Saturday, 29 December 2012

New Year resolurions

This, of course is the time for resolution- determination to do more and/or better, to improve. But this shouldn't happen at new year- or, at least, not only at new year. Such determination should be ingrained in you at all times - and across your organisation.

So, by all means make a resolution - but resolve to keep resolving... to keep challenging and improving, asking questions and seeking answers.

Above all, resolve not to be complacent. Make this a truly productive year ... and the basis of many more.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

What about the workers?

Information from India, provided by the ILO, shows that economic growth from 2008 to 2011 was over 7%. However real wages rose by about 1.6%.

This suggests that the fruits of productivity growth are not being shared with the workers.

Do you share gains in your organisation?  If not, why not. Surely if gains are seen to be shared, your workforce is much more likely to help you accrue further gains.

This is something to ponder as you sit down to your Christmas lunch.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Stand Up For Efficiency

I am sure that many workers sit - at desks, at PCs, at assembly stations at ...

It has been known for many years that it s beneficial to give people the choice as to whether to sit or stand ... and to give them furniture that accommodates either.

Yes, you probably don't provide such furniture ... and you are certainly not alone. It is very rare. Presumably either people don't realise that providing the stand/sit option is beneficial or the cost of the furniture is deemed to be expensive ... and the payback period too long.  Yet I doubt that anyone has done a study to identify the productivity gain that would accrue ... and then to work out a  'real' payback schedule,

We might all be surprised.

Think about what other little changes might have a big impact.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Have you been SMEED

Mauritius - from where I have just returned - like many other countries has a government-funded agency charged with aiding the development of SMEs.

Mauritius - like many other countries - seems to spend quite a bit of money on such support ... but with little obvious effect.

Are we people in SMEs so hard to please ... so hard to support?  Or is it that those who have been supported effectively are no longer SMEs?  They have moved upwards, onwards and out of the SME bracket.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Talk to them

I am currently in Mauritius, helping launch their National Productivity Campaign.  I am talking to government officials, trades unions, employers, educators ... and the public.

Such campaigns are relatively common.  Do they work?

Well, it is difficult to say ... because one can rarely measure the 'counterfactual' ... what would have happened if the campaign had not been run.

So, they are largely an act of faith.

However getting everyone informed about productivity ... and lining up to participate in a coordinated strategy to improve national productivity cannot be a bad thing, can it?

And this is the real lesson ... you have to respect, talk to and engage all of the stakeholders if you want a plan to work.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

A Slap in the Face

Maneesh Sethi wrote on his blog that he hired a "slapper" to smack him in the face whenever he logged onto Facebook while working and boasted that it increased his productivity by four times.

Of course, Sethi must have diagnosed the fact that accessing Facebook was causing him to lose productivity.  His solution was drastic ... but imaginative.

Think what you might do to create a metaphorical slap in the face for yourself.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

A formula for innovation

Thomas Friedman suggests that “big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary.”

So, think about what you are doing to recognise both necessity and 'new' solutions.

You have to recognise them before your competitors do.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Short Term Thinking

Often we are encouraged to take a long term view of our business ... to think strategically.

Yet, often we DO need to think short-term ... to decide what we have to achieve this week .. or today.

More small businesses go bust because they think too big, too soon ... and the do not have the working capital to finance their grand (long term) plans.

So keep one eye on today ... and one eye on tomorrow ... and you've got a chance of surviving long enough to grow and proposer.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Snake Oil

If you read lots of press releases ... as I do (yes, I know I should 'get a life'), you soon realise that just about everything is claimed to improve productivity.

Most often such 'stories' relate to what is termed 'personal productivity' ... the kind of 'productivity' that is aided by powernapping, reminder software, crystals, copper bracelets, iPads, honey ... you get the picture.

These claims are accompanied by details of a survey or study ... which almost always is based on a self-selecting constituency.  Again, you know the kind of thing. "60% of people say eating chocolate mod-morning helps productivity" says the President of the Chocolate-Eating Guild after a survey of members.

So, if you do see a claim about productivity, check out the credentials of any study ... and, even then, keep you tongue in your cheek and your money in your pocket.

Saturday, 27 October 2012


Too often, managers assess worker performance - especially in knowledge jobs - on how long they work ... not on what they achieve.

Of course workers react to such measurement schemes and will extend their hours ... taking longer than necessary to complete work if that is what it takes to fill the hours expected of them.

So make sure you measure what your staff do - and achieve - rather than how long they are 'present'.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Join the Dots

I went to a presentation recently on Israel's approach to innovation ... and to Research & Development in particular.

What struck me was the 'joining of the dots' ... the fact that Israel seems to have broken down the silo mentality of government to coordinate activity across a range of departments.  They have done this by appointing a 'Chief Scientist' who has authority and responsibility .. and who can work across these departments.

Other countries have campaigns, policies and strategies ... but few of them seem to have thought the issues through to the point where they can deliver on the vision.

This is not a plea to copy israel's approach to R&D ... but - whatever the issue - to think through issues, the structures needed for implementation and the need for a 'leader' to give focus and to drive through the good intentions.

Next time you are addressing a problem, try to ensure you have joined all the dots!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Take longer

Do you find the incessant buzzing of your smartphone is stopping you thinking ... as you simple react to the latest incoming email. This seems to be the view of many.  The 'always-on' connectivity we now enjoy is reducing our span of attention and span of concentration.  We multi-task ... and are now capable of doing many things quickly - but perhaps badly.

Try putting your phone aside for a few hours a day ... and taking longer on single tasks - using the extra concentration time to perform them better.  See what the results look lie after a few days or a week ... and then plan how you intend to use your smartphone in the future.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Who is right?

The Guardian (UK) this week raised the question of how the UK has managed to create jobs whilst GDP is falling.

It suggests that the answer must be that the productivity of the workforce is falling ... so we need more of them.

However, employment figures often lead or lag on economic performance.

An equally valid reason is that firms have confidence in the future and are hiring now to create future output.

Only time will tell which explanation is right.

The lesson, though, is not to accept the first explanation you are given - even though it may be plausible.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Its a Learning Problem

Behind many productivity problems is a learning problem. It is astonishing how often employees are poorly trained ... and in many cases, completely untrained, to do the job they are supposed to do.

We then blame 'poor performance' ... and of course it is poor performance ... on behalf of the management team who should have provided the training ... and refreshed the skills when necessary.

So, when you see 'poor performance' ... ask yourself whose fault it is.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Where's Mike?

In 2007, the state of Iowa in the USA hired Mike Rohlf, a black belt in Six Sigma, to apply 'Lean' to the various processes and procedures of state government.

Mike is still there ... appropriately as a 'one man band' (very lean).

For each project, Mike works with volunteers from different areas within the agency in question, as well as 'correctives' - non-biased independents from an unrelated department.

They map what goes on ... and set about trying to improve on it. The state has carried out 180 such projects and is convinced of its success ... though this is difficult to measure because of the 'softer', qualitative improvements (like better service) that come alongside any cost savings.

One example - last year’s overhaul of the vocational rehabilitation office that assists with Social Security reimbursements is on pace to net about 20 percent more federal reimbursement money, or roughly $100,000 annually.

As ever, changes are often very simple ... in this case, moving from a paper to an electronic claims process.

So, who in your organisation is doing what Mike does for Iowa.

Saturday, 15 September 2012


Do you know what the term 'governance' means.

If not, look it up.

Then think about the governance issues relating to your business. If governance only involves you, how do you know you are doing a good job?

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Remove the printer

Have you tried removing the printer from your office. 

There will probably be an outcry if you do.

However, it is amazing how people start to be a little more ingenious in how they work ... when they cannot print just-in-case ... and print multiple times, because they print but don't file.

Think of the trees you will save .. the cost of paper ... and the time taken walking to and from the printer.

And what have you lost?

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Explore the options

I've just had to take a potentially costly decision ... one I wanted to take, but carefully. It is obviously important to explore options ... but, too often, we explore only those options we have explored before. The 'trick' is to find some way of exploring different, perhaps innovative, options .. by talking to different people, by reading different material, by asking different questions. Next time you take a big decision - before you take it - ask yourself which of the options you are exploring is 'different'.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Keep focused

Distractions kill productivity. email and telephone calls are essential components of some jobs and roles ... but for others they are simply distractions. Your job is to 'set the tone' as to which emails and calls should 'get through' and which should be eliminated or diverted. But don't get distracted by it!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

church bells

I was walking home last night. The church bells were ringing nearby.

The sound lifted my spirits immediately. I think thst church bells are a joyous sound. I immediately felt better and more positive.

So, what sound makes your employees feel better and more positive.

Of course, this does not apply only to sounds.

You need to find out what it is that makes them feel better. Is it the way they're treated? Is it the kind of communication you use? If so, is it what you say or how you say it?

If you can find out what makes them feel more positive, then they are going to be more productive.

So try to discover what is their version of 'church bells'.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Get a coffee machine

The coffee machine or water cooler is where people gather .. briefly .. and exchange information (and gossip, I admit). It is a source of informal collaboration, of sharing background information, of raising problems. If you haven't got one .. perhaps you should think about getting one.

Do something else

Sometimes we do not want people to do more work .. we want them to do something else instead. If activity is non-productive, we definitely do not want more of it. It costs us money but does not contribute to profit. So you need to work out what is productive activity ... and what is not. ("How will what Joe or Jean is currently working on help my business thrive and grow?") Then you need to focus your workforce on that productive activity ... and find ways of eliminating or minimising anything which is non-productive. .

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Google apps, Anyone

I've just signed in to Google Apps ... for their free trial. Even this was not straightforward as you have to (quite rightly) prove you own the domain you want to use ... and when (like mine) this is a Wordpress-based site, it is not simple. However, this is now done ... and I can create a shared (Google) Drive so that we all have access to the same files. Will let you know how I get on ... and whether I think it suitable for those of us without lots of IT knowledge... who just want to use the stuff.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Plan for Gold

The Olympic games are under way.

We will, no doubt, see some excellent performances ... and occasionally we will hear of the planning, preparation and punishing training that has underpinned those performances.

Excellence does not come easy.  Start planning for your 'gold' now.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Which should you concentrate on?

In a small business, which is the most important - production, sales, administration?

Yes, of course, you are right ... it is 'all of the above'!

So, if there is one of these that you are not very good at, make sure you get help to fill that gap .. either by hiring in help, or developing yourself so that you become good at it.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Complacency hurts

The O2 service was down (in the UK) this week for a couple of days.

This follows another recent high profile case of RBS (a major bank) losing service for many customers for a matter of days.

These things never seemed to happen to these giant organisations. Is it a sign that things have got so complex that such failures are more likely; or that even these large companies are cutting down on maintenance; or that they have become complacent.

Complacency - believing you are 'good' and acting accordingly - is the enemy of excellence and of high productivity.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

You might not believe this

I was working with a small manufacturing company recently.  One of my first questions was about 'ex factory costs' ... trying to find out how much it cost them to make their product.

They didn't know.

"So how do you set your selling price", I asked.

"We charge what the market will bear."

"So what is your margin."

They didn't know ... but they did know they were losing money .. .which is why they had asked me to take a look.

This is not, unfortunately, out of the ordinary.  Many small businesses are interested in the product or service not the process of getting it to market.

So think about your business ... and the bits you are interested in ... and the bits you are not; the bits you are good at ... and the bits you are not.  Then find a way of filling those gaps.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

What is it supposed to do?

I was reading the reviews for an iPad app before I decided whether or not to buy it. I noticed that 'good' and 'bad' reviews depended on whether the app did what the user wanted - not whether it did what it claimed to do.

 I thought that this is quite a good test for customer comments and complaints ... is the customer complaining because we offered or something that was not delivered (in which case we do something ... and quickly) ... or is the customer complaining over a feature or attribute we never claimed to offer (in which case we are polite but not accommodating).

 Is this a reasonable test?

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Become a small business

What's the best way to become a $1 million turnover business/

Take your $2 million turnover business and forget what made you good!

It is easy to think "I've made it", "I'm a success" and rest on your laurels.

But your competitors aren't resting. So, keep thinking like a start-up, keep innovating, keep working hard, keep hiring good people, keep our-running the other guys ... these are the things that made you good.

These are the things that can keep you at the top.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Talk to me

email is a useful tool.

As we all know, however, it can be a tough taskmaster. The way in which people use email means that we often get messages we don't really need to get. (People copy us in simply because they can!)

If you get back from a vacation and have lots of emails waiting, try putting them in a folder and just leaving them ... until you get a reminder (which you will if its important). It will tell you how many of your emails are 'essential'.

However, the other downside of email is that it stops people talking. email is clearly an asynchronous medium. You email me. I reply. You reply. And so on till we get fed up ... or resolve the issue. It can take days to complete what could be done in minutes on the phone.

So perhaps you should start a 'use the phone' or a 'talk more' campaign.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

One Thing At A Time

This blog is called 'do not complicate'.  Yet complicating is something we seem to do all the time.

How often do you multitask.  Quite a lot of the time, I bet ... and I also bet it makes you feel good.  Working on 2 or 3 things at once can make us feel 'alive'.

Unfortunately this sense of 'pride' isn't always reflected in measured performance.  Multitasking often means we end up doing 2 or 3 tasks in a distracted, unfocused way.

So for one day at least set yourself the goal of always working on one thing at one and completing it before moving to the next task.  At the end of the day reflect on your performance - and outcomes.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Knowing what you don't know

When we start a small business we have to turn our hand to all sorts of tasks.  We can be manufacturing supervisors, accountants (or bookkeepers at least), personnel officers, coaches, trainers, delivery drivers, etc.

Of course we will do some of these well ... and some less well.  Some we will do less well because we are ignorant of the issues involved in that area of 'professionalism'.

Ignorance is dangerous ... but even more dangerous is ignorance of our ignorance. It is important to know what you don't know so that you can fill in the gaps in knowledge or skill.

Those who assume they know (or don't even think about it) will continue to make mistakes and bad judgements.

Don't let it be you.  Think about what you might not know ... and do something about it.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Must Do

Every morning when you go into work there will be things you 'must do' and things you 'might do'. Then you get distracted by the post and the mails which give you another set of mixed priorities.

Never forget your 'must do' items however.  Some of these might be important, some might be urgent, a few might be both.

Unfortunately, too often we tend to address the urgent items and let the important - but not urgent - items slip by.

Then some time later, we realise we haven't done ......

Too late!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Remember Pareto

The Pareto curve (or effect) is always worth remembering ... remember it suggests that often 80% of the benefits can be achieved by applying 20% of the effort in any situation.

For example, 80% of your inventory value is probably represented by 20% of your inventory items.  If you control these 20% effectively, you have 'control'.

80% of your turnover might come from 20% of your customers.  Make sure you treat these customers well and learn from them.

Then think ... "Where else can I maximize my gains by focusing on the important 20%?"

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Low hanging fruit

Sometimes we are urged to pick the low-hanging fruit - to make changes which result in relatively easy wins.

Of course this helps ... but you have to go beyond that and start to do the hard work to reach the higher-hanging fruit.

Always picking the low-hanging fruit is too easy ... and too limiting. It will never give you the real breakthrough in performance that more concerted effort and action can achieve.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Most Important

What's the most important factor for your business - the really 'critical to success' factor you absolutely must get right?

Is this the factor you focus your attention on?

If not, surely something is wrong.

Make sure you know what this factor is (and the 'runners up').  And make sure these are top of your agenda at every board meeting, management meeting ... and waking day!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Olympic performance

This is an Olympic year. Whole groups of sportsmen and women will be aiming for personal medals ... and even those outside of the medal chances will be aiming for personal best performances. Have you though about ways in which you could get your employees to strive for 'Olympic performance' during the build up to, and hopefully after, the Games. Perhaps you could organise competitions, targets - even medals - for groups of employees .. preferably aligning them with 'real', Olympic events. If the alignment can be based on some attribute of the product or process, so much the better ... but an event could be taken at random - preferably one that lasts some time with heats, semi-finals and a final.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

What should I do?

Do you have written procedures for the work tasks in your organisation. "Not me", I hear you say, "Much too bureaucratic and inflexible". Unfortunately, what you say is often true ... but it needn't be so. Written procedures can be brief, structured , clear and definitely non-bureaucratic. ... but they should help people know what is expected of them - in terms of what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to do it ... and to what effect. Next time you ring up a 3rd party organisation and are left in 'telephone tag' or some other web of delay, just think how much easier it would be if the answerer knew what to do - and so did you. Clarity of task is a key underpinning of high performance.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

email trumps work

You know that feeling when a phone rings. it just has to be answered. email is like that. An email in your inbox has to be opened. It 'trumps' whatever else you are doing. You have to check ... it just might be the 'killer email'. Most of course could be left. They are not urgent. But somehow, you open it .. and then leave it for later. But the damage has been done. You've been distracted. Your productivity is down. Now multiply that effect by all of your staff. Then, think... set so me rules and disciplines for email (perhaps some 'no email' hours) ... and regain some of that lost productivity.

Saturday, 24 March 2012


I've often said that I've built my career on asking stupid questions. Questions are how we learn ... as long as we take note of the answers. So, behave like a kid ... when someone tells you something, ask "Why?" (and "How?", "Where?", "When?" an "Who?") and keep asking until you understand what is going on and how it might be changed for the better. Sometimes people will think you're a bit stupid ... but I guarantee you will have the last laugh.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

5S for your business

5S is a tool in the Lean armoury (where each 'S' stands for a Japanese word).. but what it boils down to in essence is to making sure that each workplace and workspace is clean, tidy and safe.

So make sure everything has a place and is in that place (so it can be found next time it is needed) .. make sure nothing is there that should not be there (otherwise it may distract) and make sure everything is fit for purpose. 

Sounds very simple (and it is) .. but take a look around your business and find out how often these simple rules - that lead to increased productivity - are broken.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Work It Out

There is quite a bit of evidence that a mid-day workout helps both efficiency and well-being ... and improves job satisfaction. Not all companies can afford corporate exercise facilities ... or allow staff the time to take advantage of them. Perhaps, however, you could find ways of incorporating exercise into people's work roles ... surreptitiously, if you like, encouraging them to exercise If it is for their own good (and yours) does that make it OK?

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Write the Rules

Does your workplaces have rules? Most do, but often they are 'conventions, unwritten but largely abided by. This is OK until someone decides to break those conventions. Unless the rules are codified, it becomes very difficult to enforce them. (Think about public establishments that have a dress code of 'smart casual' ... who defines smart ... or casual for that matter. So it is worth writing down the rules - what do employees do with their coats when they arrive, can they eat and/or drink at their workstation, what should happen at break times, when can those breaks be taken .. and so on. It will make the organisation more productive if people know how they should behave under a range of circumstances. There is no need to be heavy-handed with this ... just issue a 'reminder' of the already-established rules - for everyone's safety, convenience and efficiency.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The hidden extras

I heard a programme on the radio this morning which mentioned amongst lots of other interesting facts that we are the first generation not to have tasted their cutlery - stainless steel is tasteless.

Of course being tasteless was not a design feature - it just came as a 'hidden extra'.

This set me thinking about the fact that YOU should think about the 'hidden extras' in your products and services.  What is it about them that customers value ... but were not explicitly designed in.  Can any of these be extended or enhanced to offer additional(perhaps unconscious)value?

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Are you worth it?

How does your pay compare to that of the lowest paid worker in your organisation?

If you don't know, go and find out ... and ask yourself if you are worth that differential.,,, bearing in mind your skills, responsibility, level of risk and whatever other factors you think should be taken into account.

If you can't honestly answer 'yes', what are you going to do about it?

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Are you mature?

Well, are you mature? Not you ... your organisation.

In a mature organisation it is often more difficult to identify innovations - the market is mature, processes are well-established, staff have been in post for some time.

So, you have to find ways of acting in an 'immature way' - more like a start-up.Think about how you might do this ... look at the 'edges' of your market to identify potential new opportunities;  think how technology could change your processes; change people's roles so they have to think afresh.

These are just suggestions ... the key (as one rather large organisation used to remind us) is to Think Differently. 

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Lower the Lintel

A lintel is one of those girder-like things above a door ... the kind of thing you bump your head on in old, mediaeval buildings in the UK.

I am thinking of installing a few such low ones throughout my organisation. Then everyone who bumps their head will be reminded about 'low overheads' ... and the message might eventually sink in.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Badges cost

Many industrial and commercial sectors have quality 'badges' ... hey, we are certified by ...

Sometimes these are helpful (in attracting new customers/clients); sometimes they are almost essential.

Sometimes there are multiple, competing badges.

Just remember that these cost you money - you almost certainly pay a fee and, of course, it will cost you quite a lot to understand and then comply with any regulations imposed.

So, treat such badges like you would any other investment - and do a cost-benefit assessment before going ahead.

Also remember that the real judges of your quality are your customers!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Work Flow

I saw a post on a (different) blog recently which talked about various tools to improve workflow.

As I read it, I realized that the tools were irrelevant.  The author was using the (excuse of) the tools to design a workflow ... but this would have worked just as well with a different set of tools, and almost certainly without any tools at all.

So think about the workflow - not about the tools.  Think about the sequence of activities, the layout of workstations, the time taken at each one, how things are checked for errors, how they are handed from one workstation to another.  And then think whether tools (whether that be fork lift trucks or software) would help.

Tools can make things more efficient - but without a proper design of the workflow itself, they might just speed up your inefficiencies.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

What did you learn last year?

If you are a professional (accountant, lawyer or ...) you almost certainly have to go through some process of continuing professional development - attending courses or other events which keep you up-to-date and extend your skills and knowledge.

Though this might at times seem to be a 'drag', it is useful.

So, if you are not one of these 'chosen professions', make it your business to do it anyway.

Reflect on what you learnt last year, what did you do to make you better at what you do.

Nothing! Shame on you! You now should have a(nother) New year Resolution.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Good will

Your employees are back from the holidays. So are you.

Everyone should be feeling good ... if a little tired!

So, take advantage of the good will. Talk to your employees. Find out what they expect from the new year, what they hope for.

Then work out whether you can make the reality match these expectations and desires ... at least in part.

You might just end up with a more contented and more productive workforce.