Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Leverage workers’ strengths – not their titles – to improve productivity

Founder and principal of Collaborativity Leadership Advisory ( and former chief human resources officer of American Express Canada.

How does work get done in the new world of work?

Twenty years ago, I visited a kibbutz in Israel. In the morning, we were assigned different tasks based on our core skills, strengths and interests. One day, I spent time in the daycare because I was patient and enjoyed children, while my friend was deployed to work in the fields to gather food for our meals because she was quick, efficient and enjoyed the physical challenge. The next day, we were assigned different jobs that equally leveraged our strengths and interests. We worked in teams to complete individual tasks and collaborated to achieve the broader "department" and overall objectives. People were engaged and delivered results – and felt accomplished.

Story continues below advertisement

Can we learn something from this organizational model to more effectively get work done in this new world of work?

Shocking that, with all of the technological innovation we are seeing in this fourth industrial revolution, we have not seen the commensurate spike in productivity. And despite the fear of robots taking all of our jobs, employees are more stressed and overworked than ever.

If we look at the way most organizations and teams are structured, and the way we set goals and measure and manage performance, there is ample opportunity to increase productivity and reduce overload.

How is work organized?

Many of today's successful companies structure themselves as agile teams. If, as in my kibbutz example, workers were deployed into purpose-driven teams, based on the needs of the organization at that moment, leveraging workers' strengths rather than their job titles, would we see better results?

Clearly, we can't all just show up to work each day not knowing, at least vaguely, what our accountabilities are; however, most organizations today build departments first, then role descriptions, assign people to these roles and then try to force-fit work onto people's plates, creating artificial boundaries between departments, barriers for productivity and competition and politics between departments. In more agile organizations, where teams are built around a specific product or project or customer need, these boundaries are removed.

An agile approach enables teams to fail fast, learn and move on, minimizing rework and increasing speed to market.

Story continues below advertisement

How do we set goals?

Traditionally, goal setting has been part of a strategic planning process taking place once a year. And how many of us actually look at our goals on a regular (perhaps weekly) basis? With today's pace of change, and the new slate of candidates in our work force, goal setting needs an overhaul. We live in a world where whatever is at the top of our inbox becomes the priority … and how many of us reflect upon our day saying, "I have no clue what I did all day but I was very busy." Setting (and refreshing) specific, meaningful and achievable goals is critical in this new world of work.

For example, for those who are apprehensive about virtual working, for fear that workers will slack off or not be aligned with corporate objectives – think about your goal-setting practices, how to makes linkages between individual and team goals to the company's purpose for all workers, and then measure and manage performance.

How is performance measured and managed?

Once we've set clear goals, we must create feedback mechanisms to maximize performance. Without the carrot (or stick) of traditional performance-management processes, how can we ensure all workers are on board with company goals and strategic objectives? How can we create a high-performance culture when we don't have as much loyalty and longevity in our work force?

These are loaded questions that many organizations are addressing head-on. For example, the idea of getting rid of performance ratings is not about the rating nor the use of a three-point or five-point scale. The underlying issue is that, in many cases, performance management was a process that would occur twice a year and only for permanent employees. In this new world of work, this process does not adequately drive company performance. Full-time equivalents (FTEs), freelancers and even robots require regular, constructive feedback, based on clear goals that tie to company objectives.

Story continues below advertisement

Imagine a world where teams, comprised of all types of workers (human and not) are structured in a way that makes work easier to get done, leveraging exponential technologies and applying the core skills of each human. And where those humans are motivated to perform, regardless of their employment relationship with the company, because they believe in its strategy and purpose. This reality does exist in many high-performing organizations today. It's time for the rest of us to get on board.

Mark Mortensen of INSEAD discusses his findings about teamwork and how knowing what teams others are on can improve workflow Special to Globe and Mail Update
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles as we switch to a new provider. We are behind schedule, but we are still working hard to bring you a new commenting system as soon as possible. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to