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Book Summary: Solving the Productivity Puzzle by Tim Ringo – Motivate and Develop Employees to Improve Business Performance

Solving the Productivity Puzzle (2020) is a guide for people management professionals. It covers topics such as learning and development, motivation of the workforce, and planning strategies. It’s essential reading for HR professionals who want to build a culture in which people can thrive.

Book Summary: Solving the Productivity Puzzle by Tim Ringo - Motivate and Develop Employees to Improve Business Performance

Content Summary

Who is it for?
What’s in it for me? Learn about tools and techniques to help you solve the productivity paradox.
The right job for the right person at the right time isn’t science fiction.
Organizations face many challenges today – and will face more in the future.
Productivity consists of three components: value, engagement, and innovation.
To get results, work smarter and implement PEIP.
Five trends could turbocharge the future.
Develop a formal document that lays out your case for change.
We all have a part to play in the PEIP work revolution.
About the author

Who is it for?

  • HR managers interested in change programs
  • Those looking for the perfect job
  • Managers who want to improve their employee productivity

What’s in it for me? Learn about tools and techniques to help you solve the productivity paradox.

Over the last century or so, it’s become clear that when human productivity – the output of goods and services from labor – increases each year, both people and the global economy end up better off.

But human productivity hasn’t been increasing in line with the development of information communications technology. Yes, there have been some peaks, especially in the 1990s. But since 2004, economists have measured a declining – or at least flattening – rate of human productivity growth.

So why, in an age of technological advances, aren’t we also experiencing a golden age of human productivity? There are many reasons, but not all are equal. These summaries will help you and your organization address this productivity paradox, leading to productivity growth and greater prosperity.

In these summaries, you’ll learn

  • how “PEIP” will help your organization;
  • the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead; and
  • how to build a case for change.

The right job for the right person at the right time isn’t science fiction.

Investment guru Warren Buffett once said that, at some point in their lives, all people need to find jobs that will have them jumping out of bed in the morning – rather than just working at ones that’ll look good on their résumés. Isn’t doing otherwise, he asked, “a little like saving up sex for your old age?”

He’s right, of course. But if you’re like most people, you also need to worry about your mortgage, your kids’ school fees, your car payments, your student loan – and the list goes on. Life isn’t always easy, and a lot of things are just outside of your control. So it’s easy to get stuck in a rut in a less-than-perfect job and end up bored, disillusioned, and disappointed.

The key message here is: The right job for the right person at the right time isn’t science fiction.

The ancient Persian poet and philosopher Rumi postulated that everyone is born to do some specific kind of work, and that, as he put it, “the desire for that work has been put in every heart.” It’s a beautiful idea. But if Rumi was right, surely the job market would look different from the way it does today. So what would it look like, ideally?

Imagine a marketplace that matches your skills and motivations with the right job for you at just the right time and also balances resource supply and demand. The author calls that PEIP – that is, People Engagement, Innovation, and Performance. And the benefits that PEIP stands to bring not only you, but also society, are enormous.

Now add in AI and machine learning to make this marketplace even more efficient – putting the right people in jobs they love, and then working with technology to make those people more productive than ever before. Science fiction? Well, technology exists to make it happen today.

In the following chapters, you’ll find out more about the challenges ahead, productivity and PEIP, opportunities for the future, and how you can build a case for change.

Organizations face many challenges today – and will face more in the future.

How many employees are there in your organization? Surprisingly, when the author asks this at conferences, only 35 to 40 percent of attendees actually know the answer. And when they’re asked how many employees there’ll be in 18 months and what skills they’ll need, almost nobody knows.

Here’s the problem with that: It’s a universal law of economics that if the economy is to continue growing, human productivity must also increase every year. But the growth in productivity has remained poor for a number of years, despite advances in technology – that’s the productivity paradox, and it represents a huge challenge. But how can anyone tackle that challenge when so many lack knowledge of not just the present state of their business, but also its future needs? This question is even tougher to answer when you factor in the numerous other challenges that your organization and people are likely to face.

Here’s the key message: Organizations face many challenges today – and will face more in the future.

The first challenge to consider is technology, which is changing so quickly that staff structures and capabilities can’t keep up. In the author’s experience, when organizations implement technologies, they only thrive when they also implement structural changes to who and what does the work, as well as where it’s done.

New technologies also present a need for new skills, ideas, and strategies. But an ANSA study in 2018 found that 83 percent of workers don’t feel their skills are up to the job.

Another challenge is that the working-age population – ages 15 to 70 – is shrinking. Innovation is needed to fill the gap. Already, the 70+ age group is the fastest-growing sector of the workforce, though it’s unclear whether that’s by choice or for financial reasons.

Employee stress is also an area of growing concern. An Everest College survey of US employees found that a staggering 70 percent felt that they were asked to do an unrealistic amount of work; as a result, 40 percent felt stressed.

Often, companies have the wrong people working in the wrong place at the wrong time. A workforce planning strategy should be put in place to avoid talent shortfalls and high job vacancy rates, for example.

Finally, machines are taking over many mundane tasks carried out by humans. This doesn’t necessarily mean fewer jobs, but it might result in a refocusing of the workforce on the customer experience.

Some of these challenges can be faced head-on, while others may be beyond your influence. But either way, you need to put plans in place to mitigate them – and perhaps even turn them into opportunities.

Productivity consists of three components: value, engagement, and innovation.

So what exactly is productivity?

For a lot of people, it’s like art – they know it when they see it. Others prefer a strict definition straight out of the dictionary. In short, there are many ways to define productivity – but focus too much on nailing it down and you risk losing sight of not just what it is, but what it can be. This makes it hard to really consider your approach.

For that reason, the author prefers a broader definition. He defines it as “Getting stuff done that measurably improves the economic and human interests of organizations and society at large.”

The key message is this: Productivity consists of three components: value, engagement, and innovation.

The author’s definition of productivity has three separate aspects. The first is value – specifically, the value of productive people.

One hundred and thirty-five years ago, the development of the steam engine helped trigger an increase in population growth and a vast improvement in living standards. Now humanity stands at another technological juncture, and the way that people use the tools that result from it will create levels of prosperity never seen before.

But countries, companies, and trading blocs are finding it difficult to deliver the right people power. The solution is working smarter, not harder. That doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel – real productivity and growth come from institutions simply employing people, knowledge, and technology better.

The second part of productivity is engagement. Employees thrive in a purpose-driven workplace. Put simply, when your employees are engaged, they do more – and better. To engage your employees, you need to understand what motivates them. You may not always be able to give employees what they want, but if they understand that you’re doing your utmost, they’ll give their best efforts, too.

So how do you do that? It comes down to creating drive by providing your employees with three things: autonomy – letting them organize how and when they do their work, and set their own targets and workplace rules; mastery – providing them with the opportunity to learn and master new skills to improve their work; and purpose – giving them a strong sense of what they stand for and why they are there.

Finally, there’s innovation. Organizations don’t automatically innovate simply because they’re made up of people. In fact, innovation is suppressed in uninspiring environments. Engaged people create innovation – and, subsequently, innovative work and environments create engagement.

To get results, work smarter and implement PEIP.

Diminishing productivity is a complex challenge, but most people agree that for organizations to become more productive and remain competitive, they need to have a pipeline of new ways of thinking and innovative ideas. And it’s also becoming clearer that there’s a link between engaged employees and innovation.

The key message here is: To get results, work smarter and implement PEIP.

To get productivity back on track, there are three areas you can look at. First, work smarter, not harder – because working less actually produces more. Your brain can fully concentrate for, at most, four hours per day. Yet the average American works 47 hours each week. Companies that have experimented with shorter working days and weeks have increased productivity and reduced absenteeism.

Second, take it up a notch and work uber-smart by implementing an integrated human capital lifecycle. This gives your employees a seamless experience and sets them up to succeed. Getting the right people in the right jobs rather than just deploying available staff will not only improve the execution of your plans but also help engage, retain, and attract top talent.

Third, implement PEIP. A 2017 survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed that 77 percent of CEOs see low availability of key skills as the biggest threat to their business. What they need to address this is the right people with the right skills at the right time and in the right place – that is, they need PEIP.

Determining who the right people are ultimately depends on your organization and the types of people you want working for it.

Finding the right skills is crucial. In the US in August 2018, for example, there were 7.14 million job vacancies, most of which were due to skill shortages.

Being able to predict who you’ll need and to deploy them at the right time and place is becoming more and more important. That’s where Strategic Workforce Planning – or SWP – comes in. That means understanding your current workforce, your future needs, and any gap between the two.

Finally, the keystone of PEIP is motivation. Employers and employees need to work together to match desire and motivation such that work gets everyone jumping out of bed in the morning, eager for the tasks ahead.

When PEIP is in place, even the challenges facing organizations can become opportunities. In the next chapter, you’ll find out how.

There’s a revolution going on: together, science, technology, and research are changing the world.

Quantum mechanics, for example, is creating opportunities for the creation of machines that will process information at rates impossible for the human mind to comprehend. And mapping the human genome has opened up the possibility of reversing aging effects or growing replacement body parts!

But what about in the world of work? What innovations are leading the way when it comes to business?

Here’s the key message: Five trends could turbocharge the future.

In the workplace, five trends are emerging as a result of the wider context of the world of change, and these trends are enormously promising for the future.

First, people are living longer and healthier than ever before. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that by 2050, people over 90 will make up 10 percent of the population, yet most organizations still aren’t even equipped to recruit and train people in their 70s and 80s. There’s a lot of talent out there to be tapped!

Second, women’s participation in the workforce is increasing. A study by the food service and facilities management company Sodexo looked at 50,000 of its managers over five years and found that gender-balanced teams were better at a variety of things, including productivity and innovation. Other studies show that organizations that have a gender-balanced workforce attract more talented people, and this in itself may be driving increased productivity.

Third, people with Autism Spectrum Disorder are significantly under- or unemployed. People with ASD are stereotyped as lacking social skills, but the truth is that neurodiverse people have unique skills and abilities that can be put to use to increase innovation and productivity. For example, adults with ASD can be focused, detail-oriented, and passionate about their work, able to find solutions to problems their neurotypical colleagues can’t.

Fourth, the machines are coming. Loss of jobs is inevitable, but the history of the implementation of new technologies shows that disruption is relatively short-lived and that many people find better-paid jobs. Looking at how machines and humans can work together can create greater opportunities to harness the power of these technologies.

Fifth, it’s time for the digital workplace to play catch-up. Even though many homes now have digital devices that are part of the Internet of Things, the office just hasn’t kept up with those innovations – it looks and acts much as it did 20 years ago. But things are changing.

Develop a formal document that lays out your case for change.

Naturally, before implementing PEIP your organization will need to hear some details about why it’s a good idea. The relevant decision-makers will probably ask a lot of questions, such as What do you want to do, and why now? What are the outcomes? And What are the benefits – both qualitative and quantitative?

Ultimately, they need to understand the risks, challenges, and opportunities of implementing PEIP, as well as exactly how it’ll be done and how much it’ll cost – not to mention what it’ll cost them to do nothing. To answer these and other questions, you’ll need to create a formal document.

The key message is this: Develop a formal document that lays out your case for change.

When you create a document detailing your proposed changes, start by describing the human aspect – that is, what’s in it for the workforce. This is critical to acceptance and buy-in. Next, look at the technology, before finally addressing economic viability and return on investment.

Your discussion of the benefits of PEIP should include details about simplification and modernization, how decision-making will be better informed by useful real-time data, and how employee engagement and experience will be improved. Also, be sure to include information about how management will have total visibility of the workforce.

Finally, include a roadmap for change. To do this, start at the top of the first page with a short, precise, and simple vision that everyone can understand. Next, set measurable goals – more specific than broad. And try to include only critical goals – those that will result in failure if not achieved.

Provide strategies for achieving your goals – including financial and customer strategies, internal processes to support these, and the learning and growth processes necessary to get results. For each strategy, list the actions required, by whom and by when. Ask whether there are any risks involved and how they can be mitigated.

Don’t forget to include milestones, too. Not only do these allow you to track progress, but they can also become opportunities to celebrate each achievement and give the team some well-earned recognition for all their hard work.

We all have a part to play in the PEIP work revolution.

Humans are not simple machines that produce stuff. And simple incentives – that is, carrots and sticks – don’t create behaviors that result in more stuff. Even if they did, that’s a pretty low bar to aim for. Instead, focus on the opportunity for a workplace revolution that creates engagement rather than drudgery. The goal isn’t just to change the way people work; as the author says, it’s “about society at large and how we live in it.”

There are challenges to achieving this goal, but also a clear way forward – one that involves everyone.

The key message here is: We all have a part to play in the PEIP work revolution.

Worldwide, most people are employed in small-to-medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs. With fewer legacy issues to deal with, agile SMEs will be the ones driving change through PEIP. Put simply, they can make changes more quickly.

But what about in the public sector? Well, the goal of these agencies isn’t only to attract employees who’ll drive productivity and improve services, but also to use taxpayers’ money efficiently. Although demand for services is increasing, pressures within the sector have created an environment of low employee engagement. But public service does have a high purpose – that is, a relatively high number of employees in the sector are motivated by the mission. Ultimately, it’s likely to be political will that will drive PEIP in the public sector.

The private sector has the most to gain from PEIP. It will create and maintain momentum through five key elements: first, knowing its workforce in detail; second, planning and executing its change programs effectively; third, engaging not only its workforce but its customers and suppliers, too; fourth, investing in its people; and fifth, measuring the improvements in people performance.

And finally, it’s not just organizations that need to drive change. You also need to take the initiative. As a leader, you can define the next steps to take your business forward. And if you’re in HR, then you need to take ownership of your organization’s strategic agenda and create a workplace in which employee engagement and innovation are measures of productivity. And last, you as an employee need to be part of the solution by taking responsibility for your life and career and making PEIP work for you.

The novelist and adventurer Ernest Hemingway said, “Don’t mistake motion for action.” So seize the day and play your part in driving people’s engagement, innovation, and performance to create prosperity and happiness.


The key message in these summaries is that:

PEIP – or getting the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time and with the right motivation – is key to solving the productivity puzzle. By creating a sound business case for implementation, with clear goals, milestones, and objectives, you can solve the productivity puzzle for your organization. Everyone has a part to play in this workplace revolution.

About the author

Tim Ringo’s career in the HR consultancy and software business spans almost 30 years. He was vice president of SAP Success Factors for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and he’s now on the board and a non-executive director of Optunli, an HR solution that provides strategic workforce planning. He’s a conference speaker and coauthor of Calculating Success.