Saturday, 27 December 2014

Wake Up!

Most people are more effective workers in the morning - when fresh.  As the day goes on ,most of us tire.  The problem is that we don't always recognise this - and we take decisions, do important work, hold important meetings when we are not at our best.

Does this work for your business.  Should you choose the activities you undertake in the morning and what you leave till the other end of the day.

Do new stuff - initiatives, development work, innovation - in the morning.  Do routine stuff, the chores at the day's end.

Try it - let me know if it helps!

Saturday, 20 December 2014


Approaching the end of another year is a time for reflection - personal reflection and, if you are brave enough, organisational reflection.  What have you - and your business - learned this year that will make you better next year.

It might be something about your products, your processes, your customers, your competitors ... or your own approach to running the business.

It may not revolutionise what you do - or how you do it ... but there must be something.

If not, what have you been thinking about all year?

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Think ahead

Many organisations are currently spending all their attention on just 'staying alive' - they believe that productivity and performance can wait ... or that they will take care of themselves.

They won't.  We all know the problems that can accrue if you spend your time on the urgent things and forget to address the important ones.

You need to be thinking NOW about your future performance.

How are you going to shape what you do and how you do it to create higher performance?

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Bring people together

Clusters have been proved to a useful development tool - bringing together companies - and people - from similar industries/activities - to share knowledge and  experience, and to collaborate.

A similar effect can be created locally by bringing together employees from within the company to discuss problems, issues, projects, developments - sharing perspectives from designers, engineers, administrators, and so on.

Such 'bringing together' could be formal - company project days, for example - or could simply be the result of shared relaxation/refreshment space.

Think about how you can get your employees to interact with one another - if only 10% of that interaction is directly work-related, you will reap the benefits.  For the cost of redesigning/enlarging your canteen space, you might get a good return.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Take it easy

This blog is concerned with the effectiveness of small businesses. Rarely do we 'stray into' personal productivity - largely because I think it is more or less irrelevant in terms of raising those other productivities - they are based on the effectiveness and productivity of processes and systems - not individual people,.

However, I read recently that an air passenger - on a  plane with a new WiFi service - had been landed a hefty bill (over $1500) for what he thought was fairly modest usage.  It set me thinking about 'strategies' to use that travel time to good effect.

Of course there are the 'air warriors' who reach for their laptop 5 minutes after takeoff and clatter away for the rest of the flight.

Not me!  I use the time for .... thinking, .... even daydreaming.  I find such quality, free time very rare - but it is a precious resource and shouldn't be wasted on menial e-tasks such as email, spreadsheeting or the like.

So think before you take your laptop out - then put it away and continue thinking.  It will pay dividends.

If this still sounds too much like 'work', try ... resting.  That also pays dividends.

Saturday, 22 November 2014


When should you take major decisions? Make major investments?

There are 2 answers.

1.  When you are prepared.  When you have the information t=you need to take informed, rational decisions.

2.  Now!

Though you do need to be informed, sometimes you can wait too long or over-prepare. These 2 factors need to be balanced.

So, think about why you shouldn't make a decision or an investment - and ask yourself if that reason is sufficiently strong to stop you seizing an opportunity.  The default is 'Do it now' - only hesitate if there is some clear and present reason to do so.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Be careful what you judge

I was in Italy recently ... and I used public transport quite a bit - trains and buses.  All the journeys I made were on time, and to schedule.

Of course, public transport is subsidised in most European countries - by governments as part of the national infrastructure.   This set me thinking about the nature of 'productivity' at this national, overarching level.

For example, the national railway could be 'inefficient' but could contribute to productivity in other sectors (by moving goods and people efficiently to/from factories and workplaces).

Similarly, in your own company, you must not take decisions that are sub-optimal - that look to be 'right' in a smaller context, but might be 'wrong' when looking at a 'bigger picture'.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Do things differently

At the end of your next working day (are there any other kind?)  ask yourself ... "If we carry on working like this on these tasks, how will we be different - and better - in 5 years time?"

If you cannot answer that, you need to do some things differently - or some additional things. Otherwise nothing is driving change.

Organisations that stay the same get overtaken.  The best organisations have a continual programme of review, change and improvement - making incremental (and occasionally large) improvements to processes, systems and tasks - and to the skills of their people.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Productivity or Quality

I have been in discussions many times with businessmen and advisers about whether firms should concentrate on their productivity or their quality - which has the biggest impact on success.

Of course the quick answer is "Both" - they are not mutually exclusive!

But I remember listening to my colleague Tor Dahl who used to suggest that productivity initiatives release energy and innovation (they unfreeze the organisation); quality initiatives standardise systems and processes to 'lock in' quality (and they freeze the organisation).  Another way of putting it is that quality initiatives help cement the gains realised by a productivity initiative.

So, we do need them both - but not necessarily sat the same time.  There seems to be a natural sequence of productivity-quality-productivity-quality.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Do you believe in training?

Do you have a structured training or development plan for each of your employees? Possibly not.

Do you send staff on training courses - or have trainers come to your premises?  For specific courses associated with new technologies, processes or .. ?

Yes.  Good!

Now the key question.  Do you regularly review - and then address - your own training needs?

No!  Well, why not.  You need to keep up to date, to expand your horizons, to upskill and reskill yourself.

Make it your own promise to yourself - to invest in yourself for the sake of the business.  Then, everyone wins.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Don't make the connection

Do you encourage your employees to manage their time, to structure their tasks, to be self-motivated. Good!  You should.

But you shouldn't expect that to have a significant impact on the performance of the business.

That depends much more on the effectiveness of the systems, process and procedures you put in place to link people and activities together.

So, if things aren't working, it is not likely to be the fault of your staff - its down to you, I'm afraid.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

And the secret is ...

I can be as guilty as the next person is hailing specific concepts and practices as being important determinants of improved business performance.

But we should stop searching for the 'secret' - the panacea - and concentrate on the basics.

High performance is about good organisation, good planning, effective design of facilities, systems and processes, effective motivation of staff and all those other things the management textbooks tell us about.

So, the real 'secret' is about doing all those things well in pursuit of a clear and shared organisational mission.

If someone comes offering you a simpler 'secret', they are selling you 'snake oil'.  There are few shortcuts in life. 

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Don't Break the Chain!

A personal 'productivity' tip sometimes referred to as 'Seinfeld's Chain' after Jerry Seinfeld, the US comedian is a useful reminder of the need to 'keep at it'.  The story is that, when he started writing, Seinfeld would mark each day he had spent his planned time actually writing by putting a big red cross through that day on a large wall calendar.  After a few days he would have a chain of crosses - and it required him to keep putting in the effort so as not to break the chain.  Even when he had 'better offers' or when he felt ill, the motivation to keep the chain going was very strong.

The same approach can be used for anything which requires regular effort and activity - exercise, program coding, learning to play a musical instrument, etc.  it is not one long practice session that makes improvement - it is regular, incremental performance gains resulting from regular action.

So, when you feel the need to make changes, think how you can structure the activity so that a small amount of effort is required each day - even if that is only scheduling some thinking time.  Too many owners of small businesses claim they are too busy to plan ahead. Now put in that effort TODAY - you have to START the chain by putting the first X on the calendar.

Repeat daily until you have a chain of at least 5 Xs.

Now look at your calendar.  1 working week - 5 thinking sessions.  If you don't break the chain, that will be 250 in the year  ... and a potential transformation of your thinking, and your business.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Release this free resource

Your employees work - and work hard  - for various reasons.

Obviously there are contractual reasons - they take your money and have to 'put in the hours'.

But above and beyond what they are contracted to, most employees put in 'discretionary effort' - over and above the minimum - perhaps because they like what they do, perhaps because they like the company, perhaps because they value being a member of the team they belong to.

Your job, clearly, is to maximise this discretionary effort.  You have to address the motivational factors that 'persuade' them to offer more; you have to give them the skills they need; you have to inform them about why things are important, involve them in key decision-making and respect their views.

Discretionary effort is almost free - you would be stupid not to try and release it.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Gamification (again)

Last week I talked about gamification - and whether it could be used to help improve productivity.
If you weren't thinking about it then, I hope you are now - Ambient research suggests that game-based learning will grow from $1.5 billion in 2012 to $2.3 billion in 2017. 
This is important.  If we are to grow our businesses, we have to grow our people - improve their knowledge and skills, making them flexible and adaptable employees.
Adding gaming elements to their training might work.
Let's remind ourselves about what gamification means - and what it doesn't. 
Asking the learner a series of questions, along with multiple options, is NOT game-based learning. 
Game-based learning is the application of gaming elements to a non-gaming context - such as learning or training ... and by gaming elements, we mean such things as:

  1. Challenge
  1. Motivation
  1. Rewards
  1. Feedback

- the elements that 'hook' gamers and keep them coming back for more.  Build these elements into the training of your employees and you might just 'hook' them into relatively painless acquisition of new knowledge and skills.  They enjoy; you win!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Using gamification to improve your business

We've heard quite a lot about 'gamification' recently - especially in the context of online learning.

I read the term many times before I sought to understand it ... so I thought some of you might be in the same boat and would appreciate an executive summary'.

If I'm right (after several minutes of research), gamification refers to taking processes (such as learning) and applying games-related functions like repetition, competition, rewards and recognition to make them more engaging to the participants.

Many industries have had some of these elements for a number of years, but gamification seems to mean taking these things to a new levels and integrating them more thoroughly. Organisations like TripAdvisor which give you credit for reviews you write (and regularly remind you of the number of readers, especially those who 'liked' one of your reviews) are 'gamifying' their websites.

So, whether you are ready to go full steam ahead with gamification, it might be worth considering how you can use the functions referred to above to better engage your customers or your employees.
Can you use data about output or performance levels to create competition between employees or workgroups; can you use that data as the basis of simple recognition or reward programmes? Can you use similar techniques when training staff for new roles - getting them to improve their' high score' all then time until they are fully competent?

Saturday, 6 September 2014

It was the right decision

Recently a colleague was bemoaning the fact that he had taken a bad decision.

When I questioned him about the decision, and about the outcomes, I formed the view that he had taken a 'correct' (or sensible) decision given the information he had available at the time.

As an example, consider the decision to make a bid in a game of bridge or make a move in a game of chess.  You make your move based on the experience you have of likely outcomes from the state of the game (or the cards you have been dealt) as it lies when you take the decision.  What happens subsequently will then depend on a number of additional factors - including the relative ability of you and your opponent(s).  You may lose the game.  However, if the same decision has to be made in the future, the likelihood is that you will make it in the same way - unless and until the number of times it turns out to be 'wrong' becomes statistically significant.

The same is true in business.  You must not confuse the outcome of a decision with the wisdom of the decision you took.  You must continue to take decisions based on the information you have available (though you might want to find out more if you can) and the experience you have of similar situations.  Then whatever happens, happens.  The outcome might not be favourable because of prevailing conditions - or due to plain chance.  But the decision was still the correct one.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

In a Rut. If only!

One of the great things about running a small business is the sheer number and variety of tasks you have to undertake.  No day is like any other.

Of course, I use the word 'great' somewhat ironically.

Just occasionally I would love life to settle into a routine with some day-to-day predictability and certainty.  Oh the joy of being bored for a few days.

However, I have to go now.  there is something I have to do ... and then something else ... and then...

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Don't Take The Credit

When we take a decision - or take some action - we rightly expect to be judged by what happens as a result.

However, in complex situations, something would have happened anyway.  Things rarely stay the same.  But we don't know which of the changes that have taken place resulted directly from our decision or action.

Does it matter?

Well, only if we take credit for all the good things that have happened and try to reproduce the effect later - or somewhere else. This time it might not work.

So, when judging your 'success' (or 'failure'), try to think about the direct things you caused - and those things that might have changed anyway.  It might change your opinion about you - and your decision-making.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Cooperate for Success

Most of the readers of this blog are small businesses or entrepreneurs.

However there is another class of businesses that I have been working with recently - cooperatives.  Often regarded as 'odd' sand 'non-mainstream', they do remind us that cooperation and collaboration are often useful approaches to business development, and can allow us to share expensive resources with our collaborators.

So, whilst not expecting you to change the structure of your business, I do urge you to think about how you might work more closely with peers ... and simply those with a shared interest, mission or customer base.  You might be able to gain some of the advantages of being a larger business whilst you grow to that size yourself.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Haver You Moved to the Cloud

Many entrepreneurs ands small businesses fail to back up their computer data.  They mean to of course ... but actually doing it takes expertise - normally a bigger stumbling block than the cost.

Cloud storage is now the obvious option .... but many are worried about security.

However, most cloud-based storage and backup services are quite secure - if used properly .... and they have been getting easier to use over recent years.

Take Dropbox - probably the most used cloud-based service.  Once set up, it just works.  reliably, securely, conveniently.

There are numerous alternatives out there - it partly depends on whether you want simple backup or synchronised storage - where your cloud-based storage seamlessly synchronises with your server or desktop.

Google Drive is another option - quite a bit cheaper than Dropbox for small businesses.

So don't take too long thinking about it - and lose your data to a 'glitch'' of some kind.  Sign up to a free trail NOW - and sleep at night.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Join the club

Clustering is a government policy whereby firms in a particular sector are located close to one another so they can intermingle, inter-trade  and learn from each other.

if you are not part of a cluster - because you are located where you are for historical reasons - you can often get many of the benefits by joining a 'virtual cluster'.

Often support agencies (government funded organisations or self-funding associations) have regular meetings and training sessions ... but increasingly there is support offered by online groups.

Many people view LinkedIn as a vehicle for recruitment - but the real strength of LinkedIn is in its groups.  These offer the chance to interact with like-minded individuals and companies .sharing information and asking questions.

obviously, these groups vary in their usefulness - and in their levels of activity... but since you can get email digests of comments posted and questions posed, there is little bto lose - its free and takes little time,

|Join a group - or several- now

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Inject freshness

When your workforce knows its work well . ..and is moving along nicely,,, you might sit back, smile and count the profits.

But in such circumstances, a sports coach would be looking for the next level of performance.

So, you should be also.

You have to think about doing something new or doing something differently - setting the workforce a challenge.  They might not necessarily like you for it ... but as long as they respond you have done the right thing.

Comfortable mediocrity is not an option!

Saturday, 19 July 2014


That title wasn't very helpful was it.   yet you must have been intrigued - or bored - because you are reading this.

The 'Mmm' cam from the fact that I have been 'musing' (first 'm') on 'motivation' (second 'm').  How do we motivate our employees.

Well, first we have to understand they are not motivated by what motivates us.  They have their own values, interests and concerns.  We have to understand 'where they are coming from' - what interests them, annoys them, drives them.

if you have the empathy to answer those questions, you should be able to derive a motivation strategy that will help you build momentum (another 'm') in support of your own motivation and goals.  Just don't expect them to share those goals just because you think they should.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Take the time to talk

I was looking at a PowerPoint presentation the other day (not one of mine) and I thought "What a great job this person has done of making a complex issue understandable."  

It reminded me that we often have two important, overlapping roles - acting as technical experts to make plans, take decisions, solve problems and make improvements ... and acting as teachers and mentors to persuade others that our assessment and plans are sound and offer real benefits.  Where we have different groups of stakeholders with different viewpoints and concerns, this can be the more challenging role.

So, in your business, remember to take a break from 'managing' it occasionally and take the time to explain what it is you are doing and why. It will pay dividends in the longer-term.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

How do you compare?

Who is your 'target company' - the one you wean to emulate - and beat?

Having someone in your sights is a good motivator - it helps focus your mind on what they do better than  you - and therefore on what you need to improve.

So, if you haven't got a target, find one - and find out enough about them to do some useful comparisons and benchmarking.

If you think there is no-one to chase, you are either misguided - or in a particular niche market.

If there is no-one ...  then it is you... next year you must beat this year's performance - especially in those areas where you know you should improve.  Start chasing yourself!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

More banana skins

I talked last week about the banana skins we drop - and the thing that makes our firms good being how we 'pick then up'.

I return to the point just to emphasise the fact that you will make mistakes - we all do (yes, even me :).

So, as I said last week - identify the mistakes - look at the data, feel the dissatisfaction, listen to the complaints - and use those mistakes to make you better and stronger.  Your customers - and your staff - will forgive you for making mistakes if you deal with the fallout promptly and effectively.

The biggest crime, by far, is not having the mechanisms - and the humility - to identify and admit your mistakes.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Pick up the banana skins

Most of the time you get things right, I'm sure. Occasionally, though, you will slip on a banana skin - and get something wrong.

It is almost impossible to avoid all mistakes - though, of course, we try very hard.

What matters is how we deal with our mistakes - how we learn from them.

So, when you spot a mistake - don't assign 'blame', assign 'responsibility'  - for learning the lessons and making improvements.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Always have ... Always will

As a consultant, the key 'technique' to improving someone's business is simply to keep asking them the questions ..."Why do you do that?", "Why do you do it like that?" and "What else could you do?"

Ask these questions enough times about enough parts of the business and he/she ( the business owner) will eventually start thinking - and come up with his/her own ideas for improvement.

However, you will not be surprised to find that the commonest answer to the middle question is a shifty look, a hesitation and something like "Well, that's how we do it round here."  Firms do something in a particular way because that's how they started doing it ... and there has never been a reason to challenge it.

Of course there might be better processes, better technology, faster machines or whatever that have emerged recently but the business owner is unlikely to haver done any research to find that out.

So, he/she may not have a real problem - but may be missing a real opportunity.

Don't be that 'Aways done it this way' person.  Review what you do and how you do it on a regular basis. Talk to others in the same industry.  Visit some trade exhibitions and keep up to date.  Search out opportunities to improve. otherwise if you keep missing them, they will turn into problems.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Do you lead from the top?

My time in the productivity business had led me (perhaps rather slowly) to a simple truth.

Effective organisations - with high productivity and good quality -  start at the top with a 'planning and execution system' that stems directly from the organisational mission.  This must define and support 'excellence' and must translate into systems, processes and procedures - and skilled roles and tasks which build in individual and team responsibility for that excellence, together with performance measures that ensure we remain 'on track' with our plans and targets.

For a small business, much of this is instinctive - but it happens in the best small companies and startups where the business owner builds a skilled, trained, engaged and motivated workforce who know and understand their own roles within the overall organisational system.  In fact, in a small business this is usually easier because employees can often see the whole of the 'production process' and it is clear as to what their contribution is.

We need to 'flip' the traditional representation of an organisation structure and see the role of managers and leaders as creating and sharing a vision of excellence and then identifying and removing the barriers that prevent 'front line workers' from creating that excellence.

So, your role is to lead from the bottom!

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Don't be afraid to spend money on useless things

As a productivity professional, I am used to counting every penny/cent spent and justifying the expenditure by the benefits it brings - its (perhaps tiny) contribution to the aims of the organisation.

Sometimes, however, firms decide to spend money on things which have no direct utility - corporate art, charitable giving, etc.  Can such expenditure be justified?  ... in productivity terms.

Your job, as head of a company, is to coordinate all action - across all functions and sections - in pursuit of common goals - and the overall mission.  Your leadership can ensure success - but only if you can create shared ownership of the mission.

Spending money on non-utility expenditure can help you express the values you want associated with the company - it your employees (and other stakeholders) the things you regard as important. As such it helps create cohesion around the message and the mission.

As long as the amount of money spent on such things is not 'out of proportion' to utilitarian expenditure, and, as long as it is not expenditure for a privileged few - artwork in the executive penthouse, for example - it can make a positive contribution.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Can they deliver?

Consultants usually specialise in .... productivity, quality, organisational development, innovation, or some other 'improvement' topic.

This suggests that the business world is full of tools and techniques that must be selected carefully according to the kind of situation - and kind of problem - being considered.

Consultants pretend to be knowledgeable and 'clever' - and of course they are ... but often their major asset is having time and having an external, disinterested viewpoint. Use them - but don't be baffled or bamboozled by their tales of great expertise.  Question them about details - and about 'execution'.  Make sure you have confidence in their ability to deliver.

Saturday, 17 May 2014


What's the quickest way to a $1million business?

The old joke is that you start with a £2million business and manage it badly.

The joke reminds us that managing any business - but especially small businesses and start-ups in not easy.  They fail for many reasons - often (ironically) because of their success - when they run out of working capital.

So when you have success - even temporarily by meeting deadlines and milestones on the way to profit..... celebrate and reward it.

And let employees who are responsible for that success participate in the celebration and the reward.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Do your chores

One of the tasks most of us hate is clearing up after we have done a job that results in some mess or untidiness.

However, we do it because we know it is really necessary.

In a work situation, it is like a 'sign off' that thew job is complete, it lets us check we have not lost any tools or equipment and it makes sure we have a clean and tidy (and hence safe) workplace.

Quite often 'chores' are like that .. you don't want to do them, but they are often both necessary and useful.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Now back to work

I suggested last week that if you have survived the last 5 years, you should give yourself (and your staff) a pat on the back.

However, you and I both know that small firms can afford little time for celebration before once more 'knuckling down' to the hard graft of making the business pay.

So, now (for those of us in the Norther hemisphere) is the time to 'spring clean' our businesses - to review, revise, refine, repair and revitalise our processes, systems and our staff.... to ensure they are 'fit for purpose' and have not drifted from the tight set of processes and procedures we started with.

Those of you who have played sports know that if you take your eye off the ball, it has a nasty habit of hitting you in the face.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Give Yourself a Pat on the Back

If your company has survived the last 5 years, you deserve a pat on the back.

You should also give your staff a pat on the back (even if you can't yet afford to increase their wages).

This has been a difficult time for many businesses.  Survival equals success for many.

But, of course, you can't afford to rest on your laurels.

So, having given yourself that pat on the back, then put it on the tiller - and steer through what should be slightly better conditions.  Oddly, many business owners find survival easier than growth - it (survival) is a single focus; growth requires decisions and strategy.

However, if you've made it this far, you are probable well-set.  Good luck.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

I’ve recently returned from Greece where I was privileged to visit the site of the oracle at Delphi – a major centre of  world communication in the 5th century BC.  The size and scale of what was the Temple of Apollo is staggering – this was both a communications and commercial centre of real magnitude.

It is good to be reminded of past civilisations and their power and influence – and also good, of course, to be reminded that such civilisations often collapse or fail.  ‘Success’ is a fragile commodity – and the world changes around successful organisations – and nations.   Those who fail to ‘read the runes’ and fail to adapt to the changing environment are doomed to fail.

So, every time something goes wrong in your business - you have to figure out why ... and then stop that happening again.  Learn - and act on that learning. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Blame Yourself

Are you critical of the performance of your workforce - citing their reluctance to work harder as a major reason for low productivity.

My many years of experience has taught me that this is rarely the case.

If productivity - and labour performance - is low, it is almost always entirely down to the 'the system' - the processes, procedures, and working conditions set by managers and supervisors.  Workers end up with low performance because they spend too much time waiting for work, using poor tools, dealing with inferior materials and operating unreliable machines. It is rarely because they are not working hard enough.  They are not being allowed to work harder.

So, before you blame the team - take a good look at these factors ... and then take the responsibility (and any blame) on yourself.  Your workers cannot change these things. You can!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Careful who's advice you take

In a recent trawl across productivity writings - papers, blogs and so  - which I find useful both just to keep in touch and occasionally inspire me to new thought -  I came across the following..

Decide on a plan, get your supplies and ready your team. This is how you set yourself up to take advantage of the Virgo full moon of productivity.

This was in a respected publication. I was appalled.  Not by the advice, of course.  Though it may be a bit over-simplified, the 'plan and prepare' message is essentially sound.  But to couple that with astrology, suggesting that the alignment of planetary objects somehow affects what you should do to improve productivity, is at best inappropriate.  I am a scientist by background and believe that to make such claims requires evidence of causality.

Whether your business improves and succeeds is down to you - and the decisions and actions you take.  Take advice by all means - but from educated, informed, experienced sources - not from those who profess to have deep secrets based on information only they can interpret.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Trust matters

I've been in India for a week talking about a number of issues, including skills development.  India is making a big investment in Sector Skills Councils to try to work with industry to identify and fill skills gaps. Unfortunately, this dialogue is not proving easy.  Industry is not used to being consulted and to participating and is wary of government agencies asking for 'partnership'.

There is a general lesson here - building trust takes time - and takes mutual respect.  Without it, however, true partnership is not possible.

So, if you are entering a new business relationship - or seeking a new agreement with your employees,,... take the time to weigh the 'trust balance'.  If it doesn't balance, something is wrong - and your venture/agreement might fail.  So, slow down, build (or rebuild) trust first - and then create the partnership - on firm foundations.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

No help, please

What help do you get from 'support agencies'?

I expect your answer to be something like 'very little'.

I understand that such agencies work with the best of intentions.  However my experience is that the good small companies and entrepreneurs do not need help; and the bad will not benefit from the help.

So the agencies would be better saving their (normally 'our' money as it derives from taxation) and governments would be better working on the infrastructure that supports business.

Saturday, 15 March 2014


Change can be threatening - and disruptive.

But, of course, if you don't change - you can face more serious threats.

So, accept it , plan for it - and control it.

As the Dalai Lama (I think) once said..

If you are in control of a situation, there is no need to worry.

However he went on to say...

If you are not in control of a situation, there is no point worrying.

But if you are not in control , you'd better start planning for the consequences of unplanned, uncontrolled change

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Trust them

How many people in this world do you trust?

My answer is 'All of them' until they suggest to me that they cannot be trusted.  If we start from a position of trust, we normally end up approaching discussions and negotiations in a positive and constructive frame of mind.

If you trust your employees, for example, then 'industrial relations' can also be positive and constructive. If you want them to help you improve the business, starting from a position of trust makes it easier.  One or two of them may let you down ... but that is not reason not to trust the majority.  if you treat good staff with suspicion because of one or two exceptional cases, you loser their respect sand cooperation.

Whatever the personal, ethical and social implications, adopting a stance of 'trust first' makes good business sense.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Do they have what they need?

Our office is quite small - a few desks ... and computers of course.  One of our members of staff is a graphic designer (amongst other things, for of course we cannot afford single-specialism staff) and this week I provided him with a graphics tablet.

He was slightly surprised - but very grateful. More importantly it transformed his ability to do (some parts of) his job.

It is good to be reminded of how important it is to:

(a) have the right tools and technology
(b) ensure we allow all our staff to use their talents to the full.

You should undertake the occasional review of how well you do these things.  If you can improve - only marginally - the performance of each member of staff with a small investment in equipment ... or time ... it will be worth it.  Try it!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Crossing Boundaries (again)

Last week I talked about the need to cross organisational boundaries - to avoid creating 'silo management' where each department takes decisions on its own information to suit its own ends - resulting in sub-optimal performance for the organisation.

This week I return to boundaries to use very briefly on whether approaches to improving businesses are, or should be, different in different geographic regions.

Different regions or nations may have different social, legal, economic, political and technological characteristics.  My own view is that these differences may influence the appropriateness of solutions we may devise, but they do not necessitate a different approach to the business improvement process itself.

I have worked in enough countries of the world - developed and emerging economies - to base this view on personal experience.

But businesses in different parts of the world work very much in the same way. To improve them we still have to work through a process that consists of the essential stages of diagnosis, development, evaluation, implementation.  Throughout this process, we may have to adjust how we communicate and explain, but we have to work through these steps.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Crossing boundaries

Many of us are defined by our academic qualification or professional status - as engineers, managers or whatever.

But most of us have learned that we need to be able to talk to those in other roles ... and need to understand their knowledge base, their expectations, their way of thinking.

How to cross those knowledge and functional boundaries is what we learn after our formal education has stopped (or paused) ... and is at least as important. It is how we make multi-functional, multi-talented teams work in practice ... and how we make business processes effective and efficient.

In your business, if your staff cannot cross these boundaries, you end up with 'silo management' where each person understands only their role ... and not how their role contributes to the whole ....and why, therefore, why what they do is important and must be done well.

If they don't understand that, it is unlikely that any degree of exhortation will make them perform ... so you end up with, at the best, sub-optimal performance.

Communicate with your employees, by all means. ... but also make sure they themselves know how to communicate across role and function boundaries.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Less business sugar, please

Sugar gives you an 'energy rush' - very useful when you have a demanding task to perform.  That is why we like sugary snacks throughout the day when we're at work or taking physical exercise. The problem is that these short term fixes do not do us any long-term good; in fact, quite the opposite. We can end up overweight, with health problems such as diabetes and certainly unfit.

What we need is a long-term plan for our diet and our body which gives us the energy we need when we need it but leaves us fit and healthy over the longer term.

This mirrors some approaches to improving the productivity of their business. Some organisations use the 'quick fix'- cost cutting and labour layoffs. But this can take knowledge and skill out of the business and does little to create longer-term good. A better approach is to concentrate on those measures that create added value for customers and improve the longer-term health of the business.

I know that I have presented this as 'black and white' and that sometimes immediate cost-cutting is needed to ensure short-term survival (and certainly controlling your costs is essential). However, the principle still applies. A long term view supporting a long term vision is a better way to secure the future health of the business than taking the easy way out to solve an immediate problem.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Real Quality

We went through the 'quality revolution in the 70s/80s - now everyone  has ISO 9000 and some have been through TQM programmes. (I'm talking about the big boys, here.)

Why is it then that it is so difficult to get good' service'.  Service in the UK has largely been off-shored to India and other places - clearly as a cost-cutting exercise.

Customers hate calling these 'service centres' and playing 'telephone tag' until they eventually get someone who doesn't understand the problem and has no authority to do anything about it.

They seem to have forgotten that 'lean' organisations start by valuing the voice of the customer (where voice is spelt VOice, not PRice).

So can we have a REAL quality revolution where quality and productivity (which should both be based on adding value) are considered two sides of the same coin and are not traded off against each other.

And as a small company ...remember copying the big boys isn't always the right thing to do.  Stay close yo your customers; value their feedback; and act on it.  That seems to be something you can do that they can not ... or will not.

Saturday, 25 January 2014


I want a new guitar. I admit I don't need one (I have 4)... but I want one.

The problems is that my wife says we don't have the space.  She has initiated a new house rule for guitars - one in, one out.  But I'm emotionally attached to my guitars so selling one is difficult. However, I admit we are running out of space.

We all know that what we have to store continually expands to fill the available space.  So we end up storing 'rubbish', stuff we might need one day when it 'comes in useful'.

The same is true at work. Most workspaces are full of unused tools, equipment, files, papers - taking up space, getting in the way, making us less productive.  This is why the 5S (google 5S if you don't recognise the term) process is so valuable - if we declutter, we work more effectively and more productively.

So, if you take a look at your workspaces and declutter them, I promise to think about considering getting rid of one of my guitars.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Stick with plan B

Marks & Spencer, the large UK retailer has an environmental strategy branded 'Plan A' .... "because there is no Plan B.  They are trying to get over the message that we HAVE to look after the environment and they are doing what they can.

Of course, in business, you have to have a Plan B - except in severe emergencies.  We have to have the flexibility to respond to changing circumstances - competition, legislation, technology or whatever.  This is, of course, the real strength of small businesses - they are flexible enough to respond to change ... and, if they are smart enough - they anticipate it.

So, by all mean make yourself efficient and 'lean'- but alongside the lean programme carry out a risk assessment and keep a little resource 'in the bank' for emergencies.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

If you Google the word 'productivity', you get lots of results. Many of them relate to 'personal productivity', and a smaller number of them to organisational productivity

So, which is the most important?

One way of looking at it is to assume that collective personal productivity makes up organisational productivity.

However, this is not so.  Organisational productivity depends much more on the effectiveness of the systems, processes and procedures involved than it does on the personal effectiveness of the workers ... except perhaps for the effectiveness of the few key people (like you) who shape policy and strategy.

So, don't ignore the personal productivity of your workers ...but don't expect it to transform your business if you don't pay attention to those systems, processes and procedures.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Are you helping?

It seems the world's government are looking to us (small businesses to lead them out of the economic mess precipitated by the banks and the big guys.

They see us as being a major component of GDP (which we are), and being small and flexible enough to sort ourselves out more quickly than those big guys (which we can).

Of course being governments, they can't ask us to do something without first tying one hand behind our backs - by making it very difficult for many of us to secure access to finance.

Still, we're fighters.  We've weathered economic down turns before.  We'll pull through - well enough of us anyway. We'll pull those governments out of their mess - but in spite of, not because of their 'help'!

See you on the other side.