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Radhika Panjwani is a freelance writer from Toronto.

Canada is far from a world leader when it comes to productivity. Instead of infusing billions of taxpayer dollars into giga-factories and massive subsidies to automakers, Barry Cross, an assistant professor of operations strategy at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University and a best-selling author, has a different idea.

He says Ottawa and Queen’s Park should have instead diverted the funds to create robust internship programs, refined the pathways to trade schools for high school students and encouraged research and development to address labour shortages and spur innovation.

“Having economic prosperity means Canada will have the ability to increase capacity for healthcare, transit, infrastructure and education,” Mr. Cross said to The Globe and Mail. “Canada doesn’t do nearly as well as its peers in creating new trades and internship programs as this is where the talent to boost productivity would ideally come from. From a public policy perspective, governments also need to invest in ways that enable more people to work more effectively, [for example], build high-speed rail corridors and ensure everyone has access to broadband Internet.”

Currently, Canada ranks No. 18 according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Canada was in the same spot in 2019, before the pandemic began.

What can organizations do?

In Canada, large-scale infrastructure projects such as oil and gas pipelines, high-speed transit and other transportation plans that move resources swiftly into the market or help workers get to work easily take twice as long to complete and cost twice as much compared to similar projects in Europe and Australia.

“Part of the problem with productivity is also that we have some structural challenges in Canada,” Mr. Cross said. “Many of Canada’s largest organizations such as banks and telecommunications companies are comfortably part of stable oligopolies. These companies don’t have an incentive to boost productivity because they’re profitable even without doing anything and also because they don’t have any competitors.”

Moving the needle on productivity could take years, but Canada needs to firmly commit to strengthening the gaps in education, fostering research and development and narrowing gaps in sustainability, housing and infrastructure.

Organizations must take a critical look at bottlenecks and constraints within their systems and fix the issues that hinder productivity and employee frustration. The responsibility to do so lies with leadership teams, he said.

“Leaders must challenge their workforce and work with the assumption that every once in a while, it’s okay to ask for something exceptional from them,” Mr. Cross said.

Leadership and employee retention

David Lahey, chief executive officer of Predictive Success Corp., a Canadian company that employs predictive analytics for hiring, inspiration, productivity and employee engagement, said great teams are exceptional because they are able to “build trust deposits” in working activities.

Mr. Lahey was one of the founding members of the first enterprise sales group at Microsoft Canada. He tackles the concept of productivity in his book, From Hire to Inspire: How to become the best boss and offers strategies to attract, mentor, manage and inspire an elite workforce.

“For decades, physicians have asked for testing before they interpret the problem and we bring this same testing science of behavioural analytics to hiring for the front-line leader and the executive suite,” Mr. Lahey said to The Globe. “When employees and managers understand their own core drives as well as those around them, they are better equipped to become the best version of themselves, ultimately leading to increased productivity for the organization.”

His other advice for boosting productivity is to hire fairly. When people have bias, it reduces productivity. This is especially true when companies want to optimize the potential of candidates including those who are new to Canada. These insights pass downstream from the leaders and create a culture of self-awareness that can improve ways of working and skyrocket productivity, he said.

What I’m reading around the web

  • This article in SFU (Simon Fraser University) News says their research shows practice of mindfulness can reduce workplace stress. Mindfulness makes people view their tasks as less threatening and more challenging.
  • This piece in HRReporter says British Columbia will be introducing legislation to help regulatory bodies streamline their credential recognition process so it’s easier for people, including newcomers, to use their skills to work in the province.
  • Here’s a new trend that’s going viral on Instagram and TikTok. This CNBC story says people are posting AI-generated 1990s-inspired yearbook photos of themselves with the app Epik. Even though the app is free to download, you have to pay to generate the photos.

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