AT THE Singapore Perspectives Conference on Jan 25 this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: “Becoming more productive is not just a matter of working harder but also means restructuring, change and flux; uncertainties, experiments and discontinuities.”

In other words, workers need to be psychologically prepared to adapt, to change and to make an effort to upgrade themselves — not just once, but throughout their working lives.

Businesses need to be bold and innovative, phasing out unproductive activities and moving into more fruitful areas.

They have to seek out opportunities in distant shores. They have to be ready for fresh competition — there are always new players who are able to do better and threatening to “move their cheese”.

So how can productivity be raised to meet the target of 2 to 3 per cent a year over the next decade?

A good start would be to encourage workers to work smarter and manage their time more effectively to complete any given task.

Embracing more technology, investing in human capital development and research and development (R&D) are also important considerations for organisations.

Helping employees to maintain a work-life balance, giving incentives and looking after staff welfare are plus factors contributing to productivity.

Invest in human capital development

* Leadership skills

It makes economic sense to invest in training department heads and line managers to sharpen their leadership skills.

If managers are too task-oriented and productivity-centred, developing other leadership skills like problem solving and effective communication could transform them from good into great leaders.

A transformational leader in the workplace is conducive to creating a happy environment and increasing productivity.

Leadership researcher Bernard Bass says this type of leader is a model of integrity and fairness, sets clear goals, has high expectations, encourages, provides support and recognition, stirs people’s emotions, gets them to look beyond their self-interest and inspires them to reach for the improbable.

* Project management skills

Another set of skills worth investing in is project management, which can motivate managers to generate maximum team performance, work under very tight deadlines and deliver projects with scarce resources.

Managers who successfully plan, implement, manage risks and deliver projects also develop leadership skills.

* Advanced information technology skills

Automating certain tasks can improve productivity significantly. For example, restaurant staff logging in orders rather than writing them down can save time and reduce errors.

Digital imaging, word processing applications and other advanced IT skills can also positively contribute to better productivity at the workplace.

Like many advancements, technology also has a downside. For example, constant e-mail alerts can distract workplace productivity, so employees should be given tips on how to use these tools effectively.

* Change management skills

Change is inevitable in the business world today. Equipping employees with the right mindset — so that they are less resistant to change — can position companies for future growth.

Change management skills help your human resource department to manage staff who have to transit from a current mode of operation to a new one. They enable leaders to communicate effectively to convince staff that change is essential.

Invest in R&D

Studies suggest that R&D spending does pay off when the findings are applied to raise productivity.

Firms continue to undertake R&D projects because they know that scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and inventors can develop new knowledge or devise better ways of doing things.

R&D investment is an important part of a company’s growth and expansion strategy.

Revisit personnel policies

Retaining talent is a challenge faced by every company. Staff retention strategies that employers can use include attractive welfare and remuneration schemes as well as training and career advancement opportunities.

Research has also shown that organisations that promote work-life balance have more engaged, productive workers.

In summary, there are several areas in which organisations can work hand in hand with staff to foster a win-win relationship and produce huge increases in productivity.