Productivity is a quality typically ascribed to individuals, but that is a tiny minority of the measures an organisation can take to improve – a new paper argues that firms must focus on their systems.

Why it matters: Spend five minutes on LinkedIn and you might begin to believe you can hack your way to peak productivity. While hacks and tricks are not entirely useless, they rarely help workers feeling overwhelmed, burned out, or unable to focus – a new HBR paper argues that productivity is about systems.

The consultant Daniel Markovitz specialises in operations and execution, a discipline based on understanding the interdependencies that make up sophisticated organisations. Ultimately, these are the structures that have the greatest impact on overall and personal productivity.


  • Visibility. Keep track of tasks through virtual boards to cut down on pointless status check emails/meetings – the marketing industry is, after all, no stranger to these. Time off should also be clearly visible, not flagged by an out-of-office email response.
  • Sort out communications. “With no agreement on what communication channel to use, workers are forced to check all digital messaging platforms to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. That’s toxic to productivity,” Markovitz writes.
  • Work out how to flag actual emergencies. Protocols that clarify where an urgent message might come from frees employees from checking all their channels/notifications, allowing them to get on with work.
  • Align responsibility with authority. Consider structures such as the “lattice” that designates some decisions as “above the waterline”, or low risk, and “below the waterline”, high risk decisions. Only the latter require approval.
  • Tiered huddles. Replace scattershot emails with tiered huddles from least to most senior staff. This can give a clear sequence for escalation, which accelerates decision-making.

Takeaway: “94% of most problems and possibilities for improvement belong to the system, not the individual.”

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Sourced from Harvard Business Review