Leadership and culture

Productivity and the W.H.E.N. of work. Part 2: The three C’s of workplace efficiency

Published on December 16, 2021

This is Part 2 of a series. Make sure you read Part 1 first for context on productivity and self-improvement.

When it comes to generating value in the workplace, the onus is often placed on individual workers to be productive, regardless of circumstance. Although there are ways to improve personal productivity, such as those discussed in Part 1, it’d be foolish to operate under the assumption that workplace efficiency is the sum total of each employee’s productivity.

As we’ll explore below, it’s likely that 80% of your organization’s workforce needs varying degrees of assistance to be properly effective. Maximizing workplace efficiency is dependent on three C’s: competency, collaboration, and culture. Before going in depth on the WHEN framework that constitutes this series’ namesake, let’s touch upon each of these dependencies.


The three C’s of workplace efficiency


Problem: Workers bring behavioral and functional competencies with them to the workplace, but there are often gaps or mismatches when compared to the competencies demanded by specific roles, teams, and organizations. Optimizing a worker’s effectiveness and engagement is dependent on increasing opportunities for personal productivity and decreasing any obstructions to workplace efficiency.

1st solution: Decrease obstructions to workplace efficiency by ensuring there are:

  • Clear and accessible repositories of institutional knowledge; which includes documentation and reporting of explicit knowledge, as well as strategies for transferring implicit knowledge through training, mentorship, and serendipitous social interactions.
  • Collaboration opportunities that add value, use uncomplicated technologies, and have clearly defined use-cases for sharing fast, novel, interesting, or concrete ideas.
  • Identifiable paragons of company culture who can embody the behavioral and functional competencies that reflect the organization’s core values.

2nd solution: Increase opportunities for personal productivity by making it as easy as possible for every employee to follow and maintain the productivity tips provided in Part 1. For organizations that want to sustainably grow long-term, it’s insufficient to only seek out and support individuals who are already self-sufficient. Uphold the WHEN framework laid out in this  article series, fold Part 1’s productivity tips into your company culture, and elevate healthy personal productivity as one of your company’s core values.


Problem: Effective collaboration between individuals, teams, and departments leads to innovation, creates value, and influences organizational decision-making. However, effective collaboration is often impeded by some combination of:

  • A lack of groundwork, vision, or follow-through.
  • Insufficient trust, tools/technologies, or member buy-in.
  • Unclear processes, scope, or responsibilities.

Solution: Ensure that various kinds of collaborative activities are supported and encouraged, without detracting from each role’s primary goals. Collaboration demands engagement; engagement requires well-defined processes for planning, roll-out, and follow-through; and processes require tools for documentation, delegation, and ideation. From this perspective, using the right tools is a fundamental factor in determining whether collaboration happens effectively in your organization. Implement tools and technologies that can cover synchronous and asynchronous communication, thoughtful and light discussions, as well as nascent and concrete topics.


Problem: Gaining, training, and maintaining a talented workforce takes time, effort, and money.

Solution: With that problem in mind, it behooves organizations to cultivate a company culture that is engaging on a personal level, offers vertical and horizontal mobility, and demonstrates that effectiveness is rewarded. A key differentiator for establishing and maintaining a productive company culture is by approaching business from an infinite mindset rather than a finite one.


Context for the WHEN framework

As a reminder, the WHEN framework that will be discussed in this series is an acronym for: Wisdom, Heuristics, Empathy, and Natural needs. This framework consists of low-tech, humanistic considerations that should help decision makers approach leadership opportunities with the expectation and understanding that work gets done best when workers are provided with a sufficient foundation to build upon and the proper tools to build with. If you’re a leader, you probably feel the same about your own management efforts.

In today’s evolving job market, many knowledge workers are looking for much more than sign-on bonuses and lucrative perks. An organization that wants to retain an engaged workforce needs to demonstrate loyalty to employees, otherwise the employees who create value will feel exploited and be driven away. The point about company culture bares repeating: before coming on board with an organization, employees are looking for at least a competitive wage, with additional considerations for work/life balance, opportunities for developing and growing competencies, and a management structure that isn’t too overbearing or too hands-off.

The rest of this article series is split into five parts. A dedicated entry for each letter of WHEN, with a summary and predictions at the end:

  • Part 3: W is for Wisdom
    • Question existing beliefs and resist the status quo
    • Avoid stepping over dollars to pick up dimes
  • Part 4: H is for Heuristics
    • Understand the cost of complex thought
    • Promote intrinsic motivators to improve heuristic tasks
  • Part 5: E is for Empathy
    • Foster emotional intelligence
    • Strive for trust
  • Part 6: N is for Natural needs
    • Optimize each employee by satisfying their needs
    • Considerations for time, energy, and relationships

The four categories of WHEN are in service of better understanding the human condition and an attempt to systematize the philosophy of placing people above profits. As this series goes along and we get into the explanations for each category, you should keep the three C’s of workplace efficiency in the back of your mind. Whether you’re in an entry-level position looking to steer your boss in the right direction or in the C-Suite aiming for a competitive advantage in today’s job market, WHEN will provide you with plenty of actionable tips.

This is Part 2 of a series. Part 1 is on personal productivity and self-improvement. Part 2 is on competency, collaboration, and culture. Part 3 is on organizational wisdom. Part 4 is on heuristic cognition. Part 5 is on empathy and emotional intelligence. Part 6 is on physical and social needs.

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