Article: "Organizations as Ecosystems"

Fundamentally, why does your organization care about
employee productivity? In order to be successful, your
organization must both make money and save money. To
make money, it must find and keep customers. To save
money, it could reduce benefits, staff or salaries; it could
reduce the quality of its products; it could cost costs and
expenses. Or it could improve employee productivity. So
improving productivity looks like a pretty good option.

So why should you care about productivity? The main
reason is that you don't get laid off. But the benefit is that
by becoming more productive, overworked employees
can get the same amount of work done in less time and
leave the office earlier. Employees get a life, and
organizations get to keep them. This is truly an amazing

You see, an organization is a living, breathing being, made
up of living, breathing beings. It’s a very complicated
ecosystem. If you think of your company as a rainforest or
a life cycle, it has complex interrelationships. One part
affects the other parts. When the worms stop doing their
jobs, the lions suffer. When the lions stop doing their jobs,
the worms suffer. When one part of the system is “sick,” it
affects the whole.

In a seminar I taught last week, I posed a question to the
group: “What happens to you every day that keeps you
from doing what you know you should be doing”? I told
them I was assuming they were all hard workers, had
good intentions, and knew what they should be working
on. So why wasn't it getting done? “What happens to you
every day that keeps you from doing what you know you
should be doing”?

Incredibly, their answers ALL focused on external things:
having to do with other people, the organization, or
systemic issues (external factors):

· Unimportant meetings
· Crisis
· Frequent interruptions
· Unnecessary e-mail volume
· Excessive socializing
· Understaffing and unrealistic expectations
· Ineffective communication

In other words, these were the areas where the
organization was “broken”; where it accepted and
perpetuated “sick” behavior. But remember that an
organization is a living, breathing being, made up of
living, breathing beings. So I pointed out they had only
identified external factors and asked the question again.
“What happens to you every day that keeps you from
doing what you know you should be doing”? This time,
focus on yourself and the interrelationships of the
organization. What do you personally do that causes the

SILENCE. Then, slowly…

· I suppose I interrupt people too… it’s kind of the
norm around here.
· Sometimes I procrastinate on important projects I
know I'm supposed to be working on and end up creating
the crisis myself.
· I blame the company for a culture that expects long
hours, when I actually don't work on high priority
activities until the end of the day, which forces me to stay
· My desk is a disaster, and I waste a lot of time looking
for things.
· I don't really trust some of my people, and I probably
have a lot of things on my plate that I should be delegating
to someone else.
· I sometimes send personal and inappropriate emails
to others, rationalizing that “others do it too”
· I gripe about the meetings around here, but I secretly
relish the mental breaks from work
· I know that we need an updated procedure and a new
process in purchasing, but I only complain about it
because I don't want to do the work.

It was incredible. Once we shifted the focus of the
conversation, we got REAL. The group realized that some
things that felt uncontrollable or seemed to be caused by
other people were really within their sphere of influence.
Individual members acting out these behaviors create the

If a Time Cop would come around and hand out tickets for
productivity failures, where and when would you get a
ticket? Ask yourself where you are buying into and
actually supporting the problem behaviors you notice

We're not talking about major shifts in productivity here,
because it’s impossible for anyone to be productive 100%
of the time. We're talking about a few percentage points of
improvement from each employee that would result in
millions of dollars of gain, retention, and employee

So start with yourself and spread it to others. Take some
initiative. Let the system work. It’s only when individual
people notice, challenge, and implement changes in
personal habits that real productivity growth occurs

© Copyright 2003 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP. All rights
reserved. Portions of this newsletter may be reprinted in
your organization or association newsletter, provided the
following credit line is present:

"Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is “The Productivity PRO,"®
helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and
more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars
on time management, information overload, and personal
productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or
[email protected]"