Want to Be More Productive? Here’s What You Can Learn From Apple, Netflix and Google


For nearly a decade, economists have been a bit stressed (or a lot stressed, depending on who you ask) about the mystery that is the productivity rate in America: From 2007 through 2016, productivity grew at a historically low rate of about 1 percent. It’s one of those questions with infinite potential answers: Is it a lack of investment? Lack of innovation? Millennials taking too many selfie breaks? (Kidding. Sort of.) On the surface, it seems counterintuitive; we have an ever-increasing number of devices and apps designed to help us stay focused, take care of small tasks, and even do stuff for us (shout out to our girls Siri and Alexa). We feel busy as can be, and yet we’re not getting stuff done any quicker or more efficiently.

Lower productivity might sound fairly innocuous for those of us not holding the purse strings of a company or answering to a board of investors; there’s probably even an abstract argument to be made that the millennial generation, which is fairly obsessed with work-life balance, owns this proudly, citing increased contentment and feeling more fulfilled in their non-work lives. But the fact of the matter remains: Productivity relates directly to wages and benefits.

In the midst of the country apparently taking a lot beanbag breaks to log time on productivity apps, there are a handful of companies that are still managing to crush it in terms of productivity. Fast Company reported that a recent study released by consulting firm Bain & Company shows Apple, Netflix, Google and Dell are 40% more productive than the average company and have profit margins that are 30%-50% higher.

If the companies included in that all-star lineup aren’t surprising, some of their methods of getting there might be. In the Fast Company piece, Bain & Company partner Michael Mankins explains that despite the fact these companies have about the same percentage of “star players” in their company makeup, it’s the way they utilize them that makes the difference: Rather than spreading top talent across teams, they stack the deck on teams that are “business critical” and directly impact strategy and execution; other sectors of the business get fewer superstars.

Another surprising factor? They’re not wasting time setting up elaborate processes and making sure everyone is constantly downloaded on every single detail. On the surface this might sound a little reckless, but Mankins alleges that companies lose 25% of its power to replacing individual judgement with procedure and protocol--a process referred to as “operational drag.”

Less surprising: A major driving factor of employee productivity is inspiration. If leadership can not only light the fire under your butt, but set your heart and mind ablaze, too, the results over time can be hefty: Mankins notes that at Dell, a sales team that said they were inspired by leadership were 6% more effective than a sales team that said their leadership was average.

The takeaway seems pretty simple: Supercharge your superstars, don’t make your processes more complicated than you need to, and inspire the eff out of your team.

-Deena Drewis

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