Productivity VS Quality


Productivity is the key to higher economic growth and the path to improving the quality of life, so said the Singapore government. However, before we can talk about ‘Productivity’, we need to address two fundamentals first: 1) How do we measure productivity accurately? and 2) Are there any opportunity costs or conflicting factors involved in the quest to drive up productivity?

To many people, productivity is the efficiency at which work is performed but this measure may not include the effectiveness of the work done.

In the manufacturing sector where the job lines are standard and each process takes the same definite path to complete, technology such as automation and robotics can be employed to boost the output and hence increase productivity. However, should quality control be taken into consideration, real productivity can only be ascertained if all the products produced are of exact specifications.

Conversely, in the service industry, the measure of productivity will include more ‘human factors’ which are difficult to quantify. For example in a Call Centre environment, management often  measure productivity by the number of calls an agent can take per hour, per day or per month and the average length of the call. The quality of the service rendered hence become secondary and may be left out of the statistics as this is difficult to quantify and manual assessment is often very subjective.

For a marketing personnel whose pay is commission-based, his efficiency would be most probably measured in terms of the amount of sales he can generate. If one is lucky to have clinched one multi-million dollar deal, he could still be the top salesperson for that month although he only made one sale. Another salesperson who had clinched many sales contracts with relatively small sales amount, worked doubly or triply hard within the same period of time would not be able to match the former. Do we then consider him to be less productive?

Do you know how the productivity of a sales assistant in a departmental store is measured? Is it based on the number of customers he/she can serve per day, the amount of sales he/she managed to clinch or even the number of compliments/complaints received from the customers he/she has served?

In my opinion, productivity measure has to be a combination of speed and consistency with the expectations of the product end-users. In the manufacturing sector, the products have to be produced within the shortest timeframe in the production process and yet able to meet the quality set by the company and most importantly its final consumers.

As far as the service sector is concerned, productivity is often a “perceived” concept. Someone who ‘rush through’ the service process with a customer to hit a high number in terms of quantity count may well compromised on the quality aspect especially in terms of the ‘human touch’ which is most valued by final consumers. However, the statistics collected would only show the numbers but not the human touch!

Hence, personally, I would consider a service staff as productive if he/she provides the human touch, exercise discretion and humanity when he/she handles customers and yet be able to serve what the customer wants in the shortest possible time.


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