Saturday, 31 December 2011

Good intentions

Some folk make new year resolutions.

For many, its the same ones every year ... the things they know they ought to do, but don't want to.

Business can be like that. There are things we know we should do ... but something (we always have an excuse) stops us. We're too busy, too tired, the time is not right, and so on.

Well, for a change, this year ... think what you ought to do .. and put some time in your diary to actually do it. You know it makes sense!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Can you use Siri?

Many of you will know about Siri - the 'personal assistant' on the iPhone 4S. I have not used the service myself, but it sounds interesting and useful.

 However, when I had a PA myself, it took some time to find a way of working together that maximised both of our talents and made us really productive?

 This, of course, is true of all team working - you have to understand the talents and attitudes of those within the team and then construct working processes that work for THIS group.

If the personnel in the group change, things may have to be tweaked. Think through your organisation and identify groups that might need a bit of such tweaking ... where gains could be achieved simply by changing the ways on which the group is structured, communicates internally, communicates with others, makes decisions and so on.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Is True Work Like True Love?

True love is hard to define .. but most of think we can recognise it!

True work is actually easier to recognise.   True work is those activities that change the product or service we are supplying in ways that (a) benefit the customer and (b) the customer is happy to pay for.  Everything else is activity that does not add value ... and should be eliminated!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

The Holiday Season approaches

What happens to productivity in the holiday season?

It plummets.  People are distracted and unfocused.

Can we stop this happening?

Well, we can certainly minimise it .. but 'doing a deal' on certain things we allow to happen ... and certain things we don't.

So, think through what those things are ... and then talk to your staff about them ... and reach agreement.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Uncover the rocks

I was recently looking at some small manufacturing plants.

 What struck me was the excessive amount of work-in-progress 'on the floor'.

 WIP is like a sea that covers the rocks that represent poor manufacturing practice.

 As you lower WIP levels, these rocks become evident and you find out what you are doing wrong.

But leave WIP levels high and you never uncover the rocks ... and you lose a lot of money tied up in that 'sea'.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Don't feed the robots

Would you use robots to run the business? Well, perhaps in 30 or 40 years time ... but current generations are too limited and inflexible for more than routine physical tasks. Humans are much better at most things ... but of course they have their problems. They need food and drink, occasional breaks, a pat on the back and so on. But they will return much more than a robot. So don't treat them like robots - they are much too valuable. Take the time to learn what's under their outer casing ... and oil it occasionally!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

What stress?

Do your employees complain about stress? If not, think yourself lucky. Stress seems to have become endemic and epidemic. Whether or not work situations are generally and consistently stressful, employees are being taught that stress is something they should expect to suffer. So, it might be wise to practise some stress reduction techniques - even if you are not fully convinced that it is a real problem. So make sure your employees take their breaks. Make sure you are aware of what they perceive as problems - and do something about them. Make sure they all know what is expected of them, and where it fits into the wider scheme of things. Make sure they know they are valued. Either you will ease stress, avoid it ... or simply end up with more contented workers. what have you got to lose?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

What Wastes Your time?

Do you know what wastes your time? Nothing?  I doubt it.

So, you should know. If you don't, find out ... or simply think about it.

When you find out, eliminate those activities ... or minimise them ... or get someone else (who costs less) to do them.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

What costs?

Do you know where your major costs are?  Labour? Materials? Energy? Premises? Services?

Which one(s) should you be focusing on?  I hope you know! (... but it is amazing how many don't).

Saturday, 29 October 2011

But it is urgent

We all do what is urgent.  That's fine ... as long as don't forget to do what's important.

Everytime you attend to a crisis or 'fight a fire', think about what you haven't thought about that might come home to bite you in a few days, weeks or months.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Do nothing

Sometimes the world seems to be moving at breakneck speed.  The external environment is changing so fast it is difficult to know what to do for the best.

Sometimes, at times like these ... indeed at a time like now ... its better to do nothing.

Knuckle down and survive.  Let the strategy wait until the world is a little more certain.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Think now

Are you thinking about addressing your energy costs? For most businesses, these are becoming a real problem. Fuel prices have been rising and there is a clear need to control energy usage ... and cost. Yet, this is something you should be doing anyway. The priority might be higher now, but shouldn't you be controlling all your costs? If you have not been paying attention to the cost of energy, what else are you failing to control? Look at the figures - find out what ALL your significant costs are ... and work out ways of reducing them. Its your money, after all!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Remember everything

I just read an account from a small business owner of how he had managed to significantly improve productivity.  He was basing this on the fact that the ratio of output to wage costs was a higher ratio than a couple of years ago.

How had he done this?  By judicious investment in new machinery.

So, was his productivity really better ... if you factor in the costs of purchasing and running the machinery?  I don't know ... but neither does he.  (His labour productivity was clearly improved .. but that doesn't mean multi-factor productivity is better).

So, be careful what you include ... and exclude .. when you measure how well you are doing!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

You are your own reality checker

I read recently that allowing workers to surf the web whilst at work improves their productivity.  Counter-intuitive?  Possibly.  Is it right?  I wouldn't know ... but I wouldn't necessarily believe it.

Its like all the diet stories - red meat is good/bad for you, dairy products are good/bad for you, red wine is good/bad for you.

I know personally red wine is something I enjoy (and I might claim that it helps relieve stress) but it does add to my girth.  I therefore take a 'balanced view' as to whether, and how much, to drink.

You should do the same with issues like staff surfing the internet.  Is it a problem?  No!  Well don't try to solve it.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Big - only smaller?

I have read two publications recently which purported to be aimed at small businesses. Both of them seemed to assume that small businesses are the same as big ones - they just have fewer employees.

If only that were true. If it was, small businesses would not have the 'growing pains' they have when transforming into bigger ones.

Not only must they grow ... they must change. Those that attempt ,to grow without changing almost always fail.

So, as you (hopefully) become ever more successful think about how you will need to change - your management practices, your communication processes, your promotional activity, your sales techniques and channels, etc ... as you become one of the bigger boys.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

What is your City?

Productivity rises as people move into cities. This is what has been happening in China, in India and in South America over the last 20 years. However, eventually the benefits reduce as the problems increase - congestion, pollution and so on.

Is there a parallel for office space? the tendency over the last few decades has been to move to open, shared office space ... this improves communication and lowers space costs.

But is there here also a limiting factor - when 'overcrowding', noise and distraction start to reduce productivity?

Think about your office space and whether it helps or hinders productivity. Do you save more money than you lose? If you are not sure, think some more!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Don't believe everything you read

I've just read another of those spurious buts of 'research'... this time suggesting that over 10 percent of UK SMEs that integrate personal devices such as iPads into their business enjoy productivity gains of more than 30 percent.

When you see that the survey was sponsored by Citrix (not exactly disinterested bystanders), alarm bells start to ring.

The survey was conducted by a reputable company on behalf of Citrix (YouGov) but the press release I saw gave no details of sample size ... and I bet it was quite small.

I can see devices like the iPad changing some jobs for the better ... but rarely by margins like those claimed.

So, don't spend your money just yet ... there are far more reliable ways of improving productivity.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Too darned hot

Office workers’ productivity peaks at 71 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit, says William Fisk, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the US.

So, make sure you are giving your staff a chance of working at their peak levels by maintaining an appropriate working temperature.

It might cost you to maintain the right temperature, but it might cost you more if you don't.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Do You Benchmark?

Do you benchmark your performance against your competitors?

Though you might respond with a 'No', the answer is almost certainly 'Yes' ... but, like many others, you might benchmark informally ... 'keeping an eye on' their prices, opening hours, stock availability, product choice, or whatever it is that might differentiate them from you.

So, have you ever thought about more formal benchmarking ... joining a benchmark club where you get 'real' data on KPIs that apply to you and the rest of your sector. Almost certainly there will be such a 'club' - ask your trade association as a starting point.

Knowing what you are up against is the first step in winning!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

How much does it cost?

Of course when we are looking at investment in a new piece of kit, a new service, a new building or whatever ... we have to ask the price ... and the rest of the costs incurred.

But we determine value by looking at the impact ... what it will do for our business.

We have to be able to afford it ... but we also need to know whether we can afford not to do it.

So, always look at the value, not just the cost.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Can you single task?

Most of us have become so good at multi-tasking that we sometimes forget that there are advantages of single-tasking ... concentrating fully on a single focus until it is complete.

So, next time you look at your ToDo list, just take one of those tasks ... work on it ... and complete it.

You'll feel better for it!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Power costs

I was speaking to an Indian businessman recently, He told me he could compete with his Chinese counterparts on everything - labour costs, material costs, capital costs - except the cost of electricity. That was why Chinese manufacturers were more competitive.

Do you know the single biggest impediment to greater competitiveness for your organisation?

If not, you ahould? ... and then you should deal with it!

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Publishers learn

Take a look at some of the new books aimed for children ... but delivered via tablet computers. They are starting to how real innovation in terms of interactivity and exploration.

(Note the use of the word 'tablet computers' above ... eReaders tend simply to mimic printed materials.)

Think how this might affect your catalogue and other print materials .. and think about taking some small steps to explore the art of the possible.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

SMEs don't ...

Reading the business literature, there is plenty of material that suggests that small to medium sized enterprises either DO or don't DO certain things.

For example, the 'wisdom' has it that they don't measure performance and/or benchmark themselves against competitors ... they are simply too busy or they are unaware of such practices.

However, my experience is that they do many of the things they allegedly don't do ... its just that they do it more informally. They might not know the 'theory' but they know (often instinctively) what they need to do to survive and grow.

Or, of course, the goods ones do ... the others perhaps don't survive and grow.

So, if you're still here, give yourself a pat on the back ... before, perhaps, reading one of the books that tell you what you don't do ... and working out whether you do .. or perhaps should!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Are you fit?

A healthy mind in a healthy body. That's what we all want. Research shows that fit people also concentrate more and are better performers at tasks, even when they don't involve significant physical work.

So get your workforce fit.

But, of course, you have to think first about the kind of role model you offer.

Time to get on the treadmill?

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Lean, listen, learn

In Lean Thinking, they talk about the 'voice of the customer' ... saying that if you do not know what your customer thinks and feels, you have little chance of anticipating and meeting their needs.

This need to listen extends, of course, to other groups of stakeholders ... investors, suppliers and employees.

Only by listening do we learn about concerns, about problems, about needs, about motivations, about resentment, about dissatisfaction, about ...

Start listening!

Saturday, 2 July 2011


Stop what you are doing. take a deep breath. Look around you ... and think.

Think about the your customers ... what are they doing right now ... what are there concerns ... how have those concerns changed recently ... how have you responded?

Now, that was the easy part. Now you have to think about what you can do in the future that is different .. better ... more focused on your customers concerns and needs.

If you think that is difficult, think again .. about what your competitors might be doing.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Send them home

The City of Ottawa is spending $20 million on information-technology upgrades, over the next four years, to allow almost 2,000 of its employees to work remotely. At first glance, this might look like a costly perk for some public servants at taxpayers' expense. It isn't. The benefits, to the municipal public service, and to the city at large, could be substantial.

What about your organisation?
How much could you save in office space, supplies and services if some of your employees worked from home?

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Try not to mortgage the future

"Individual expenditure not only rises to meet income, but tends to surpass it"  C. Northcote Parkinson.

If you give employees opportunities to borrow off tomorrow's wages, they usually will.  After all, why shouldn't they get the highest standard of living they can?

The trouble is that those debts catch up with them  - financially and often emotionally.

So, be wary of allowing your employees to mortgage their future ability and effort to today's rewards.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Good decision, Bad timing

Europe generally, and the UK in particular, seem to have decided that wind energy is the future .. just at the time that climate change seems to have resulted in the lowest winds on record for many years.

This just serves as a reminder that there are good decisions and bad decisions .. but sometimes the only difference is the timing.

So next time you have an important decision to make, think about whether NOW is the time to make it ... and the consequences of waiting too long before you take it.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Running to Success

Singapore Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong recently suggested that there is only one real solution to maintaining economic growth. 

Likening it to a race, he said it was not possible to eliminate other competitors or set rules to disallow others from running faster. Instead, the way to get ahead in the income race is through hard training and with good running shoes.

This applies to your organisation. Your competitors are running .. .so you'd better make sure you (and your employees) are as fit as your competitors are ... and that you have the right shoes on.  

Of course in a long race, tactics can also play a part.  You want to win the race, not put in a fast lap time in the middle.

So get your strategy right, then your tactical plans. Make sure everyone knows what they are supposed to do ... and that they are trained and equipped to do it.  Then set them running.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Green, green grass

The grass is always greener ....

Yes, we know that people look outwards and think things are better, they would be happier ... or whatever.  This is (partly) why surveys of employees alwas suggest that many of them want to leave their current job for a new one. 

They probably deep down know that their current job is (at least) OK ... and they probably are too frightened of the unknown to move. 

But it doesn't hurt to make them aware from time to time of how good their current job is .... so tell them - in your newsletter, in meetings and so on.  Not directly, of course.... but subtly, remind them of what the firm does for them, the training they have had, the perks they get, the environment they work in.

If you can't do this honestly, because you are not proud of those factors you provide ... perhaps they should leave!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Start the day well

A recent research study showed (confirmed?) that most workers work better if they start the day well... if they start off in a negative mood, it influences their behaviour for the rest of the day.

So, your job is to give them the best start to the day you can ... to ameliorate any negative vibes they bring with them. 

It might just need a friendly, encouraging word at the start of their day ... a pat on the back for good performance yesterday.

Wouldn't you hate to think that someone is under-performing because you didn't take the the 30 seconds it needed to give them a lift.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Go for Goal

If you don't have any goals, your business is not going to move forward.

The process of creating business goals does not have to be complicated .. but it must happen. The goals are the milestones on the way to business success... reaching them (or not) shows you how well (or badly) you are doing ... and enables you to take corrective or improvement action.

So take your overall strategy and break it down into areas .. then set a goal for each of these areas ... and finally work out what it will take to reach these goals.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Do you have the energy?

We take decisions rationally ... often based on the financial payback. How much does it cost? How much might it save? How will it help us grow?

Sometimes, however, we take a decision and then forget about it .. .forgetting that those financial factors change over time.

Energy is a prime example. Energy costs have been rising rapidly over the last few years and decisions we might have taken back then on issues such as types of energy, sources of energy, replacement energy, energy conservation, etc need revisiting.

What else has changed over the last few years ... in your cost base ... in your revenue stream? Are there decisions you need to look back on?

Sunday, 1 May 2011

What's changed?

Is your business operating much as it did a year ago?

What about your competitors?

If you are doing well, give yourself a pat on the back ... but do not rest on your laurels (how many more cliches can I get in?)... or your good performance might be supassed by the better perofmrance of someone who has worked a bit harder to improve.

So, as soon as you have given youself that pat on the back, start to work out how you will change - for the better - over the coming months.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Pomodoro Technique

I came across this variation of an established time managment technique recently.

Select a task.  Set a timer (the pomodoro) for 25 minutes  When it rings, stop and rest for 5 minutes.

Select another task and repeat. Everty 4 pomodoros, take a longer break.

You will find you get more done!

If you want to know more, go to

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Drive Time

How many of your workers have long commutes?

How many of those same workers have company laptops or netbooks?

How many of them could do useful work if they did have one?

If those answers work out for you, you then have to think through a strategy that will get them to do (some of) that useful work ... perhaps in return for having the laptop the rest of the time for personal use.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Conserve Energy

We are all being urged to conserve energy - to insulate our homes, use less power, use more fuel-efficient devices, etc.

Now, think about your workplace. Lots of energy being used up ... I don't mean the power and heating ... I mean the workforce themselves.

How much of that energy could be saved if we just planned things better? ... or executed better?

That energy costs you money .. you'd better see how you can save some of it!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Its not rocket science

For many small businesses, labour is the primary cost.

If we want to make our labour more productive, we have to do one of two things.

1. Cut the number of people we employ.
2. Get more output from the people we do employ.

Assuming you don't want to ... or can't because of contractual reasons - choose the first option, you have to do the second.

So what are you doing to get more from your people. Training them? Giving them better equipment? Changing what they do? Changing how they do what they do? Motivating them?

None of these ... then you're in trouble!

Saturday, 26 March 2011


Do you want to achieve? Of course you do.

To achieve is to succeed in reaching a goal. This means if you don't have goals, you can't achieve.

So make your goals explicit rather than implicit - to yourself, your managers, your teams ... And do so in forms and language that is relevant to them.

After all they have to achieve for you to do so.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Sometimes we achieve more by setting out to do less.

I'm sure you are a busy person. Lots to do, lots to think about, lots to manage. Well, perhaps things might be better if you thought more and did less. Take the time to think things through. Then, act ... but only then.

Its also worth thinking about those things you don't need to do at all ... there are usually some of those on most people's agendas.

So, sit back ... and think. You'll get more done!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Do you want happy staff?

Are happy and contented staff less productive?

If you take the time and effort to make your staff happy at work, content with their lot ... are you automatically setting up lower productivity?

After all unhappy staff might be motivated to transform their lot ... work their way out of their current situation. Contented staff might not do anything to harm their current situation ... like working hard enough to alert you to their prowess and possible promotion possibilities.

We talk about 'comfort zones' ... stifling innovation, for example.

So, is there a balance to be struck? Do we need to maintain a (healthy) tension in the workplace. If so, are we sure we can focus that tension to our benefit?

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Who is doing billable work?

The self-employed and freelancers know about the concept of 'billable work'. Its what you do that you directly charge clients for.

You have to do other things - update yourself, keep up with the email torrent, market your services and so on. But this isn't billable.

So, look around your organisation. Who is doing billable work? How much of it?

How much of people's time is sucked up by other things - the things a customer wouldn't want to pay for? The proportions might surprise you ... and might make you do something about it!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Dealing with lazy employees

Do you have lazy employees?

If so, think about your kids or your grandchidren. They can appear lazy or highly focused, motivated and energetic depending on what you ask them to do ... and their ability to do it.

So, ask them to do something for which they (think they) don't have the skills .. and they will shy away ... and act lazily.

Ask them to something which they know they can do - and do well - and their enthusiasm returns.

Ask yourself if this is true of your staff. Are you undermining them by not providing proper training or by not encouraging them.

Have you been getting lazy?

Friday, 18 February 2011

Make an Obama promise

Obama expressed his determination recently to "unlock the productivity" of American workers to make the country more competitive in a technology-driven economy.

"I know we can out-compete any other nation on Earth," Obama said in his weekly radio address."We just have to make sure we're doing everything we can to unlock the productivity of American workers, unleash the ingenuity of American businesses, and harness the dynamism of America's economy."

But of course, in reality, Obama's promise is unlikely to have much effect on your business. You need your own Obama moment ... and your own Obama promise.

How will you unlock the potential of your staff and your organisation? Take 2 minutes NOW to think about 5 things you could do to improve things .... and then set about doing at least one of them.

Friday, 11 February 2011

77 ways the iPad can improve your business

Sorry, that title was a 'scam'. Its like many blog post titles these days ... trying to 'sell' you the next panacea.

However, the iPad is not that panacea. I can exclusively reveal that ... there isn't one.

Stop looking. Just stick to the business of understanding your business and thinking through where you might be able to make improvements.

Looking for the 'silver bullet' takes your mind off this important task. Improving your business takes hard thought and hard work.

Sure, technology might be able to help ... as might a change in your marketing or one of many other things. You have to understand what it is that you do that works ... and what perhaps doesn't. An iPad won't tell you that!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

A simple word of warning

Blog posts don't have to be long ... or complicated. So, here's a nice simple message for you to think about.

Getting things done is not the same as making things happen.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

No copies, please

We all get copied into emails that we don't need to see. This is often because we haven't given our staff the confidence (or authority) they need to handle issues without 'backup' from us ... so they copy us in to 'cover their backs'.

So try putting in a rule that says .."All internal emails must be to one addressee only unless prior approval is granted. Approval must be sought from your immediate supervisor in person (not by email)."

Then review this after a week and see if the world has imploded.

(Note that this does allow distribution of messages to formal groups and teams where a single group email - a single addressee - has been set up.)

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Learn from the big boys

In the world of the 'big boys' there is a concept known as multi-factor productivity. This means the productivity of the total of an organisation's labour, its capital, its energy, etc.

I introduce this just to remind you that your business also has its complexities ... and if you adopt too simple a measure of how well you are doing, you might miss some important factors.

So think about the range of factors important to you (and your customers) and think about how well you are performing on each one. Temper output with quality and moderate short term profit with longer-term relationship building, and you might have a 'multi-factor' assessment of where you are going.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Think about output

I'm a productivity guy. I want more output for each unit of resource.

But I know that you have to decide what is 'good' output.

A simple example. Ideally I want my mechanics standing around rather than fixing machines ... I don't want those machines out of action. So lots of output for the mechanics = bad news for me.

A more complex example. If we give teachers more students in their class, we get higher productivity ... or do we. What's the output, here?

Before you judge efficiency - and value, think about what you are trying to achieve. That's what you want more of.

Friday, 7 January 2011


Do you look forward to a cup of coffee as a reward for completing a task? ... or a break ... or a (dare I say it) cigarette?

Well then. Think about those who work for you. What are the rewards they get for completing their tasks?

If you can provide simple rewards for them, they might complete faster ... just make sure you don't encourage fast work and higher error rates!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Measures of Success

How do you measure your organisation's performance. By its profits? If so, you have a good indicator of how well you have performed historically. But that tells you little about the future.

You need something that will indicate (because you can't measure it yet) future performance ... levels of investment in new technology & equipment, training given to staff, etc.

Always measure the past and present ... but keep one eye on the future.