Why better could be worse for workplace culture

The shift to working from home has seen productivity levels surge for some businesses, but this endless efficiency also has its downsides, says Paul Ballman

People Management | July 9, 2021

The People Management article “Why better could be worse for workplace culture” was written by Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Paul Ballman. The article is excerpted below.

Continuous improvement’, ‘efficiency’, ‘optimization’, ‘cost saving’, ‘just in time’ – the language of business has long been imbued with the assumption that we can make everything just a little bit better. But is better always better? As counterintuitive as it sounds, sometimes it may be worse.  

As a knowledge worker, my world has been transformed by Covid-19, in many ways for the better. I act as a coach and assessor of senior leaders and what was once done face-to-face is now done virtually.  

Back in the day I would travel to my client, spend time with them and maybe travel to the next. Stopping off for a coffee or an aside chat with a colleague, my days were riddled with apparently slack time.  

Now my efficiency has shot through the roof. At 9.59 and 59 seconds I click “End Meeting” and at 10.00 I am on another. I have never been as productive in my life. The commute hours of my past are now extra hours of work. An optimizers’ dream. But even before the pandemic I had my doubts about the value of efficiency. 

In the early days of Kaizen and ‘continuous improvement’ the gains were many and the costs few of striving for greater efficiency. Desperately convoluted processes were the norm, disconnected supply chains and onerous bureaucracy abounded. There was plenty of low hanging fruit to pluck and significant gains could be made. 

Over time things began to change, we kept demanding year on year efficiency improvements, but the opportunities to achieve them diminished. We became very good at identifying components of productivity but somehow started to miss the hidden value that came from the slack time. Let’s look then at what that hidden value might be. I suggest that three things are particularly important: thinking, connecting and recovering.

To read the full article, click here​.  

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Why better could be worse for workplace culture