People, Technology, and the Pursuit of Productivity

One of my biggest jobs as CEO is to prepare our company for the future. Increasingly, that future looks more time-constrained and urgent, both for our clients and for our employees, with everyone trying to get more done in less time. “Productivity” has become the one-word shorthand for this, and to me it’s about working as smartly and as efficiently as you can.

In recent history, society and business alike has leaned heavily on technology and automation to be more productive, and we’ve had great success – from mobile email and social networks to digitization of documents, the examples are many. However, it’s important to remember that technology is at its best when it augments human skills and judgment, and doesn’t simply replace them. With that in mind, I wanted to share a few things to consider when aiming to be more productive.

You can’t use technology to automate your relationships. In today’s environment, it’s easy to look to technology as a quick and efficient way to reduce the time spent on managing relationships in your life, from friends and family all the way to building out your professional network and managing millions of clients. However, this risks alienating some of the most important people in your life, losing touch with your colleagues and creating frustration for customers. Instead, it’s about striking a balance – I use LinkedIn as my rolodex, for example, and it’s a fantastic tool for that purpose, but I also take time to meet clients and employees in person whenever possible because I know that an electronic exchange can’t replace a handshake.

Mind your meetings. While on the subject of meetings, it would be fantastic to do away with all of them – just imagine the time and money saved! But what would replace them? The reality is that meetings, whether in person, on the phone or virtual, are a critical tool for getting things done. With that said, there’s huge room for improvement at almost every company in terms of how to run good meetings, and RBC is no different.

I usually get to work tackling my meeting load at the start of the week, and always try to begin with the end in mind: what does success look like? As I consider how to balance my meetings, I constantly think about focusing on places where I can make a real difference. It’s a good idea to look for meetings where your perspective or view can help shape the discussion, or where it’s clear that a decision needs your input. If that’s not the case, and if the value you can add will therefore be limited, you may want to think long and hard before hitting the “accept” button. Last but not least, you should always keep an eye out for meetings where you can learn something new, or gain a new perspective.

Enhance your employee engagement. I spend a lot of time in my role thinking about how to deepen employee engagement. It’s well known that engaged teams – those who buy into the strategy, care about our values and vision and get excited about our goals – are more productive than those who aren’t. One of the ways we make sure we stay in tune with employees is an annual survey which measures employee engagement and their opinions about what it’s like to work at RBC. It’s a fast, technology-driven way to take the pulse of close to 80,000 people, but surveys aren’t always the solution.

Earlier this year, we wanted to make sure employees were front and centre as we looked to articulate our purpose as a company and re-visit our shared values. Instead of a poll, we decided to seek a meaningful opportunity for two-way dialogue. We hosted a massive, three-day online brainstorm where some 20,000 employees in 22 countries made their voices heard across 17,300 threads, comments and replies. Everyone from senior leaders to frontline colleagues took part, and the results were simply amazing. We could have taken the dialogue component out by simply running another survey – it would have been faster, cheaper and easier to administer. However, it also would have been much more shallow and not nearly as powerful in terms of helping us shape our culture.

I think it’s clear that technology can significantly increase productivity, and we’re continuing to invest to ensure we stay relevant to what our clients want to see from us. However, it can’t always substitute for human effort. What do you think? How do you use technology in doing more with less time?
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Dave McKay
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