The word ‘productivity’ has a strong negative ring to it. Many fears and misconceptions are attached to the word. This is a shame; I don’t see productivity as a synonym for pressure or poor quality, and certainly not as something that can be ignored.
For me, productivity is about well-being at work; controlling the challenges, finding permanent solutions for everyday issues and developing your own work. All these are positive factors that increase work motivation.
This year, the municipality of Hollola implemented the personnel-oriented Productivity from Quality project, familiarly known as LATU. In addition to Hollola, other participants of the project include the municipalities of Masku, Punkalaidun and Siikajoki as well as the town of Lieksa. Project partners are Sitra, Dazzle Oy and Rondotraining Oy. The objective is to achieve clear savings and better productivity; not by increasing people’s workload but through the development of everyday work.
There is a high social demand for the project. Public economy has reached a dead end: the demand for services is increasing while the income basis is dwindling with the economic growth. The availability of workforce is another challenge of the future.
The accelerating changes taking place in the municipal operational environment provide additional challenges to the staff. The way things have always been done is not necessarily the way today’s customers expect us to work. It is less consuming to take initiative on changes and to carry them out proactively than to take the blows and then try to keep a damaged operation afloat. Without a new approach, there is a real risk of the staff having to face too many problems in their work, and the number of burned out employees will increase accordingly.
I firmly believe that a worker is the best expert on his or her own field and tasks. When grassroots’ level problems occur, how can the problems, or the best solutions, be found in time in any other parts of the organisation?
The LATU approach aims to increase the courage and natural opportunities of the staff to bring out into the open the problems they have met. Another major aspect is the development of supervisor work. When the problems have been made visible, we can start to work together to find solutions. All jointly experienced problems are real. If a problem has a clear cause, matters must be clarified; if no definite reason exists, changes must be considered. Wasted resources and bottlenecks must be tackled through the concepts of sense and practicality and not from the “this is the way it’s always been done” viewpoint. Successful supervisor work facilitates finding solutions.
The long-term productivity of the municipal sector will never improve through individual ideas or measures; it can only succeed if the skills of all 450,000 employees are fully utilised. This way, we can locate and remove hundreds of thousands of obstacles to productivity.
The top-to-bottom thinking that was built into the hierarchical structures during the history of municipal operations poses a challenge to the change process. Removing traditional borderlines and adopting a solution-based and responsible approach requires thorough understanding of future challenges, as well as a willingness to take responsibility and change operational methods on all levels.
Incentives are an integral part of the change. I would gladly see them remain a permanent part of the future pay structure. This will of course require the definition of indicators and, above all, the ability to find the right things to measure.
The task is formidable, but not impossible. I believe that piece by piece, we will be able to remove the public sector challenges that have often been considered immovable. To achieve this, we must empower the staff, build a solution-oriented approach and take a new kind of responsibility in developing everyday work.
Päivi Rahkonen has held the position of municipal manager of Hollola since 2003. She has 18 years of experience as a municipal manager (Pukkila, Elimäki, Hollola) and a total of 23 years of experience of municipal operations in seven different municipalities. Päivi has a higher university degree in administrative science.