Saturday, 14 July 2018

Take care when reading

I am quite used to seeing strange suggestions for improving personal productivity - often tied to an app someone is trying to sell me.  But the one I saw the other day 'takes the biscuit'.

It is based on the fact that some people think they are more productive working from a coffee shop rather than working from home (fewer - or at least different - distractions).

(Of course whether they really are more productive is probably debatable to say the least.)

A new app - Coffitivity - plays you the ambient sounds of a coffee shop for those occasions when you can't actually get there. It comes with a range of coffee shop sounds and claims to boost your creativity.

So, take care when reading promotional material. You may get suckered in to something like this - on the fact of it, plausible... but do we really believe it?

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Most of us believe that technology has a good track record in improving productivity.

But there have been many promised futures that did not come about.  Think 'the paperless office' for one.  This was first mooted back in the 1960s and every decade or so, someone promotes the concept again (normally scanner manufacturers).

Well, mindful of stepping onto a burning platform, I think - finally - the time might be nigh.  Scanners - yes! but more so -cheap storage ... especially cloud storage, accessible from anywhere in the world - could be the real key.  Add in effective search mechanisms to find the documents in that cloud and we might have a winning formula.

Oh, and of course we have a generation of users brought up in the digital era - who are quite used to reading things off screens.

A perfect storm?

The same is true of technology in your business.  Beware the promises made by sellers of technology. You just have to wait till the time is right. And recognise the time - of course.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Eat the frog early

I think it was Mark Twain who one said that eating a live frog early every morning means you know the worst is behind you and you can get on with your day with confidence.  (Literary quotes are often difficult to attribute ... most of them have allegedly been said by Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw.)

In your business life, the equivalent practice is to start the day with an unpleasant task - something you want to put off but know you shouldn't.  Get it out of the day while you are still fresh and still have energy ... you will tackle it better... and then the rest of the day is unsullied by this fearsome task.  You will work more productively without the threat of it hanging over you.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Exhortation is not enough

We have seen lots of talk over the last few years by various governments about the need for more sustainable development - and less dependence on fossil fuels.

Yet, the rise in the use of fossil fuels goes on - along with the associated pollution and environmental damage.

If most businesses over-promised and under-delivered to the same degree, they would be out of business fairly quickly.

So it must be our fault. we would stop buying from poorly performing companies, yet we continue to support poorly performing governments.

Because, like governments, we talk a lot but do little in the end we vote for what saves the money in our pocket, not what saves the planet.

Policy-makers need to find a way of motivating us to do the right thing.

So it is their fault - they pontificate about environmental performance but should be concentrating on consumer behaviour.  Sort us out - and we'll sort out the planet (if sufficiently motivated by appropriate rewards or penalties.

You, too, in your business need to find ways of motivating your employees to do the right things.  Exhortation is not enough

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Simple answer?

All nations want to increase their productivity.  This makes them more competitive, brings rewards for citizens and allows society to develop.

The problem is that no-one is quite sure how it can be achieved.

There seem to be as many solutions (or strategies) as there are nations.

Is there a simple answer?

No!  It is right that each nation tackles the problem from their own context and their own starting point.

Beyond that there will be obvious similarities - build a macroeconomic environment that supports small businesses, build transport and technology infrastructure, educate and train the workforce, support innovation - all simple in principle but not quite a simple in practice, especially when scaled up to national level.

However, at least (and at last) we are seeing positive efforts to address the issue of productivity.

If you can address it in your organisation - and people like you - the collective effort might bear fruit.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

You can't do it.

Several years ago, Peter Drucker noted that if most organisations increased their productivity by 10% it would double their profits.   At that time, 10% seemed achievable.  Now, firms are lucky to achieve 5% - and nations feel good if they move into positive figures.

What has changed?

Not a lot, actually - but firms seem to have lost the 'secret' to improving productivity.

By 'secret', of course I mean adopting a consistent, structured approach to planning and executing productivity improvement projects.  Where are the industrial engineers and work study engineers of yesteryear?  Gone!  Managers are expected to improve productivity as part of the day job.  But they are busy people - and they are too immersed in what is going on.  They cannot stand back and take a dispassionate view.  They cannot ask themselves the hard questions.

You need an independent expert who has the skills and the time to take the hard view, to ask the questions, to think about solutions, to evaluate those solutions and to draw up implementation plans.  This cannot be done in your spare time - it is too important.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Why isn't your company more innovative?


We hold innovative firms up to the light- as rare, glorious examples.

Most organisations have a number of creative people - whether or not in avowedly creative roles.

When these creative people come up with ides that could become innovations - the ideas tend to be evaluated too early and too harshly.  Evaluators look for ways in which the idea could fail rather than looking for ways in which the idea could succeed.

Some products will fail because they are not technically feasible - they don’t do what it was thought they would do.  Others will fail because they are financially not viable - they cost too much or will fail to generate sufficient additional revenue.

However, the biggest killer of innovation is a lack (rarely explicit) of organisational feasibility. It just doesn’t fti with what we do - or how we do things. We don’t have a department where it fits.

If you have good ideas, treat them kindly - look for ways to make them fit and make them work. Otherwise you are never going to innovate.


Saturday, 19 May 2018

Are you like India?

India is often cited as the next major economic powerhouse - perhaps even overtaking China.  This is based on India's recent record in moving up the international GDP league.

However, look just below the surface and you will see that this impressive growth has largely been fuelled by widening employment participation.  India has been very good at creating jobs.  It has been significantly less successful in creating productivity.  India's GDP per worker is very low. This is OK for growth in certain sectors but limits India's ability to compete in some sectors - and in overall terms.

India knows it has to improve and increase skills - and is trying to find ways of doing just that.  But this is much trickier than simply employing more workers.  It is, however, essential to securing and sustaining long-term growth in productivity.

The same goes for your organisation.  Producing more is easy.  Producing more productively - and making real gains - is harder but necessary.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Correct Coaching

Coaching has become 'fashionable - the number of business coaches has multiplied dramatically over the last 10 years.

However many of thee coaches are 'consultants' under a different name.

What is the difference?

Well, a consultant attempts to improve your business.

A coach, on the other hand, is trying to improve you - so  that you can improve, and continue to improve, your business. The focus, the approach is quite different - as are the skills required.

So, if you - or a member of your team - need coaching, make sure you employ a coach with the right (personal ) skills and the right focus.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Get them on board - but do it quickly

Careers have been changing for some time. More and more people have portfolio careers, switching industries, roles and employers frequently to fit in with a more flexible lifestyle and give a better work-life balance.

This means most firms have higher labour turnover and greater recruitment costs.

It also means it becomes necessary to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of recruitment and induction processes - what is often called 'onboarding' these days - so that shorter tenure employees get up to speed quickly.

It can take months to get an employee fully up to speed in a skilled job.  Every week you can save is worth money to you.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Tariffs and prices

The US is imposing tariffs on a number of imports - notably steel and aluminium.  The aim is to protect US manufacturing by making foreign goods more expensive - thus making domestic products more competitive.  Now I haven't seen the details of the tariffs - but I do know that this is an area in which there are often unintended consequences - and my experience also tells me that the 'pain' from unintended consequences often outweighs the 'pleasure' from the intended consequences.

I hope President Trump's advisors have remembered that US auto manufacturers import steel and aluminium parts from around the world.

There is evidence that - mot surprisingly - countries like China will respond in kind, imposing tariffs on goods most likely to come form the US.

There is other evidence that Modi, in India, is also looking towards forms of protectionism - it seems to becoming into fashion as politicians become more populist - looking for short-term vote grabbers rather than long-term economic success.
.
Trade wars are a bit like price wars .... they can end up being a 'race to the bottom'.   Countries use their energy thinking about the next trade skirmish - instead of how to grow trade in the longer-term.

Keep your eyes on the prize - and set your strategy accordingly.  Use pricing intelligently - as part of that strategy, not as a blunt weapon.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Provide a stimulus

Sometimes, well-performing organisations move into 'coasting' mode - they know they are good, so they keep doing what they are doing, perhaps taking advantages of new technologies or 'obvious' improvements when they come along, but not actively striving for change and improvement.

If this is your organisation, then you as the leader of the organisation have to find some way of providing a stimulus - forcing your managers to think more deeply about improvement opportunities.

One such stimulus can come from zero-based budgeting where the organisation makes departments bid for all the funds they need rather than taking last year's budget and adjusting it to reflect changes.

If you, at the same time, suggest that the total budget allocation will be no more than, say, last year minus 5%, then your departmental managers have to think more deeply about how they can run their departments and achieve agreed outcomes.  Your departmental managers  might think such an approach is 'unfair' - but if it unleashes creativity and higher productivity, perhaps a bit of unfairness is what is needed.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Business people who come from the product, manufacturing or engineering disciplines have a natural instinct to try to exercise process control to improve efficiency and profits.

Those without such a background often aim at controlling costs.

Some take one or other of these approaches to extremes. (Think Six Sigma.)

The great advantage of the former (exercising process control) is that it involves the establishment of useful metrics and experimentation to see what makes those metrics move in the right direction.

The problem with he latter approach (exercising financial control) is that this measurement/experimentation process becomes much more difficult as the linkages between actions and financial consequences are often either too indirect or occur over too long a time. By the time the results are in, it is too late to change the parameters that have resulted in poor results.

So though financial control might be the ultimate aim, something more direct is needed to give you useful levers to pull (or push).  You need some intermediate, relatively direct measures that will tell you promptly what is happening when you make changes.

If you control the process properly - your finances will take caee of themselves.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Be creative AND productive

There is some debate about whether a concentration on productivity is bad for creativity.  However this is a fallacy. Over-concentration on quality - and especially compliance - can be bad for productivity, but productivity and creativity are natural bedfellows. 

So it depends on how broadly or narrowly you interpret productivity.  Rigid compliance to standard operating procedures (SOPs) in the name of productivity might stifle productivity unless you give your employees another avenue where they can exercise invention and innovation.

My old friend, Tor Dahl, always used to say that a natural approach to improving productivity is to:
(a) unfreeze the organisation - allow staff the time and opportunity to contribute ideas as to how what they do might be improved
(b) experiment with those ideas to arrive at new ways of working
(c) re-freeze the organisation by creating new SOPs to reflect the new ways of working and lock in the productivity gains.

Some time later, repeat the cycle. 

Try it!   Then you ensure that creativity is encouraged and that it underpins higher productivity.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Maintain focus

Being able to do two things at once might seem like the epitome of efficiency - why waste time doing just one task when you can complete two simultaneously?
However, famously there is a belief (myth?) that women can mulitask but men cannot - hampered by having a 'one track mind'.
In the real world, rather than the world of gender politics, multitasking seems to be unfruitful, since in practice the work style is not multitasking but micro-sequencing of two parallel tasks.  The problem is that the brain switches so often between the two tasks and focus is lost on each switch and there is a delay each time the switch occurs.
So, stick to one task, focus and concentrate, complete it - and then move on to the next task. You will be more productive.
This 'principle' - of focus until complete - works with all activities. Executing a strategy, a production plan or a major project requires each stage to be complete.  Don't switch attention to the next stage whilst finishing off the first.


Saturday, 24 March 2018

Look for the impact.

We give ourselves a metaphorical 'pat on the back' when we complete another item on our 'to do' list ... and we do the same with our employees. We congratulate them for completing a task or project.

What we should congratulate them for is their achievement - or the impact they have made.

A teacher, for example, who complete a professional development course, has only achieved something if the course results in impact on the learning of students.

The problem is that in recent years you have probably, like the rest of us, become more and more compliance oriented - and have come to delight in tick boxes and 'sign offs'.

Its time to shift the focus - to achievement and impact.  Much harder - but it is what matters!  You know it does.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Can you ride the wave

The global consulting organisation McKinsey is suggesting that the recent sluggish productivity performance in the developed world might be coming to an end.  We might soon see productivity rises like we did before the economic downturn - of the order of 2% per year.

Are they right?

Only time will tell.  The time is right - but are the conditions right?  Has all that quantitative easing improved the productivity infrastructure and prepared businesses for an upturn?  Have we been developing skills? Are there technological breakthroughs in the pipeline?

(The answers are maybe, maybe and maybe - but, as we know from history, cycles occur for no good reason - ups and downs .... so perhaps the time is right and enough has been done to ride a wave.  So much of economics is down to confidence anyway that if McKinsey can convince enough people they are right, it will probably become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So good for McKinsey.  I'm with them.  Let's all talk higher productivity - and then deliver what measures we can in our own sphere to make it happen.

If you - and others like you - all do the same, we can all meet up in the boom times.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Think - and employ - differently

The world of employment has been changing for some time - especially in developed nations.  More people work part-time, change jobs frequently and have multiple jobs and 'portfolio' careers.

What are the implications for productivity - and for your organisation?

One obvious point is that it becomes more important to get people 'up to speed' very quickly - what is often these days termed the 'onboarding process'.  It is imperative that yous take this process seriously and do all you can to engage employees early and often, giving them the knowledge and skills they need to fill any gaps - but also to motivate them to add maximum value.

Another implication is that retaining knowledge and talent is important - so if the job market is changing, perhaps you need to change your employment practices to reflect this. One approach is to offer employees a 'tour of duty' rather than a job - agree with them the outcomes they are to produce over a given project/timescale.  When the tour of duty is complete, they either move on -or agree another tour.  This retains their talent but still gives them the benefits of a portfolio career -  variety of work and experience, and a degree of freedom.

It is possible to move with the times - and win .... but only when you recognise the 'spirit of the times'  and act accordingly.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Your chicken, their egg!

Do motivated employees create good work and higher productivity?  Yes!

But this is a 'What came first? Chicken or egg?' scenario.

I would argue that giving employees good work motivates them and leads to higher productivity. 

An effective business leader creates good jobs - and engages employees with regard to their role in the organisation.  The engaged employee now works for an organisation that seems to value them - and they respond by engaging more fully with their role.

The organisation (via higher productivity) and the employee (via greater job satisfaction) both win.

So take a look at redefining (or even redesigning) some of the roles in your organisation to engage and motivate your employees.  You know it makes sense!


Saturday, 24 February 2018

Why don't we do what we know is impoetant.

Recently I was writing some course material on improving innovation and I suggested there that to make people more innovative, you need them engaged and you need to give them freedom to explore.

Then I came across Gallup's new State of the Global Workplace report which suggests that only 15% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs.

If both of these are correct, then it is not surprising that the world is struggling to improve innovation and productivity.

-->
Developing our people (human capital?) is the single most important thing we can do. Yet, many do not do it.  

Do you - in your business?



Saturday, 10 February 2018

From Peru to you

As Peru prepares to celebrate the 2021 bicentenary of its independence, the government has set itself one major goal: to make Peru a full member of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The aim is to adopt public policies that meet established OECD standards and provide Peru with an important opportunity to strengthen its institutions and consolidate the country’s development.  But in order to do so, there remain important industrial gaps that will have need be bridged, especially in terms of productivity.
"So what?  How does this affect me?", I her you ssk.
Well, the most important part of this is the fact that Peru has set a goal and an aim that should motivate the country to perform.
What is your productivity aim or goal?  If you don't have one, you are not very likely to be successful in improving your productivity.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Are your workers at fault?

There has been a debate in Trinidad yesterday about whether workers (and especially their poor attendance) is to blame for low productivity. Trades unions say 'No'.

I agree with the unions.

In my experience, poor productivity within an organisation is almost always a 'system or culture failure'. Either work is badly organised or the culture of the organisation mitigates against high engagement and high performance by workers.

In your organisation, of course, you hold the levers for change.  If you cannot improve productivity, then you are not managing effectively.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

I often say that I have built my career on asking stupid questions. Improving productivity is all about asking questions.  Why do we do it like that?  Who is responsible for this?  Why do it that way? Where should this be done?  Why do we do this at all?

However, I have come to realise that asking questions is not the answer.  The real secret is listening to the answers you are given and sorting out the valid answers from the questionable.  In lean terms it is also necessary to 'go to Gemba' - find out for yourself what is happening.  Observe as well as listen.

None of this is difficult.  But is is amazing how many people don't do it.  They listen to what the manager tells them - and accept it without checking with the guys (snd girls) who actually do it 'on the ground'. In your case, don't take what your senior and middle managers tell you - check for yourself on the floor.

So listen, ask questions and observe reality. Then you might understand.  If you understand, you have the chance to improve.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Australia's Productivity commission has slated the public sector for its poor productivity. Yet when you read the report what it is really saying is that the public sector, unlike the private sector, fails to measure productivity - and therefore is unable to know whether it is moving in the right direction.

This seems a little harsh.

How does the Australian public sector compare to the US, the UK, Canada or Denmark?

I don't know - but I suspect neither does the Productivity Commission.  Making conclusions on the basis of insufficient information is not what we expect form a body charged with promoting productivity.

So give the public sector a chance. Give them some targets to achieve - and chastise them if they fail to meet them.  But don't criticise them for not achieving unknown targets.

Similarly, in your business, set targets on the basis of sound information - and then hold people to account for those targets.

But holding people to account for targets which don't exist - or are 'built on straw' is simply not fair.
EvanCarmichael.com