should not become a burdensome process that takes away from delivering on the bottom-line results. The collection of KPI stats should be a natural process and integrated into the core workflow.

Photo Credit: von Felkerzam
Two Leadership Styles in Action

Two Leadership Styles in Action

Recently, I read a couple of examples of excellent leadership styles, and I took some time to think about the benefits of the style and how they overcame resistance to change. I believe that leaders are responsible for the success or failure of change initiatives within their organization. As such, they have multiple leadership styles to utilize in support of a change initiative. For example, leaders at any level may act as the change initiator and orchestrator; communicators and motivators; or the resources to support change.

Sanofi and Jon Fairest

According to Jon Fairest (2014), he took over as CEO of Sanofi when they were beginning a significant change initiative. The company was going to relocate their corporate headquarters and change the floor plan to an open workspace concept. Major organizational concern about the change was rampant throughout the leadership and employees. Communication was going to play a significant role in successfully changing the corporate culture.

[pulledquote]People are resistant to change primarily out of a fear of the unknown and loss aversion.[/pulledquote]Leadership as an interpersonal communicator and motivator helps to bring about change through the ability to build teams, motivate and engage employees, and communicate within the organization. Jon Fairest knew this would be a significant challenge to embark on as a new CEO. Employees needed to become comfortable with the new facility and approach to its floor plan. Mr. Fairest began a 12-month long campaign communicating the importance of this change and how it will improve the company’s culture, collaboration, and spur innovation while lowering employee turnover (Fairest, 2014).

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Photo Credit: De Wachter
Modern and Postmodern Management Theory

Modern and Postmodern Management Theory

In working on another project, I completed some research on Management Theory.  I found the reading insightful and wrote some thoughts on the topic…

Modern management theories arose out of the industrial revolution through the First and Second World War.  Modern management theories adoption was occurred slowly because of the belief that organizations were too diverse and the practice would only work over a short time (Witzel & Warner, 2015).  As discussed by Len Nixon, modern management theories focused on maximizing productivity and frequently treated employees as a cog in the machine.  Scientific approaches were employed to standardize processes, select appropriate workers and reduce employee movements.  Along the same lines, division of labor, defined rules and regulations, and the more formalized relationship with a defined chain of command was established between employees and management.  Modern management theories were embraced widely and have applicability in today’s workplace (Nixon, 2003).

The postmodernist movement humanize employees and encourage management to increase worker productivity by considering the needs of the employees, developing incentive systems, training, and have career pathing (Nixon, 2003).  Additionally, the division of labor took on a team-based focus, management became more concerned with motivation and communication, and the hierarchy and rule system became less comprehensive (Nixon, 2003).

The modernist management practices are utilized today in manufacturing and many industrial settings (Nixon, 2003).  Additionally, these management practices are frequently used with inexperienced workers and entry-level positions.  As the jobs become more complex and the workers more skilled, postmodern management theories become commonplace.  Basic job functions benefit by initial scoping through the modernist theories.  However, employees are the key element in most businesses and thrive under postmodern theories.  By combining these two sets of theories, modern managers are better able to understand employee motivations and improve productivity.  Employees need to be needed, want to be appreciated, rewarded for their efforts, and work on tasks that are engaging.  The postmodern theories of management allow managers to understand these feelings and design tasks that will deliver for the business and the employees at the same time.

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Photo Credit: Styf
Reduce Off-Hours Communication to Improve Work-Life Balance

Reduce Off-Hours Communication to Improve Work-Life Balance

Technology has brought about many changes in our world.  All-new industries were given birth or faded into history because of the information technology revolution.  However, the information technology revolution was not a panacea and did not resolve all the world’s problems.  It allowed businesses to become more efficient, improve operations and increase their competitive advantages (Porter & Millar, 1985).  However, the rise of mobile communications, email, text messaging, and web platforms has increased the intrusion of business-related matters into personal and family time (McShane & Glinow, 2014, p. 8).  It is becoming more commonplace for workers never to log off from work as the evening hours have become a new de-facto night shift (Butts, Becker, & Boswell, 2015, p. 763).  Furthermore, this new always-on work environment has altered the relationship between management and employees.

Employees may feel obligated to respond to peers and management regardless of the hour.  Management knowingly or unknowingly may be sending messages that establish these expectations with employees.  Additionally, management may mistakenly believe that employees will leave off-hour communications in their inbox until the following workday.

Management teams should discourage off-hours communications.  When this is impossible because of time zone differences or travel requirement, the utilization of a delayed send function is encouraged. At a minimum, all off-hour messages should clearly indicate whether the message needs a response before the next workday.  Again, the preference is not to send messages off-hours or use a delay send function since many employees will still check messages off-hours.

By taking these small steps, employers can help their teams improve work-life balance and lower employee stress levels without sacrificing productivity.  They might even find that employees are more efficient when they experience lower levels of stress.


Butts, M. M., Becker, W. J., & Boswell, W. R. (2015, June). Hot buttons and time sinks: The effects of electronic communication during nonwork time on emotions and work-nonwork conflict. Academy of Management Journal, 58(3), 763-788. doi:10.5465/amj.2014.0170

McShane, S. L., & Glinow, M. V. (2014). Organizational behavior (Third ed.) [Kindle].

Porter, M. E., & Millar, V. E. (1985, July 01). How information gives you competitive advantage. Retrieved from