Saturday, 26 December 2015

Do you speak English?

We, in the UK and US, are lucky to have English as our mother tongue.  It has become the de facto language of trade and commerce.

So, we have a 'head start' in trade negotiations.

However it also means that people inn the UK and US are not motivated to learn other languages.  We simply assume that everyone else will learn English.

This means that we also do not pick up on cultural differences that language learning helps to educate about.  This can make English speakers culturally insensitive - not recognising the nuances of culture, language - and body language - that people convey in trade (and other) discussions.

So our great asset is something of a liability - cutting us off from the learning that others get as a bonus with their language learning.

If you operate internationally - or plan to do so - you need to work hard to make up this deficit.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Introducing technology - stay in control

Does technology help or hinder productivity & performance? 

There are two basic schools of thought on this issues – though, as ever, these are not straightforward.

The first is that the introduction of technology can transform processes for the better, improving both quality and productivity.  Of course, this school of thought is largely promulgated by suppliers of the technology, keen to sell a positive message about their products.  The evidence is not so clear. We all know organisations that have ‘automated’ their processes using technology – but then found that they have automated their inefficient or unreliable processes, so that their key outcome is that they can now make mistakes and errors faster.

The second major school of thought, however, is that the introduction of many modern technologies – such as email and other forms of messaging – simply results in high levels of distraction for employees.

The truth is, of course, either somewhere in the middle – or, more likely, a combination of the two schools – some technology-based projects result in positive productivity gains; some do not.  It depends on how such projects are implemented – and whether the introduction of the technology is a part of an overall strategy, clearly linked to the overall vision of the organisation and its strategic objectives.

So, your job is to make sure you are not seduced by the promises of sales people and tech-evangelists ... but that you introduce technology when it falls into place naturally as part of a project or initiative that is part of your overall strategic planning.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Countryside, countrywide.

All developing countries go through a stage of urbanisation - as people leave the countryside and flock to the cities in pursuit of a share of the wealth that cities create.

This generally results in higher national productivity.

However, those same countries need to address productivity in, and of, the countryside.

In a typical agriculture supply chain, there is plenty of scope for value to be lost - right from planting through to cropping, processing and distribution.  The best producing countries maximise value at all stages in the process.

This has the advantage of retaining labour in the countryside, hopefully creating more (successful) small businesses - and helping balance the economy,

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Safety or Productivity

There seems to be, in some people's eyes, a dichotomy between safety and productivity.

The former is regarded as a compliance issue - a chore, a headache, an imposition - a drain on productivity.

Of course it partly depends on how safety is treated as an issue. Those who have used poka-yoke as an error-reducing technique will realise that it can also be used as an accident-reducing technique ... so that it makes a process both safer and more productive at the same time.  In fact this is the best way to address safety - every time we reduce the chance of an accident or other safety incident, we reduce value losses.

So it is definitely not a case of 'either/or' but a vase of 'both together' - making what we do both safer and more productive.  I hope you agree that any other approach is unthinkable.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

The end of austerity.

In the UK, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has signalled a kind of U-turn by scrapping his plans to cut tax credits and offering more money for the health service, for defence and for the police.  This seems to be the end of his austerity planning - though he says he still intends to cut the deficit by the end of this parliament.

I'm not an economist so I tend to think in simple - perhaps even simplistic - terms.  I can see the sense in not spending more than you earn - at the personal, at the organisational and at the national level.

I also know that the Uk needs to improve its productivity.  The best way the government can help do that is to get the macro-economic climate right, to cut regulation and to invest in infrastructure.

So, write to George .. and make sure he spends his money where it will do you some good.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Can you survive Christmas

Saturday 12th December has been dubbed “Out of Stock Saturday” by logistics analysts Clear Returns, as it will be the day when the largest number of UK retailers’ stock will be tied up in the returns loop and unavailable to buy.  

They know this as it happens every year.

So does Christmas!

Yet peak, seasonal demand seems to surprise many firms each year.

Of course this doesn't apply to you, does it?

Seriously, if you haven't fully planned your operations over the next month to allow for any seasonal demand - you are too late.  But you could learn the lesson for next year- or for Easter, or whenever demand for your product/service is raised.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Help those who help themselves

I make no apologies for what some might consider an irrelevant and inappropriate post.

The title of this post is one of those things our parents taught us when we were kids. It was suggested that we should prioritise our support towards those who were already attempting their own recovery from a problem.

Well, if you still subscribe to that philosophy, I urge you to contribute to the current appeal to help Ethiopia deal with its current severe drought.

Over the last few years, Ethiopia has made great progress with its underlying productivity and economic situation - becoming one of the fastest growing economies in Africa with lots of entrepreneurial activity. They have tried very hard - and largely succeeded - in building a modern economy.

They deserve our help.  Please give up a little of your success to help others trying to do the same.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

You might need help

Do you read the wise words of the business gurus, the management thought leaders?

No, me neither.

Of course these guys (for they usually are guys) must have done something right to get to where they are - to achieve their fame/notoriety.

But that doesn't mean they can necessarily create simple, pithy messages of use to you and me.

Perhaps they can when filtered through a professional writer or editor - but possibly not using their own literary skills.

Similarly, there are times when we all need help translating our raw knowledge or skills into useful end products.

The best thing you can  do is to build a team around you that has skills that complement - not duplicate - our own.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Is this your company?

The third Albion Growth Report, designed to shed light on the factors that both create and impede growth among over 1,000 UK SMEs, highlights significant regional differences in tackling the productivity gap: 54 per cent of business owners in the South West said they will increase productivity over the next two years followed by 52 per cent of those in Yorkshire, London and South East. The least confident regions are the North West, East Midlands and West Midlands with only 46 per cent expecting further improvements.
According to the Report, the most common measures taken by firms to boost productivity have been better processes, (30 per cent), technology (24 per cent ), training (18 per cent) and flexible working hours (12 per cent).
When asked how the Government can help SMEs to increase productivity, 42 per cent said that investment in fixed line broadband would deliver the biggest benefits, followed by roads (31 per cent) and affordable housing (25 per cent).
Its not rocket science, is it?  So, why don't more firms invest in such factors?  And who doesn't the government do what these SMES ask?

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The World Productivity Congress is proving to be very interesting.

Just before the event I read an article by Robert Gordon about the state of US productivity, the gist of which was that the major innovations of the period 1870-1970 fuelled productivity growth but now we have 'used them up' and productivity is stagnating, compounded by the fact that we are incurring extra costs coping with the negative (environmental) effects of those innovation.

At this event we hear lots of papers extolling the virtues of Big Data in terms of creating Smart Cities, new forms of healthcare, competitive advantage - and so on.

Will this be reflected in the economic and productivity figures of the next few years - or decades?

We have to hope so - or our children and grandchildren are in for a long period of slow growth or stagnation.

Of course you might only care about how your own business is going to survive and grow - and you probably don't have access to 'big data'.  But you do have access to data - about your own business' performance - and hopefully about your competitors - and the market generally. You need to use this 'small data' to chart a way through the rough seas ahead.  Forget the long-term picture for the company.  Where are you going in the next 2-5 years?  Is that a safe place?

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Keep learning

I am in Halifax (Nova Scotia) for the World Productivity Congress (being held in partnership with the Big Data Conference). This gives me 2 (well, at least 2) opportunities.

Firstly, I can meet up with old friends and contacts and find out about developments in the field of productivity across the globe.  This is always interesting and useful.

Secondly, I get to hear about developments in Big Data and reflect upon how they impact on productivity.

I have my own ideas, of course, but essentially I am here to learn.

After all, if we stop learning we might as well give up ... and anyway our businesses will decline.

We have to learn ... and apply what we learn in our own context.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Core Values

The World Confederation of Productivity Science promotes the concept of SEE - Social, Environmental & Economic Productivities - suggesting that long-term business sustainability and success comes from  addressing all three.  Some have claimed that this is another 'take' on the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) but the WCPS ' view is that CSR is an add-on to a business, often for promotional reasons, whereas SEE is part of basic business fabric and must be treated as such.  There is a business case for addressing SEE - not a PR case.

The Volkswagen case has reinforced this belief.  Volkswagen was regarded as a leader in CSR - but it clearly wasn't part of core business strategy or core values.They didn't look a† environmental issues as a fundamental core of strategy - just something it was nice to brag about. And they completely forgot about that 'commitment' when tough business decisions needed to be taken.

Do you know what your core values are?  The values that shape every decision you make and every action you take.  Do your employees know they must NEVER transgress these values?  Ifv so, you should be safe from a VW-type scandal.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Read this blog - but only this one

I was browsing some 'productivity blogs' earlier this week - I use the inverted commas because many of them use the word 'hack - or lifehacks - only using the word 'productivity in the strapline or description.

One of them offered to remind me when to breathe to maintain my zen-like state - but I've been breathing quite successfully for many years so declined the advice.  If you read all of these blogs and tried to follow their advice, you would waste a lot of time... so read this blog and learn about real-world, real-life productivity as it affects organisations, nations and societies.

I don't say you won't waste time - but it should be more interesting and more rewarding. The rest will, at best, only entertain you.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Japan has a new government initiative to boost the adoption of intelligent machines and robots - as part of a drive to improve industrial productivity.

However, this has other benefits as well.

Mechanised workplaces are generally more suitable for female workers and for workers with disabilities - so improving automation supports greater workforce diversity .. and that provides another route to greater productivity.

So, think about what you can do to make your workplace more attractive to, and more suitable for, a wider range of potential workers.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

If Music Be....

Companies have long used music to set rhythm for production lines - and to boost morale of employees.  

Now a new study by the University of Illinois confirms that people do respond - positively in productivity terms - to music.

They suggest however that instrumentals are best - words can  interfere with language "tasks" which are part of the work.

Similarly,  music is more effective if it has a constant, easy beat and a light melody.

A report in the journal Neuroscience of Behavior and Physiology states that the Russian Academy of Sciences found that a person's ability to recognize visual images, letters and numbers, is much faster when either rock or classical music is playing in the background.

So -turn on, tune in.How and where can you use music to aid performance.

Saturday, 12 September 2015


On the Internet, you get lots of tips about productivity - and what are called ' productivity hacks' (really just more tips).

However you and I know that what brings about higher productivity is structure - to organisations, systems, processes, working methods - structure based on an analysis of need and then an identification of how that need can be best met.  This can take time - but it will be rewarded and will be much more effective than trying to apply the latest 'hack'.

Think about building a building. You need form foundations and sound construction. Productivity is similar. Take the time to structure the 'edifice' soundly.

Your job is to build the structure that can underpin higher productivity.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

The Secret to ...

Lots of blog posts start with those words in the heading.  they purport to offer you a 'secret' - some bit of knowledge or some little 'trick - that will transform how you think about a particular issue or how you will perform a particular task.

Well, my 'secret' to dealing with such 'secrets' is ...  to ignore them.  They do not exist.  

We all look for panaceas - for the next 'secret' - but the true 'secrets' involve lots of hard work and effort.  There are rarely short cuts to success.

So ignore all these 'secrets' - unless they come from me, of course.

Saturday, 29 August 2015


I talked briefly last week about making the choice to invest in skills ... but which skills.  Actually, unless there are obvious technical skills needed for specific jobs, it  doesn't matter too much.

Employees respond positively to most development opportunities.  So let them develop 'core skills' (numeracy and literacy), and employment skills (time management, project management, etc).

They will respond - and you will get more satisfied workers - and more productive workers.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Your choice

All companies have limited funds to invest in new projects. (Well, perhaps Apple has all the money it needs.)

And this inevitably means that those companies have to prioritise certain projects over others.

Unfortunately too many firms seem to concentrate on physical assets -new buildings, new technology, new equipment - and forget about new knowledge and new skills.

Too few business leaders believe what they say when they utter those words "Our people are our greatest asset".

Do you?

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Time to invest

Businesses seem to be unwilling to invest in new facilities and even new skills for their employees.

I think part of the reason is that investors have become used to the rollercoaster of the tech boom and bust cycle.

On the one hand, many expect new technology to keep arriving and providing them with relatively cheap productivity gains.

Others are reluctant to invest as they see new tech as a 'fad', rather than as a proper contribution to improved performance.

It is time to see productivity improvement as a 'journey' not a destination. Like all journeys, it needs planning snd preparation ... but above all it needs a clear route. It also needs energy and focus - it won't just happen.  And it needs resourcing - it needs the development of infrastructure and skills, of thought and ideas.

So, its time for you to focus your energies, and your investments, on improving productivity - and make a difference.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Is it counted?

Last week I talked about the problem of national productivity measurement when we fail to count lots of 'intangibles.

Musing further, I got to thinking  about companies like Google and Yahoo who give away many of their services for free (at least to the end user at point of use). Google and Yahoo put lots of energy and resources into these services - and they clearly benefit the US economy - but they don't get counted in the official GDP figure.

This situation clearly affects the US - but also lots of other developed countries.

Does it affect you?  Are there things you put effort into that don't get counted?  If so, beware of taking decisions based on the figures that don't include such factors - you might get misled.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Balance the right mesasures

When coming up with the Balanced Scorecard concept, Kaplan & Norton reminded us of the need for balanced measurement - focusing on a number of important factors.

Yet, most measures used are simple measures of physical output over resources consumed.

In many modern companies, however, physical output is low - the 'productivity' results in ideas. This cis the knowledge-based economy.

We have not yet figured out how best to measure such output.

Yet financiers and investors, when they judge a start-up, do value ideas.  Many 'tech' companies have high valuations - but few physical assets or outputs.

Productivity measurement - measures of 'output' in particular -need to keep pace with this new economy.

In the meantime, in your own company, value the bright young minds you have and the ideas they generate. that is what will create your future wealth.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Goof for the workers?

China and India are arguably the world's best performing economies over the last decade - both have seen large productivity gains.. Yet, China has managed to address poverty more effectively than India.

According to the World Bank, the rate of extreme poverty in Chinas declined from 84% in 1981 to just 12% in 2019.  The comparable decline in India during the same period was from 60 to 33%.

India's population have put great confidence in Prime Minister Modhi.  He has talked up good solutions - nut now is the time to execute. India's poor are relying on him to turn higher productivity into a fairer society.

What has this got to do with you?  Well, if you are improving your performance, you need to think about how the resulting rewards are shared - and the effects this has on the motivation and commitment of your workforce.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Lots of national governments - and other agencies-  make calls to their populace for a productivity revolution.  They are simply urging people to work harder.

Bu we know that productivity revolutions do not occur because people work harder or when people work longer hours (despite what Jeb Bush might think).

So, a 'call to arms' is unlikely to be effective.

Governments need to do more - to build  a strategy (or at least a plan) for productivity development involving policy and infrastructure elements (macroeconomics, regulation, transport, telecoms, education, skills). They need to build a potential for higher productivity which enlightened firms can exploit. Individuals might then respond with higher productivity.

The same applies to you. There is no point simply urging your workforce to work harder - or even smarter. You have to build your own internal infrastructure - and culture - that can support suggestions, innovations and new ways of working. This is your job - and perhaps the most important part of it!

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Greek lessons

If Greece is forced out of either the Euro, the EU or both - there are clear implications for theGreek economy. But will there be any implications for underlying productivity.

Well, there is some evidence - ironically from Greece itself - that national confidence and national pride do have a significant impact on the productivity of workers.

When Athens hosted the Olympics in 2004, there was a surge of national pride and of 'engagement' of the workforce with their country.   This resulted in both a sense of well-being for the workers and in a boost to the economy.

This suggests, unfortunately, that  exit from the Euro might have a negative effect on productivity and the economy - perhaps resulting in a kind of 'vicious spiral' of decline in the economy and national confidence.

Dos this matter for you?  Well, assuming you don't have significant trade with Greece or investments in Geek companies, it may not.  But there is a lesson to be learned.

A workforce that 'feels good' works better.  If you can give your workers a sense of engagement and pride in the company, they are more likely to be positive and productive.

Why not try it? What have you got to lose?

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Its all gone wrong

When I was a teenager (warning - ancient history lesson coming up!), we were regaled with promises of the paperless office and factory automation - leading to a life of leisure (and luxury).  Now people work longer hours than ever before - and many are never really off duty - being permanently connected to the office network.

Where did it all go wrong?

This is one of life's great productivity paradoxes - increasing automation results in more work for people, not less.

For your part, you should think through the consequences of production/process decisions - for you and your workforce; there may be implications you didn't think about at first.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

In the UK, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI - which represents British business organisations - especially larger ones) is asking the government for tax changes in the forthcoming budget to allow further investment in machinery/equipment and in skills development.

If you are (or if you were) UK based, do you (would you) support the CBI in this plea? 

Of course you would - it would give you more to invest ... or it would help boost your profits.

But as a taxpayer, is it the right thing to do ... or should entrepreneurs and employers be sorting out their own problems?

Think about your own skills agenda. Are you having trouble finding people with the skills you need? And, if so, is this a fundamental, underlying, skills infrastructure problem ... or a more temporary issue of 'right skills in the wrong places'. 

We all want help with our businesses ... but we have to be sure that what we ask for us in the best interest of the country. That is our responsibility and duty.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

What;s your timescale?

There are often 'quick fixes' we can apply to problems. There are also often improvements we can make to get yield up or improve throughput.  The problem is that some of these can have negative impact over the longer-term.

Global agriculture seems to be caught in this trap.  Yields per hectare are rising.  Good!  With a growing global population, this is not only desirable - but essential.

However, there is increasing evidence that underlying soil performance is falling.  This means we need more and more 'treatments' to maintain yields (putting costs up) - but it also means that there might come a time when the soil refuses to support effective growth.

So, though we might want to improve agricultural productivity, we need to be wary of the timescale over which we expect improvement to occur - and be sustained. Traditional agricultural practices managed to maintain soil quantity and slowly improving yields over centuries; our need for growth has resulted in massively increased yields - but for how long?

Next time you have a good idea for the bjusiness - think about its effects over the next few weeks, the next few months and the next few years.  Does it still seem like a good idea?  If so, implement it!

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Now start

Last week I urged you to identify those things that you are doing, that you should stop doing - because they are not effective or not productive.

But hopefully that gives you some time to do some new things - to start developing new strategies, new processes, new procedures, new approaches ....

Starting is perhaps more important than stopping.  Starting something new - especially new thinking - takes real effort.

Identifying what we should start doing is harder than identifying what we should stop doing.

So, start now!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Stop it!

You are an entrepreneur and are therefore probably good at starting new initiatives, new ventures - and creating new teams.  Of course, it is good that you can do this speedily and (hopefully) effectively.

The problem is that most of us are not very good at closing down those initiatives, those teams when the job is done - or has proved to be ineffective.

I would bet that your organisation has the remnants and rumps of what were once effective projects, effective teams - even, of course, effective products ..... things that you should have positively closed down but have left to 'wither on the vine'.

So, take a look around you and see what you should stop doing.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

I have been doing some training this week - on Change Management. Both the group I was with - and myself - exhibited all the signs of a comfortable regularity - staying at the same hotel we always stay at, dining in the same restaurant, eating (broadly) the same lunch - and so on.  Its very good when you can use yourself as the role model/case study..

Of course I think of myself as a flexible innovator - but 'behind the scenes' I am as resistant to change as anybody else.  This doesn't make me odd, or staid, or old-fashioned or curmudgeonly - though I might be those things as well.... it just makes me normal.  It is my little routines that make the day go more easily.  No need to think; just do what you've always done.

Of course (I keep saying that ... as if these things were obvious) recognising the fact that you are resistant to change is the first stage in overcoming that resistance ...

... and when needed, switching into 'change' mode - and becoming that flexible innovator.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Pay and performance

Some firms like to link pay explicitly to performance - with a direct link.(the 'carrot approach')
Some like to rely on post-poor-performance sanctions ( the 'stick' approach).
Those who think of themselves as enlightened pay good basic pay and expect good performance (the 'faith') approach).
Others pay poor wages but still expect good performance (the ' miserable fools' approach)
....  but the majority have never thought about it (the 'ignorant fools' approach)

Which one do you adopt?   Does it work?  How do you know? 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

No coalition, thankyou

In the UK, we have a new government ... similar to the last one... but without the need for a coalition.  I make no political comment on the government we have ... only that I am glad we have a single-party government that should be capable of directing its own strategy.

Just imagine if, in your business, you had to form a policy-making alliance with someone that had quite different business views to your own.  It would be a disaster.

Most truly great businesses have truly great leaders who drive through their vision of what the company can  become.  They do not have to temper that vision with the views and concerns of 'minority parties'.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Get ready for a new workforce

I am a governor of a secondary school in the UK.  We are preparing our pupils for a world of work in which many of the jobs do not yet exist ... and even many of those that do now exist will have changed substantially.

Our pupils will go through 'portfolio careers' in which they will have several jobs - often multiple part-time jobs at the same time.

This means we are trying to instil flexibility and resilience into our pupils - alongside knowledge, understanding and core skills, of course.

What does all this mean for the future productivity of the UK?  Well, knowledgeable, flexible, resilient workers should form a good basis for a high productivity organisation - if you leaders of organisations are willing and ready to work with that flexibility, exploit it and allow it to underpin organisational flexibility and innovation.

Are you preparing for this new world?

Saturday, 25 April 2015

A diverse workforce is an advantage?

Diversity is a bit of a buzz word.  We are all, as employers, encouraged to monitor and manage diversity in our workforce.  But is there any evidence that having a diverse workforce makes any significant difference to an organisation?  Will I have better production, higher quality, more sales?

Anecdotal evidence is fine.  And, of course, there is a degree of 'intuition' about making sure you exploit the talents and skills of all parts of the potential workforce.  But 'real' difference?

I don't know ... BUT... I came across something the other day that make me think.

A paper was published recently in the journal  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggesting that when plant biodiversity declines, the remaining plants have lower productivity.

Can we draw a parallel with human diversity.  Probably not ... but it does make you think, doesn't it?

Sleep more, do more!

Are you a 'power worker'?  Do you get by with 4 hours sleep each night?   Do you brag about the time you spend on the business and the short time you spend asleep?

Well, I wouldn't bother.

Though there is a fashion to do just that, most of us know that an appropriate amount of sleep is necessary and important.  We can all function effectively on a small amount of sleep - for a short time.

But it catches up with you.  Your body fails to rejuvenate and refresh properly and your mind fails to process subconsciously all those little - and not so little - problems that are keeping you awake.  If you can find a way to get to sleep, you will find the problems become less insurmountable and less worrying.

So, if you are not sleeping, treat it not as a badge of honour but as an early-warning of impending failure - of you and/or your business.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Do you allow failure?

Being frightened of failure can be a motivating influence.  However it can also be a constraining factor causing people to 'play safe' and avoid risks.

Most change involves some risk - that things won't go to plan or as we expected.  But if we don't take those risks, we don't get the change - and the benefits it brings.

So you have to encourage your people to take a few risks - but managed risks.  We don't want our staff taking unplanned, unmeasured and unmitigated risks with our resources, our business.  So we have to train them to assess the risk - and to ensure they know how to recognise when all is not going to plan-  and what to do  about it.

Sometimes they will get this wrong - and we get a failure.  But if we have the right mix of risks - and especially the right mix of people - then our successful risks should far outweigh our failures.

As they say.... "Nothing ventured, nothing gained!"

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Its not the free coffee that works

We've all heard of the kinds of facilities that really forward-looking (and generally rich) companies provide for their employees.

So, have you thought what you might provide for your employees.

Well, I'm here to tell you that if you are considering new staff facilities - standing desks, write-on walls, table-tennis tables, free coffee, basketball hoops, or whatever - you are probably wasting your time.

What really interests and motivates employees is 'good work' - work which fully exploits their skills, provides a challenge, has a role in the overall company mission (and a role they understand), has a social dimension - and which gives them satisfaction, pride and personal reward.

If you can't provide such work, the other 'add-ons' aren't likely to help.

So, rather than look for 'benefits' you might provide, think hard about what you are asking employees to do for your company - and think how you might re-engineer it to provide self-motivating work.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Is it working for you?

The UK seems to have lost productivity - but gained jobs.  This seems about right.

Has it done the right thing?

Well, in the short term governments have to make decisions and adopt strategies to solve a problem, to get out of a crisis.

The UK government seems to have adopted policies that are enabling the UK to climb out of the pit of the financial crisis .... and since competitors are doing less well, the lower productivity is not a problem.

You might be one of the companies that has taken on workers - to meet growing orders.

But in the longer-term productivity IS important - it drives competitiveness and it drives wealth-creation, without creating inflation.

You will have to find a way of improving your productivity - preferably while you are still growing so you don't have to shed jobs and lose experience.

You might be hoping the the next government (after the election in May) can help you do this.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Secret to Higher Productivity and Profit

Did that title grab you?

Do you want to know what the secret is?

Sorry to disappoint you ... but there isn't one .... and anyone who says there is a snake-oil salesman.

The nearest I can get to giving you a 'secret recipe' is that you have to consider both processes and people.  Creating 'efficient' processes doesn't work unless you also have a skilled and motivated workforce operating those processes.  Sorting out how things should be done is not enough. You have to make sure they ARE done properly - every time.

My 'secret' is that:

Engaged employees with improved skills result in improved productivity and profit.

Sorry if you are underwhelmed.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Will you make the right choice?

Recent economic fugues show that unemployment has fallen in the UK - there are more people employed than there have been for many years.

Yet, over this period of jobs growth, productivity has fallen.

The UK seems to have chosen jobs over productivity as the way out of the economic crisis.

This might be a sensible short-term approach ... but there is a danger that the country ends up as a low cost, low skill economy.

As a business owner, you have the same kind of choice to make.

Do you invest in your workforce to create high-skilled, flexible workers - or do you use cheap recruits from the jobless queue and discard them as necessary?

Both might be workable approaches.

If the rest of Europe starts to pull out of its current poor economic shape, then if you have chosen the second option, you might find yourself uncompetitive.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

You've probably seen the kinds of things that tech companies do to engage and maintain staff - and to hopefully maintain high creativity levels.  Not all of us can  create high-tech offices with write on walls, supply sports facilities, free coffee or whatever it seems to take.

BUT .... we don't need to.

What seems to matter is that employees think they are valued, and their contribution is important.   They also like to think that their personal values chime with those of the organisation they work for.

 These can be signalled in lots of small, inexpensive ways.  Firstly, of course, you have to make sure your employees know what your values are - what shapes company policy and strategy.

And they are far too smart to take the platitudes you put on your website and in your press releases. Your values are shown in what you do - not what you say.

If  your values include the recognition of contributions and the valuing of teamwork, you will already be finding ways to praise, to reward (not necessarily financially) and to recognise what your staff do.  You will create space in which they can be creative and innovative ..... and you will value (and be seen to value) the ideas they put forward.

If you are not doing these things, then the write-on walls and the free coffee are not going to help!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Concentrate on the people

In a recent paper, the Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados said that even though Barbados is relatively prosperous as a Caribbean nation, it will only move up the international 'league table' by improving its labour productivity. 

He then suggested that this is difficult because only about 30% of the Barbadian workforce feels fully committed to their jobs.

If he's right, then you need to spend more time increasing that commitment - and perhaps less time worrying about the nature of what you do or how you do it ... unless, of course, those are factors in establishing 'commitment',

Saturday, 28 February 2015

If productivity is low, its your fault!

In small businesses low productivity is rarely the fault of the workers - it is because the owner/manager has not set up production processes properly -or has failed to manage them effectively.

Too many owner/managers want to micro-manage ... they see their job as 'keeping on top of things'.

It is - of course... but they must set up systems of production - and then measure the performance (of the system, not the people) - so that they know whether it is  effective - and improving.  This should not need hourly - or even daily intervention, especially if you have a good production supervisor.  Give them responsibility, authority - and if necessary, training ... and let them 'keep on top of things'.  Check with them weekly, or ask them for a regular report (brief and quantitative).

Make the system work - than you don't have to.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Productivity or Innovation?

There has been discussion on the Productivity Futures LinkedIn group this week discussing whether productivity and innovation are natural enemies or bedfellows.

Of course I chimed in - well, I can't resist - and my view is that real productivity development - revolutionary rather than evolutionary - is unlikely without innovation.  Innovation can transform productivity.

Tor Dahl reminded the group that productivity is about doing the right things in the right way 100% of the time.  Innovation can change what we do - and how we do it.  Systematic approaches to improvement - and the standardisation that goes with them - ensure we do the right things ALL the time.

Any of you who want to try to run your organisations without innovation please inform me - I want to stay clear of investing in you.  Innovation is the life blood of small businesses snd entrepreneurs - it is how they compete with the big boys.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

What's your job?

In large organisations, most people have a job title and a job description ...  they know what is expected of them

In small businesses, people often have a job title - but rarely a job description - in any meaningful sense.  In small businesses, we expect people to be flexible - to fulfil whatever role we need .. today.

This is OK but we sometimes take advantage of people.  We ask them - and expect them - to do things they are not trained or prepared to do.  We set them up to fail - and perhaps complain when they do.

So, look for flexibility - but be fair about it.  Think about what you are asking them to do - and whether it is reasonable.  And when people are reasonable - be thankful - and thank them for it.

Saturday, 7 February 2015


You probably know form pleasant - and bitter - experiences that teams are only sometimes more productive than the sum of their parts - because the 'chemistry' among the team is 'right'.

We've all seen such 'chemistry' at work - in working teams and in personal relationships.

But is it a lucky accident - or can we create it?

Team building is not about taking teams on outward-bound, adventure experiences .... or getting them together to discuss emotional issues.

It is about putting the right people together in the first place - understanding their abilities, strengths, weaknesses, preferences, sensibilities, and so on.  And about making sure they have the skills, the resources, the time and the support they need for the task in hand.... and making sure they share the overall vision for the outcomes of the task.

Your job is to build a team by understanding the task, understanding individuals ... and then taking the time to think about ways in which different individuals will fit with each other - or can be made to fit with each other.

Its not rocket science - but it certainly isn't a 'given' either.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Whose fault is it then?

Productivity is a 'neutral' measure - it doesn't come with praise or blame attached.  To understand the reasons behind the figures we have to dig deeper, sometimes much deeper, than the headlines.
For example, we might read that the construction industry has had a poor quarter in terms of measured productivity - but a scratch of the surface might reveal that bad weather caused lots of projects to be delayed and/or mothballed.

Such 'environmental factors' are chance events .... or are they.  If we know that every winter the construction industry loses a large part of its productivity, wouldn't we expect them to do something about it - rather than simply bemoan the fact.

Of course they can't change the weather ... but there are always things that can be done to ameliorate the effects.  Those things might not be cost effective ... but a little imagination and ingenuity should identify strategies for coping with cold, wet, frost or whatever.

Now, what about your business. How often do you think "I've been unlucky".  Next time, think what you could have done to have changed your 'luck' ... or what you can do to change it next time the same circumstances occur.

Saturday, 24 January 2015


We all need a bit of ‘me-time’ … when we forget about all the tasks we have on our To-Do list, forget all our work pressures, forget our commitments and concentrate on ourselves.  ‘Me-time’ needn’t be long; it is the quality that matters.

Well, of course the other thing that gives us real pleasure is ‘you-time’ given us by others; when people give us a present, their time, their company but above all, their consideration.

This applies in a work environment.  A ‘pat on the back’ or a quick “Well done” is our ‘you-time’… it lets us know our work is appreciated, that we are making a difference, making a contribution that is valued.

For this to work – as a motivating phenomenon - you have to give people tasks for which they are well-prepared … with the right equipment, the right tools, the right knowledge and the right skills.  Then reward.  Praise must be seen to be due and deserved.  If it is, the ‘warm glow’ that people feel raises their performance a couple of notches over quite a long time period.

So, get the conditions right – and start to give your employees some valuable ‘you-time’.  It is an investment worth making.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

My people .... blah, blah, blah!

Our people are our greatest asset - so say almost all senior managers - in all kinds of organisation.

Its a little surprising, then, that most organisations never act as if their people were their greatest asset.  They keep them in the dark, they ignore their concerns, they fail to exploit their talents, they fail to recognise good work, they fail to motivate and inspire.

This is not you, though ... is it?  You know that keeping people 'on board' is what matters.  telling them what they need to know and listening to what they think you need to know.  It doesn't take long to listen - and its free!  Why wouldn't you do it?

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Start now - and expect little

What will lead you to higher productivity in 2015?

New products, new technologies, new structures?

For most organisations, the answer is none of these.  Those that succeed in improving their productivity will do so by doing what they do now a little more effectively and/or efficiently.  Big gains come from lots of small, incremental gains.  Revolutions in productivity are rare.

So, start your structured, disciplined, comprehensive review of your operations today - and look for those areas where you can shave a bit off cycle times, waiting times, and waste.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Evaluate again

I read recently that Coca-Cola has withdrawn its voicemail system from its Atlanta headquarters in an effort to improve productivity.  Callers now get a simple message suggesting they should use another means of contact.

Are there any such 'improvements' you have made to your business that you might, on reflection, think of removing or sidelining?

It is useful to evaluate changes you have introduced - once, immediately after introduction - to check you got the improvement you expected; and then again, some time later, to check those improvements were real and are still there.

Big organisations - and big people - admit they got something wrong!