When it comes to productivity, work on your culture!

Article written by John Bacon, UK Head of Program Delivery

In UK industry, ‘workplace culture’ is a frequently discussed topic. Made fashionable by high-growth tech companies, larger organisations constantly strive to emulate environments that support a positive ‘workplace culture’. Despite this, culture is not clearly defined, and most organisations could not provide you with a ‘score’ or measure for their culture in their annual reports.

Only after working with Pulse was I able to see an organisation able to definitively measure culture and understand how it impacts operational performance and productivity, and whether or not it is aligned with organizational strategy.

Often the word culture comes up in a negative context, around subjects such as bullying in the workplace, or workers’ rights. Rarely is it held up as an enabler or driver of great things.

As a younger man I studied and worked in Europe and found that the workplace provides an excellent vignette of a country’s culture, and a fascinating means of comparing two or more country’s cultures.

The media this week is awash with the news that German workers are significantly more productive than workers in the UK.  Apparently a German worker can produce as much in 4 days as a UK worker can in 5.  If this is true, it is not by accident. If you are tempted to think this is by heavy-handed management and whip-cracking then think again.

So how do we get beyond the stereotypical thinking that Germans are better organised and work harder than us? How can we understand what facilitates better productivity?

At Pulse we help organisations design an intentional culture to help them achieve their strategic goals.  Our methodology is grounded in human psychology, and the currency in which we operate is not Sterling or Euros, but behaviours. 

So, what kinds of workplace behaviours may drive productivity?  And why might it be that these statistics are showing significantly higher productivity in Germany than in the UK?

One could sum up the German philosophy to work in three words; ‘Work is Work’.  To have this refrain hung on a UK workplace wall would most likely upset union reps and employment lawyers a great deal.  It would be seen as somewhat Victorian and an excessively capitalist mantra to adopt.  But it is how this mantra is applied in the way that workers behave which is important and telling.  One could translate it into a behaviour such as ‘We Use Our Time Productively’.

Pulse translate the words of a ‘behaviour’ into ‘we do this by’ examples, and these in turn show employees how that behaviour should be positively demonstrated.

In the case of the Germans, there are a few distinct ‘we do this by’s’ which predominate much more strongly than in many UK workplaces :

  1. Use of social media and private email are not allowed in the workplace. It is culturally unacceptable to use these in the workplace. Unlike the UK, this behaviour is so embedded that rarely do you see management teams policing this through policies and procedures. Instead peers will call each other out if they see one another wasting time on such activities.
  2. ‘Chit chat’ has no currency. German workers will not spend a great deal of time talking about their social lives, what was on television last night, what they will be having for dinner tonight, or how clever their kids are.  Again, this behaviour is embedded to the point that you would struggle to find someone prepared to engage in that sort of conversation. There is no lost time.
  3. Effectiveness is not measured by how hard you work, but by how productive you are. In the UK we are obsessed with being seen to be working longer hours than our colleagues.  We wear stress as a badge of honour, and workers who keep to their hours are seen as somehow less committed than their colleagues. Perhaps they should be congratulated if they are managing to deliver as much as their colleagues in less time.  Perhaps we should ask them ‘how did you manage that?’, listen to their responses and learn from them.

I have one more piece of news for you which may come as a shock.  Germans are actually very happy people.  They have more family time, enjoy their social lives, and believe me they know how to play hard.  Perhaps they do this in the knowledge that they have put in a good shift, and are therefore more able to reach out and touch the ‘work-life balance’ Holy Grail.  Perhaps.

So I offer you a challenge.   If you want a more productive and happier workforce, then work on your culture.  You don’t have to be more German, but we all have the ability to learn from others wherever they may be in the world.

If you would like to find out more about how Pulse help organisations to create an intentional culture to support their strategic goals, email me at john.bacon@pulseuk.org or contact our office.

11th July 2018