Skip to content

Subscribe to Asset Servicing & Fintech Insights

Discover more information in our monthly publication, the AXIS newsletter, including industry trends, product innovation, Fintech and more from our team of experts.

Productivity: The Story Behind the Numbers

The importance of data-driven decisions to drive large-scale productivity

We’re all being asked to do more. And to do more with less. Yes, I know…easier said than done! But in my opinion, meeting this higher demand is all about driving productivity, not just asking people to work harder.

There are many articles, videos, and podcasts out there covering ways to increase productivity, ranging from change management, to incentives, to employee engagement. While these ideas can be helpful, often they only scratch the surface of productivity. I believe there is more to be discovered around the question of how to drive productivity, especially on a large scale.

In my view, the key to achieving productivity gains is to unlock the power of data. This requires organizations to identify patterns and insights based on outputs and productivity metrics. It starts with compiling, analyzing, and ultimately using the data to inform decisions. 

So how do organizations unlock the power of data and leverage data-driven decisions to achieve large-scale productivity gains?

Nothing Measured, Nothing Changed

It starts with establishing a solid methodology for compiling, tracking, and analyzing productivity data. There are many tools and software available today to assist organizations in gathering and tracking robust metrics. The challenge, however, is knowing when and how to take action based on the data.

The first step is to ask questions. And lots of them. This requires organizations to peel back the layers of the data “onion” and to be inquisitive in order to generate meaningful insights. Ultimately, it’s about letting the data provide insights into where people are spending time, whether work being done is value-add, and how the amount of waste can be reduced. If answers go unresolved, you may need to go back and gather more data. However, regardless of the abundance of data available, it won’t tell a story unless you ask the right questions!

As with any business or investment decision, productivity decisions should be data-driven. However, compiling, tracking outputs, and asking questions are only the first steps. From there, the challenge becomes how that information can be best used. 

An Engineering Mindset

So you have the data. Now, what’s next? Each organization is different, and will find unique insights from productivity analysis. Having said that, I believe the common denominator in most effectively leveraging data across industries is the need to take on an engineering mindset.  

The ability of engineers to think in terms of building blocks, various processes, and understand how various components work together is particularly relevant when it comes to developing a more productive work environment. This mindset recognizes that productivity isn’t a “one-and-done” type of initiative. Rather, it’s a job that is never truly finished. A job that must be repeatable and scalable, requiring a “work in progress” mentality.

Wasted Capacity – Waste Not, Want Not

Wasted capacity is the Achilles heel of every business. One of the greatest benefits of looking at productivity through a data-driven lens is the ability to evaluate where and how time is being spent or, more importantly, wasted. 

To create highly productive teams, attention and resources should be focused on value-add activities. More hours spent working does not necessarily translate to more productivity. Instead, productivity is about the quality of output and whether that output creates value for an organization, its clients and its shareholders. It’s important for leaders to communicate to their people what “value-add” actually means and looks like, in order to ensure the group as a whole is working towards a shared and desirable goal. If too much time is being spent on mechanical, non-value-add activities, the result is almost always waste. The goal of leveraging productivity data should be to unlock capacity for value-add activities by reducing time spent on others. 

One way to unlock this capacity is by breaking down silos in order to boost cross-functional collaboration and the transferability of both work and skills. Managers shouldn’t strictly look to their own teams when it comes to capacity and coverage. Instead, they should look across teams and functions to ensure appropriate training and skill development is taking place. It’s about looking across functions that are completely different but complementary in order to maximize productivity. Take fund accountants for example. You may have fund accountants that are busy with end-of-day pricing, but have some capacity in the morning.  This could be utilized to help on custody settlement issues or maybe fund administration work.  Two different jobs, but complementary in terms of being able to pick up work and fill unused capacity.  

The ability to be agile in transferring work from one person to another enables optimal use of resources. The broader you can think, the more capacity you can utilize.

Improving productivity is a complex, multi-dimensional topic and one I can barely do justice within the parameters of a short blog. However, I encourage you to think about your organization’s productivity strategy and look for ways that data can inform productivity decisions in your day-to-day jobs. The data always tells a story!

Peter B. Cherecwich

President of Asset Servicing
Pete is an Executive Vice President and a member of Northern Trust’s Management Group in Chicago. Pete currently serves as the President of Northern Trust Asset Servicing.

Confidentiality Notice:  This communication is confidential, may be privileged, and is meant only for the intended recipient.  If you are not the intended recipient, please notify the sender as soon as possible.  All materials contained in this presentation, including the description of Northern Trust, its systems, processes and pricing methodology, are proprietary information of Northern Trust. In consideration of acceptance of these materials, the recipient agrees that it will keep all such materials strictly confidential and that it will not, without the prior written consent of Northern Trust, distribute such materials or any part thereof to any person outside the recipient’s organization or to any individual within the recipient’s organization who is not directly involved in reviewing this presentation, unless required to do so by applicable law.  If the recipient is a consultant acting on behalf of a third party client, the recipient may share such materials with its client if it includes a copy of these restrictions with such materials.  In such event, the client agrees to comply with these restrictions in consideration of its accepting such materials.

© 2021 Northern Trust Corporation. Head Office: 50 South La Salle Street, Chicago, Illinois 60603 U.S.A. Incorporated with limited liability as an Illinois corporation under number 0014019. Products and services provided by subsidiaries of Northern Trust Corporation may vary in different markets and are offered in accordance with local regulation. This material is directed to professional clients only and is not intended for retail clients. For Asia-Pacific markets, it is directed to expert, institutional, professional and wholesale clients or investors only and should not be relied upon by retail clients or investors. For legal and regulatory information about our offices and legal entities, visit The following information is provided to comply with local disclosure requirements: The Northern Trust Company, London Branch, Northern Trust Global Investments Limited, Northern Trust Securities LLP and Northern Trust Investor Services Limited, 50 Bank Street, London E14 5NT. Northern Trust Global Services SE, 10 rue du Château d’Eau, L-3364 Leudelange, Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, incorporated with limited liability in Luxembourg at the RCS under number B232281; Northern Trust Global Services SE UK Branch, 50 Bank Street, London E14 5NT; Northern Trust Global Services SE Sweden Bankfilial, Ingmar Bergmans gata 4, 1st Floor, 114 34 Stockholm, Sweden; Northern Trust Global Services SE Netherlands Branch, Viñoly 7th floor, Claude Debussylaan 18 A, 1082 MD Amsterdam; Northern Trust Global Services SE Abu Dhabi Branch, registration Number 000000519 licenced by ADGM under FSRA # 160018; Northern Trust Global Services SE Norway Branch, 3rd Floor, Haakon VII's Gate 6, 0161 Oslo, Norway; Northern Trust Global Services SE, Leudelange, Luxembourg, Zweigniederlassung Basel is a branch of Northern Trust Global Services SE (itself authorised by the ECB and subject to the prudential supervision of the ECB and the CSSF). The Branch has its registered office at Aeschenplatz 6, 4052, Basel, Switzerland, and is authorised and regulated by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority FINMA. The Northern Trust Company Saudi Arabia, PO Box 7508, Level 20, Kingdom Tower, Al Urubah Road, Olaya District, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 11214-9597, a Saudi Joint Stock Company – Capital 52 million SAR. Regulated and Authorised by the Capital Market Authority License # 12163-26 CR 1010366439. Northern Trust (Guernsey) Limited (2651)/Northern Trust Fiduciary Services (Guernsey) Limited (29806)/Northern Trust International Fund Administration Services (Guernsey) Limited (15532) Registered Office: Trafalgar Court, Les Banques, St Peter Port, Guernsey GY1 3DA. Northern Trust International Fund Administration Services (Ireland) Limited (160579) / Northern Trust Fiduciary Services (Ireland) Limited (161386),  Registered Office: Georges Court, 54-62 Townsend Street, Dublin 2, D02 R156, Ireland.