Unfair Advantage

September 2, 2022

OECD statistics about the productivity of New Zealand’s workforce made for interesting reading in this article from a few weeks back. You might remember this being framed as a variation on an old joke.

An Irishman, a Brit, an American, an Aussie and a Kiwi agree to walk into a pub after work, once each has produced the same output value.

At 5pm, the Irishman walks in, job done. He waits alone, until the American joins him at 10.40pm. It’s 40 minutes after midnight when the Brit arrives, followed by the Aussie, at 1.10am.

At 3.40am the Kiwi enters the pub; but can’t stay long, as the working day starts again at 8am.

The article talked about workforce productivity as a key driver of economic growth for countries, but business owners who read the story were probably thinking about their own operations and the economic output of their own workforce.

Productivity is under the microscope

Productivity is currently getting a lot of attention due to the constrained environment many businesses are operating in. There is record high employment, negative migration, more sick leave, and increased staff attrition. These things haven’t affected all businesses equally. Some sectors have been worse hit than others and these businesses have tended to be the most vocal.

The tourism industry, the hospitality industry, the horticulture industry, and the aged care industry all spring to mind. I’ve heard the word crisis used a lot, perhaps most often by health professionals.

The whole health sector is strained following decades of under investment. At the recently held aged care conference, I heard Riana Manuel describe the issue rather succinctly by saying “if we wanted a tree, we should have planted it twenty years ago; but we didn’t.”

Faster trees

The first thing we need to do is start planting trees. But that won’t solve today’s problem. Solving today’s problem, according to the article, requires an improvement in workforce productivity and this can be achieved, in some cases, with better technology.

During the NZACA conference that I attended, Sir Ralph Norris provided a great example of technology improving workforce productivity. As newly appointed Chief Executive of ASB he was taken on a branch tour where he noticed a row of people lined up against the back wall of the branch. He enquired about them and was told they were waiting for cheque signatures to be verified.

In those days, bank tellers would ensure that the signature on a cheque was legitimate by faxing the cheque to whichever branch held the prototype signature for the account. At every branch there was a whole team of people sending and receiving faxes.

To eliminate this inefficiency, ASB developed a central repository for digital signatures that all branch staff could access. Almost overnight, fax handlers could be redeployed to more productive and more interesting roles, increasing the overall productivity of the workforce.

Innovation drives productivity

Inefficiencies like this abound in every sector. Sometimes we don’t even know we’re being inefficient until someone shows us a different way of doing things. There is no doubt the health sector is open to exploring new ways of doing things. As evidenced by the nineteen digital enablement trials launched at the end of last year, including two remote monitoring projects that use Spritely.

Remote monitoring enables patient-led care, which saves nurses’ time. If remote care is prioritised for suitable patients, it creates more in-person time for people that can’t be seen remotely.

Patient-led care via remote monitoring, saves time by eliminating tasks that used to be done manually by nurses. We’ve seen similar benefits in retirement villages where new technology enables residents to self-manage things that the staff used to handle. An example is activities management.

Most villages plan activities monthly. At the end of each month they print and deliver paper-based activity schedules to 300+ residents. Residents circle the activities they would like to book for the next month and then return their schedules to a receptionist who spends up to 4 days manually entering thousands of bookings.

Queues form at reception as residents line up to hand in their booking requests as quicky as possible and avoid disappointment.  As villages develop, they quickly outgrow the manual, paper-based processes that were easy to manage in the early days.

Digital tools unlock potential

Spritely’s activity module is just one example of the way our platform increases productivity for retirement villages. The important point to remember is that innovation can unlock the potential of even the most constrained workforce.

As our reference article points out, “There are digital tools to speed up routine jobs, in the same way barcodes have sped up supermarket queues”. It is the responsibility of owners and managers of every business to ensure they learn about these tools and take steps to implement them. If you don’t then pressure on your workforce can become unsustainable.

A previous blog from Spritely referenced a great quote from Sir Ralph Norris at the RVA/NZACA conference. I was sitting down the front myself and took note when he said “if you do not keep up with the latest innovations in your industry you put your company in peril.”

What he means is that in order to remain competitive you have to give you workforce every possible advantage and where possible, if you want to win, gain an unfair advantage through innovation.