The heart of Australia's productivity problem

Cutting back on staff is not the answer to Australia's lagging productivity. The real problem is that while most companies have great strategies, they're rarely executed.

Over the last few years productivity has become a big issue for businesses. Since the global financial crisis, I have observed a strong tendency in placing a freeze on recruitment within many large businesses in Australia across varying industries. Quite simply many companies either stopped hiring or became very careful with welcoming new people, even to replace leaving employees.

However workloads have not diminished dramatically. What has become apparent for many businesses is they have less people to do the same amount of work. This has created two simple issues: a productivity issue with not enough people to do the work and a work life balance issue with people working long hours and feeling stressed.

There are many things individuals, managers and companies can do to increase productivity. Unfortunately the default is to work harder. This can work for a while but is not sustainable.

One of the biggest gaps in the area of productivity is execution. According to recent studies, two-thirds of corporate strategy is never executed.

The issue is rarely the quality of the strategy and action plan decided. The issue for companies today is execution. They might be clear on their strategy, on where they want to head. But if you check what people are doing on a day-to-day basis, what they spend their time on hour per hour, you realise there is often a big gap between what they are doing and what they are supposed to do.

If you and your team find yourself caught in this situation and you would like to increase performance and productivity but can’t work any harder, here a few suggestions to be more effective, to work smarter rather than harder:


Many people are neither clear on what their organisation is trying to achieve nor on how they can contribute. It seems simple and obvious, but it is key for each team to think quarterly. This means getting together at least on a quarterly basis to be clear on what the team is trying to achieve and to agree the two or three things each person needs to do to get there.


Most people and teams try to do too much. They take too many priorities on and as a result, struggle to deliver on any of them. As mentioned, each person needs to focus on two to three priorities per quarter, no more. One of the most important exercises is not to decide what you must do, it is to decide what you will not do. Then you need to organise your time on a weekly basis. Every week review your two to three priorities and plan the next week. Make sure you project enough time to focus on these priorities.


Every day you will be tempted to wander away from your priorities. Interruptions, distractions, last minute requests and crises, emails, meetings, … all these will create day to day noise and reduce the time you can spend on key priorities. You need to be disciplined and protect this time.

All of the above is simple. But it is rarely applied. And as a result many companies struggle to achieve what was agreed in their strategic plan. Bain Consulting carried out an interesting study on strategy execution. They surveyed nearly 2,000 large companies. Seven out of eight failed to achieve profitable growth, though more than 90 percent had detailed strategic plans.

The strategic plan is only the beginning. Execution is what lies beneath and what will enable businesses to perform.

Cyril Peupion and his team at Primary Asset Consulting’s main focus is to increase productivity and work life balance by changing work habits. Cyril is the author of ‘Work Smarter: Live Better’, which featured in the top 10 business books in Australia and top 100 Amazon worldwide.

For further resources and information on Primary Asset Consulting visit

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