People, productivity and pink slips

Your employees are your driving force. Give them a reason to add value to your organisation

by ASIF UPADHYE / pic by TMR file

How do you decide what idea can enhance the level of productivity for a particular campaign? Or even, which employee will continue to be the most productive in the week following appraisals?

Have you ever given this a second thought? Keeping up with competition, adapting to the changing market trends, obliging to ever-increasing customer demands and lastly, pushing back talent poachers.

Phew! In spite of living up to every protocol stated in the book, struggling to ensure that you maintain a good standing within the industry at all times can be a daunting task.

Bottom line? Delivering value that provides continuous improvement, over and above the barriers you encounter.

A Pile of Ifs and Buts

There are guidelines, but no surety. And while one cannot forecast the future, understanding whether an employee is productive at any given point of time or not, is measurable.

Who oversees this? The manager. It might just work retrospectively, but there are metrics that can quite easily help you objectively understand the return on investment (ROI) on each employee.

The most preferred choice of metrics, aka the easiest form of evaluation, is the performance rating obtained during internal reviews.

But here is the catch: Any average report will only state the surface-level problem, just as it would explain the surface-level progress.

What actually needs to be measured, is the “level of impact” — a detailed “employee value metric” that meticulously determines a break-up of an “employee value proposition”.

Judging people’s potential without giving them the opportunity to prove their calibre is definitely jumping the gun.

It is like the crude technique of selling, when you tell somebody “You can claim for an X amount of free purchase, ‘only’ if you first spend Y amount in making a purchase of Z product”.

The culture of ownership should flow top down, and stay interruption free from the beginning to the end of a designated project — leading to a value structure that drives individuals to improve upon their own productivity levels. If the approach is “People First”, productivity will follow.

You may have been “in the industry”, all your life. What’s your guarantee of “understanding the industry”?

You might have read every book in the management section in every library. Even had a private tête-à-tête with Peter Drucker, Elton Mayo, George Gallup, and every other lea-dership guru, employee engagement expert and team management maestro for that matter.

Whether you have accomplished either one or all of the above, you cannot derive an equation that clearly explains, accurately predicts and truly answers the question of “whether an employee will be productive or not”.

The Game of Clones

Downsizing cannot be about companies playing “inky-pinky-ponky” with their staff.

While realignment allows the opportunity to restructure the organisation, it might also have adverse effects on performance, thus bringing down the overall productivity matrix.

Minimising redundancy, increasing competition, allowing for better resource planning as lesser people take up wider roles may often lead to severe job insecurities among those retained.

While you may think that the fear of “being next” might urge them to work harder, smarter and faster, the stress that accompanies deters productive engagement.

Majority of companies strongly advocate against downsizing, and yet, countless information technology (IT) and telecommunication companies have made up their minds about “going lean”.

No matter what euphemism is being used to sugar-coat it, whether you call it adjusting to shifts in demand, corporate outplacing, and rightsizing or simply smartsizing, the blow does not seem to be quite as effectively muted as organisations would hope.

Earlier this year, top organisations in the IT arena were keen to follow the trend of entertaining the sizezero figure!

Are you too wondering if layoffs are simply the deserved, expected and accepted outcome for being underproductive?

Well, what if there are two employees of equal potential and performance, each delivering on their respective ROIs equally, both equally skilled, but you can retain only one?

Not that simple a decision to make, is it?

The People Riddle

An organisation might decide to opt for a leaner team for various reasons — ranging from mergers and acquisitions, to pocket crunches, to a restructuring of products and services.

The people puzzle should change based on the reason for downsizing. Moreover, no matter how accepted and normal it might seem to be, any restructuring leads to a sense of upheaval and insecurity.

How will you battle these with the high performers, when you have just fired many of their friends — dedicated and hardworking colleagues — who failed to meet the set standard of being efficient?

Transparency coupled with communication is the key. Make sure to not only give your employees a heads up before they hear it from elsewhere, but also, be open about it.

Ensure that you are honest in terms of justifying the need for such a drastic move and in terms of the criteria for the necessary decision-making.

While there may be no perfect way to avoid the obvious dip in morale, you could have initiatives, meetings and forums in place that encourage open communication and idea-sharing.

Look out for opportunities that convey your efforts of being a people-oriented organisation.

Some companies tend to uproot employees by the thousands, much like clearing a garden of weeds. But pruning your staff does not necessarily ensure a healthier organisation.

Moreover, slashing through your workforce without a justification gives you a pretty nasty reputation.

Most people tend to view downsizing as an effect of financial ill-health and that leads to them regarding your company as “not the safest” or “least credible” of organisations to be associated with.

That, in turn, leads your corporate brand and employer brand to take a severe hit.

Handing out pink slips will “not” directly lead to a greater turnover. Why? Because it needs intelligent damage control (for the employees that remain and those that you might want to hire later).

Besides, it does not have to be the ultimate truth. Today, with options like remote working, off-shoring, outsourcing and more effective freelancing, you might not have to lose out on your existing talent.

You can together figure out arrangements that would help the team and individual employees cope better and continue to deliver their best.

What is the Perfect Solution?

Being the sentient, thinking, feeling creatures that we are, we ought to sympathise with those facing the brunt of “rationalising resources”.

We simply nod our heads in a curious mix of disapproval, sympathy and relief when we read the headlines of the all too frequent news of downsizing.

Because silently, the feeling of empathy gets overridden by the thought of “better them than me”!

If it is the talent that you seek to retain, it is the circumstances that you will have to manage.

Instead of striving to be economical today because of reasons that you cannot discuss with your management, take that risk of investing in good workforce and you will definitely reap the benefits years down the line.

One may not be able to pre-determine an individual’s productivity. But if given the right environment to grow, it will be the very same person you shortlisted “to let go of” during the round of elimination, who could tomorrow surprise you by becoming the highest contributor to the organisation’s bottom line.

If you do not invest in an engine for a long time or leave it to rust, you cannot claim that it was not worth its value.

Observe, engage, challenge. Your employees are your driving force. Give them a reason to add value to your organisation.

  • Asif Upadhye is director and chief fun officer of Never Grow Up. This article was originally published in Indian Management (Vol 56 Issue 9), an AIMA and Spenta Multimedia Pte Ltd publication.
  • The article was published in Asian Association of Management Organisations (AMMO) newsletter Volume 2 Issue 4. AAMO can be reached at
  • The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and the editorial board.