Wednesday, 30 December 2009

New year! New Attitude?

Well, 2010 is almost here. How is it going to change for you ... and how is it going to be changed by you? The only sure thing is change itself ... and it is better that you are in charge, shaping that change.

So good luck in 2010. May it be what you set out to make it be.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Merry Christmas

To those of you who celebrate Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas. To those of you who don't, we hope you have a great time anyway. And we hope you have lots of ideas and plans to make 2010 productive and rewarding.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Shipping Sinks

The global shipping industry is struggling with overcapacity and falling productivity in the face of the economic downturn and shrinking world trade, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development(UNCTAD) last week.

The industry is also suffering from the much-publicised growth in piracy.

And if owners want to get out, they can't afford to because scrap metal rates are so low, that they have to hang on to their ships and ride out the economic downturn.

Sorry, but I have no good news for them!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Australian Book Wars

The Australian Federal Government has just turned down recommendations that would have made books cheaper ... in effect siding with the Publishers Association who saw the recommendations as a threat to the (local) industry.

For me, though, the interesting point is that the recommendation to change the regulations came from the Productivity Commission .... good to see the word 'productivity' taken so widely!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

UK not out of the woods, yet

The Bank of England has suggested that a squeeze on company profits as productivity falls faster than wages could trigger another wave of job losses in the New Year.

So far in this recession, by agreeing to pay cuts and shorter hours, many employees have been able to stay in work.

But though wage costs have dropped, productivity has fallen faster. Not a recipe for recovery!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Beware the data ... who is doing the counting?

The picture that the US government (and the wider public) get about the financial health of the country is distorted by the way in which data are gathered and analysed. This is the claim from last week's gathering of economists from academia and government determined to come up with a more accurate statistical picture.

The fundamental shortcoming is in the way imports are accounted for. A carburettor bought for $50 in China as a component of an American-made car, for example, often shows up in the statistics as if it were the American-made version valued at, say, $100. The failure to distinguish adequately between what is made in America and what is made abroad falsely inflates the gross domestic product, used in national productivity calculations.

“We don’t have the data collection processes to capture what is happening in a real time way, or what is being traded and how it is affecting workers,” said Susan Houseman, a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Michigan., who has done pioneering research in the field. “We have no idea how to measure the occupations being offshored or what is being inshored.”

The statistical distortions can be significant. At worst, the gross domestic product would have risen at only a 3.3 percent annual rate in the third quarter instead of the 3.5 percent actually reported, according to some experts at the conference. The same gap applies to productivity. And the spread is growing as imports do.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Korean Challenge

Korea's long-term challenges are different from other parts of Asia and they include raising productivity in the service sector, a high-ranking official of the International Monetary Fund said recently.

Korea should increase productivity in the service sector and needs structural reforms to create a smoother relocation of resources and reforms in the labour market and small- and medium-sized enterprises, Anoop Singh, director of the Asia Pacific department of the IMF, said in a conference in Seoul.

Korea has a rebalancing challenge ... The nation's dependency on exports has gone up in recent years, he said.

Singh added that policy stimulus in Asia generally needs to be maintained until the recovery is ensured.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Public Sector looking for help

The drive to increase productivity is the number one concern for government organisations across the globe. Most countries are cutting funding and looking for government agencies and organisations to take up the slack. As an example, in Australia, Telstra’s Government Productivity Report which surveyed 200 government executives across federal, state and local levels, found that productivity (ranked by 84 per cent as a priority) outranked delivering better front line services (73 per cent), reducing costs (67 per cent), risk management (61 per cent) and attracting and retaining staff (57 per cent) as priorities.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Some you win

The North American steel industry has undergone significant restructuring in recent years and the industry now has fewer, but financially stronger companies. The changes have been forced on the industry by global competition but the industry has responded with impressive productivity gains and improved environmental performance.

The steel industry has outdistanced other manufacturers with a 5.8 percent annual productivity jump over the past decade, allowing America to produce more steel with fewer man-hours and increase its ability to compete in the global marketplace.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Hospital balances

Australians should be reassured that their public hospital system is performing efficiently and delivering good value to the community said the Productivity Commission whose recent draft discussion paper on public and private hospitals found that on the basis of available data, the costs of providing care in the public and private systems were almost the same.

The Commission’s cost estimates suggest that, at a national level, public and private hospitals had a broadly similar cost when adjusted for the different mix of cases.

The Commission acknowledged the difficulties involved in comparing the two sectors, given their very different patient populations and mix of services provided.

The commission admits that it is almost impossible to adjust for many factors, such as the lower socio-economic status of patients in public hospitals. Other differences, such as the fact that about half of admissions to a public hospitals occur through emergency departments whereas private hospital admissions are almost all planned, are noted but their impact on overall costs is not assessed.

Given this, it is likely that the cost of public hospital treatment is even lower than that of private hospitals, when all the differences in patient populations are taken into account.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Downward slope

It is day 2 of the European Productivity Conference. Things are going (mostly) very well and I know we have a good social event organised this evening, with the kind support of North East Lincs Council. So, if this afternoon's sessions are as good as this morning's (plenty of 'real people' involved in productivity improvement on a daily basis as part of their day-to-day work), and this evening's event goes as well as I fully expect, I will have a bunch of happy delegates. Then we have a powerful keynote speaker tomorrow and they will all leave informed and inspired ... good value, I think.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

No more planning

This is it. Day 1 of the European Productivity Conference. No panic ... because the team here has done such a good job of planning and preparation, I have confidence that all will be well.

Of course things will go wrong (The best laid plans ...) but the real test of the planing is the contingency plans you have made in anticipation of things going wrong ... and the flexibility and creativity of the team behind the scenes.

So, ask me tomorrow or preferably on Friday when its all over. I expect to give a good report.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The world is changing

Sometimes you hear about things which make it sound as though the world is changing. These are often 'big' announcements and pronouncements (often from politicians and 'futurologists'). However sometimes you are aware of the same issues via small, actual changes.

I had one such experience yesterday. In Lichfield, for the Annual General Meeting of the Institute of Management Services, I had lunch in the George hotel and on their 'specials' board announcing additional menu items for lunch, each of the items had a code number (such as FM46) next to it. When I asked the purpose of the codes, I was told it was the 'food miles' figure - representing how far the source of the item was from the hotel.

When this information turns up unannounced in a small hotel in a small English market town, you know the world is changing!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


The first graduates of our M.Sc in Productivity & Innovation come off the production line today - in a small, but hopefully warm, ceremony. They all deserve to be proud of their achievement and we also take some pride in our ability to work with them and deliver what we think is an innovative and enriching course.

New students arrive next week and some of them already have MBAs. They see productivity as being real, directed and focused - and are keen to acquire knowledge and skills of genuine applicability - rendering them more able to 'make a difference'.

Remember productivity increases of just 3% per annum mean that each generation is twice as well off as its parents.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Leaving on a jet plane

I leave Jakarta today conscious that as a foreign 'expert' I fly in, offer advice and fly out expecting the locals to pick up implementation. And yet I know this is often the trickiest part. But I don' t have the time to implement and they could'nt afford it. So, as ever, we muddle through together .... and somehow it all works!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Remember the past as you build the future

I am in Indonesia working on a project to increase the export value of fisheries products. Of course the local people are somewhat preoccupied with the effects of the recent earthquakes. Both the past and the future are important. So as I encourage them to look to the future, I learn from them about their individual and collective pasts. I cannot share their pain but I certainly understand and respect it.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Nigeria could do better

Dr Paul Bdliya of the Nigerian National Productivity Centre is embarking on a Productivity Awareness Campaign (PAC) in an attempt to institutionalize a productivity culture in the Nigerian people using the mass media as its strategic tool and focusing on jingles, debates, advertisement, press briefing and so on through various media.

According to Paul: “The natural competitiveness that should arise from the industry and entrepreneurship of the Nigerian people is threatened by manifestations of some undesirable elements of work culture -elements, that appear to be washing away whatever competitive advantage our natural inclination for hard work confers.

There is too much evidence of: lateness, absenteeism, indolence, poor time management, culture of waste and profligacy, poor maintenance culture, nepotism cronyism etc. This bad situation is further compounded by low productivity consciousness.

In Nigeria, people are generally ignorant of the true meaning of the concept of productivity. To many of us, productivity is merely working harder- rather than smarter or wiser. Many also believed that being seriously engaged in activities is all about productivity – even if such activities are not result-oriented, or add any value.

To others, the concept has relevance only in terms of physical, tangible goods and not the intangible, service products. All the negative mindsets, needless to say translates to low productivity that single most crucial determinant of a country’s product/service competitiveness and standard of living.”

Saturday, 26 September 2009

An early welcome

Trinidad & Tobago has just set up a National Productivity Council. One of its first tasks is expected to be the establishment of a National Productivity Centre.

On behalf of both the National Productivity Centre of the UK, and the World Confederation of Productivity Science, I am pleased to welcome a new sister organisation and a new voice in the global productivity movement.

If there is anything we can do help, please ask!

Thursday, 17 September 2009


I came across the word and concept 'Exergy' the other day. Perhaps I have led a sheltered life but I had never heard of it before. I found it an interesting and useful concept.

As I understand it, the term was coined (in 1956) because the term 'energy' (the potential to do work) has some disadvantages. Those who remember their thermodynamics will remember that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only converted from one form to another. So when oil is burnt, the world's supply of energy is the same ... the energy now happens to be in a form that is less useful to us.

Hence the term exergy. When oil is in the ground it has energy (and by definition exergy). When it is burnt, the exergy has gone (but the energy has simply been converted into another form).

Exergy is useful when talking about sustainability and alternative energy forms. we cannot afford to use up the world's exergy resources - otherwise we cannot have that potential to do work back again. Exergy disappears and with it goes our potential well-being.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

We say ... or do we?

Air India on Friday clarified that it “was in dialogue with various unions/associations/guild on Productivity Linked Incentive (PLI)reduction.”

Late on Thursday, the airline had issued a statement saying that the Air India board had decided to reduce PLI to employees / flying allowance paid to crew by 50 per cent.

The statement also quoted the Chairman and Managing Director, Mr Arvind Jadhav, as thanking the unions / employees for their foresight in “accepting the board’s decision”.

The statement added that the reduction will be there till an alternate formula for governing PLI is put in place within three months.

Mr Jadhav said, “The rationalisation of manpower costs will help in hastening the turnaround process, which has been initiated with the support of the Government.”

However, in Friday’s statement, the spokesperson of Air India said, “Mr Arvind Jadhav met representatives of various unions late last night with union leaders agreeing to revert by early next week after discussing the issue with the office bearers and committee members.”

So ... something may or may not be agreed.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

EU helps poor farmers

Poor farmers in the Philippines and four other countries are set to receive a productivity boost through new United Nations-led agricultural projects funded by a 34-million euro donation from the European Union (EU), the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) said.

WFP schemes, helping mostly female small-scale farmers grow food more efficiently in Bolivia, Guatemala, Senegal, Nepal and the Philippines, will get additional spending from the EU’s 1-billion euro Food Facility fund to further increase food production.

“The European Union has recognized that one of the best ways to make sure people have access to food is to help small farmers increase production,” said Gemmo Lodesani, director of the WFP liaison office in Brussels. “That way, they can feed their families and increase availability of food in their local markets.”

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Stand down ... don't standby

About 2% of the world's electricity is consumed by devices on standby.

So, if we all turned those machines off (completely) and we then had to wait for them to reach full power ... how much productivity would we lose.

I don't know ... but I suspect we would save more than we would lose.

Can anybody suggest how or where we might get an answer that might convince people to change their behaviour?

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Never Too old

You are never too old to learn .. but perhaps I might be. I am currently on a course developing my Lean Six Sigma knowledge and skills. At the end of each day my brain hurts. This is either because I am working hard … or perhaps because my brain is getting less able to absorb lots of new stuff.

Still it is useful to go through the experience that I often make students go through. Perhaps more importantly, the actual concepts, methodologies and techniques of Lean Six Sigma chime with existing knowledge … so I am both better-educated and re-assured.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Singapore - should it reduce foreign workers?

2 Singaporean ministers have cautioned against calls to reduce foreign workers as a way to improve the productivity of Singaporean workers. Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong suggested it is too simplistic to assume that such a move will automatically lead to higher worker output.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan at a different event said that 'Just zeroing in on foreign workers alone is not the total solution.' But he did concede that 'it is something that needs to be looked at'.

Their comments come a day after labour MP Josephine Teo called on the Government to re-tune foreign worker policies, saying that easy access to foreigners could be one reason productivity is sliding.

In the first quarter of 2009, productivity slipped by 15.4 per cent, compared with the same period last year, continuing a steady decline since the last quarter of 2007.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Canada vs USA - the reasons?

According to recent information, Canada’s lower productivity accounts for the largest component of the income gap between the United States and Canada.

Canada has invested less in machinery and equipment per worker since the 1980s, resulting in less capital intensity (less capital per worker). Canada’s research and development (R&D) as a proportion of GDP is lower than that of the United States and other OECD countries. Usage of information and communications technology (ICT) is also less extensive than the United States.

While Canada ranks favourably against the United States in primary and secondary educational attainment, Canadians fall behind their American counterparts in the attainment of university or advanced degrees and in opportunities for on-the-job training or continuous education.

Finally, industrial organization also plays a part. According to the Conference Board of Canada, Canadian manufacturers are more heavily concentrated in lower productivity growth industries. Smaller enterprises (SME) are generally less productive than larger ones, and SMEs are a greater share of Canadian manufacturing and employment.

So, when you see national productivity figures, you have to do quite a bit of 'unpicking' to understand them.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Books ... covers ... and performance

Tom Watson was recently runner-up in the British Open Golf Championship ... at the age of 59. The way the media went on you would think it remarkable that he could even stand at such an advanced age.

This was a reminder not to judge a book by its cover ... or a person by any the classifications of age, gender, etc ..... judge them by their behaviour and performance.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Be lucky

We have just secured a couple of high profile, excellent speakers for the European Productivity Conference in October (see One of these I have worked hard to secure; the other 'fell into my lap'.

Sometimes a bit of luck makes a tremendous difference ... but remember the famous quote from Gary Player, the South African golfer ... "The more I practise, the luckier I get!".

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Trust me

I have spent the last few hours putting together a Memorandum of Understanding covering a joint project involving 3 parties. I anticipate no problems ... the organisations share mutual trust. But as soon as you start to put these things on paper all sorts of questions emerge .... what happens if that trust goes and we get problems ... should the MoU cover that? You end up writing lots of strange clauses that will almost certainly never be needed. Not very productive ... but I suppose most insurance isn't!

Monday, 6 July 2009

Ready to go?

Well, I'm back from vacation. Theoretically, I should be recharged, refreshed and ready to go. But I think it might take 24 hours to 'get up to speed'. The reason? email overload. Though I have been in email contact throughout my vacation, I've left a number to deal with on return ... and I am now dealing with them. This takes time and saps energy ... so many are not important, or not a priority ... but I have to work through them to find that out. So, bear with me ... I'll be my own happy, smiling - and productive - self very soon!

Friday, 26 June 2009

Temporary sign-off

I am going on holiday ... to Dubrovnik. This blog will resume when I return. The holiday will be good because I have planned well and I am going with the attitude that if I don't enjoy it, it is my own fault. Attitude is so important in lots of areas of life ... you can change your own and you can influence the attitude of others. Sometimes this is much more important than practising your technical skills!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

More to learn

Well, I'm back from the Caribbean. This was my first visit and - as ever - the place was both similar to, and dissimilar from, my expectations. Talking to people tells you more than simply looking ... so I talked to as many as I could and learnt quite a lot about ... well, about lots of things.

Climate, culture, history (and each of the islands is different) mean that Western or Eastern 'standard practices' do not necessarily transpose. Yet there were astonishing examples of good practice - the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain, Trinidad is amongst the best hotel I've stayed in ... and I was very impressed with the work of the Productivity Council in Barbados.

This was a first visit - and a first lesson. I hope to go back and learn more ... then I might start to make informed judgements. In the meantime, I celebrate the friendliness of the people ... surely an important asset!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Missing link

I am in the Caribbean at a conference (yes, I do lead a tough life ... see last posting). One of the presenters, Brian Copeland from the University of the West Indies proposed a pyramid model for knowledge transfer in support of economic development. He suggested that some countries (including Trinidad & Tobago) have most of the levels in place. Down at the bottom is trade and manufacturing, then comes product development. Up at the top is science and R&D. The missing level is product and process creativity and innovation. Without this link, the pyramid does not function.

As someone who recently designed and built an M.Sc course in Productivity & Innovation, how could I do other than agree!

Monday, 8 June 2009

Another circle to be squared

Many texts lead us to believe that it is difficult to improve and optimise productivity if the prevailing culture is not conducive and not shared. Yet today I read an article by Jeff Salz (a 'cultural anthropologist;!!) who suggests that what we should be seeking is "infodiversity" - a broad range of seemingly oppositional beliefs and assumptions - to create breadth, creativity and resilience in an organisation. Are both views right?

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Where it is warm

I'm off to the Caribbean for a week ... first a conference, then meetings with the Barbados Productivity Centre. Friends think this is a 'perk of the job' but when I explain about the long-haul flights and the 4 different hotels in 1 week, they start to reconsider.

So, will it be fun. Of course. I am one of those very lucky people who are involved with work which is also their passion. I feel strongly in the mission of the World Confederation of Productivity Science: that increased productivity brings about enhanced wealth ... and that we can share that wealth .... and eventually - when we all share the same supply chains and are inter-dependent for all our well-being - we can sow the seeds of world peace. A lofty ambition - some might say naive and unrealistic. But I'm prepared to put in the effort to make my contribution. Are you?

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Good Job!

Twenty nine Nigerians and seven corporate bodies have been selected by the Federal Government for this year's National Productivity Award.

Addressing journalists this week, Minister of Labour and Productivity, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode said no nation can enhance the quality of life of its citizenry as well as be self reliant and competitive in the international market without productivity improvement in all sectors of its economy.

"It is imperative that the citizenry be consistently reminded on the need for developing a productive mindset that would ensure the growth of all sectors of economy."

On his part, the Director General of the National Productivity Centre, Dr Paul M. Bdliya said the awardees would receive plaques and certificates personally signed by the President.

Among awardees are Engineer Bunu Sheriff Musa, Professors Sam Ale, Abiodun Ilesanmi, Olusegun Oke, Ayodele Makanjuola, Mathew Agu and Gladys Falusi.

Others are Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, Alhaji Umaru Shagalinku and Mazi Clement while Engineers Shamsideen Elegba and Markus Gundiri will also receive awards.

Corporate organisations to be honoured are DAAR Communications, Mr. Biggs, NAFDAC Abuja, VEE TEK Nigeria Ltd, Aba, Abia State, Tofa General Enterprises, Students in Free-Enterprise (SIFE) Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and the Raw Materials Research and Development Council Abuja.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Are you prepared fro Swine Flu?

You might think that the Swine flu crisis is over. There have been few reported new cases in recent days. Can we all relax. Well, perhaps!

The problem is that a new variant of the virus might rear its head ... with greater effect.

Do we just deal with it when it happens. In a way, yes .. but it does make sense to do whatever you can ... like reviewing policy and practice on home working. Many organisations are looking at such issues - usually with a view to saving money on additional property costs as the firm grows. But home working could be a useful way of stopping a new strain of Swine Flu spreading through your workforce.

So, one thing you can do now is to check which of your IT systems might need to be modified to allow access to data at home - in a secure manner.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Economic and Environmental imperatives

The biggest research imperative facing Agriculture today is to find ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions that also deliver productivity gains according to the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture (ACDA).

At their meeting in Canberra this month, ACDA president, Professor Roger Leigh, indicated that 2013 is the date set to review the involvement of agriculture in any carbon trading scheme.

“Doing nothing in the meantime to address agricultural emissions will see agricultural costs of production increase,” Professor Leigh says. "And these costs need to be offset by productivity increases."

Prof Leigh went on to say that Australian agriculture has a substantial long-term opportunity to contribute to addressing the world’s food shortages as well as continuing to underpin the Australian economy through its export earnings.

Monday, 11 May 2009

New Zealand needs New Productivity

Raising productivity has been identified in an OECD report on New Zealand as the country's greatest medium term challenge. The report analyses New Zealand's economic situation, identifies perceived failings and offers a raft of measures on to how to improve them.

It noted New Zealand's economy was now among the most indebted in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) group of 30 industrialised nations.

While a process of debt reduction had started, persistent, large current-account deficits and a high external debt rendered the economy especially vulnerable in the recession. The report suggests that the economy is likely to remain in recession throughout 2009, before recovering "only hesitantly" in 2010 and goes on to say that increased productivity growth is critical for closing the large income gap with other OECD countries, and that government ownership should be reassessed to spur competition in certain sectors.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Conservation Agriculture boosts productivity

Unlike conventional farming practices, conservation agriculture (CA)is aimed at attaining food security at the household level by minimizing soil disturbance, maintaining a permanent soil cover and practising crop rotation. When these are practised together with other good agronomic practices it is possible to increase yields significantly.

Labour or fuel costs are reduced dramatically by moving away from ploughing. Fertilizer and moisture are used more efficiently by concentrating them where they are needed by the crops.

Experience from pilot CA projects in Zambia and Zimbabwe shows increased access to food by those that practice it. This in turn has reduced their dependence on food markets and has increased their resilience to weather and socio-economic related shocks” said Bernard Namachila, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives in Zambia at a regional event on CA event in April.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

We meet ... so we can meet elsewhere!

I leave Montreal today. We have been planning future World Productivity Congresses, confirming the 2010 event will be in Turkey and establishing the 2012 event in Canada (which is why we have been here in Montreal). We then hope to have a celebratory event in 2013 in India as this was the location for our first Congress in 1973 and this new event will mark the 40th anniversary.

Along the way we also managed to clear other business ... so a very productive meeting.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Guilty ... or not guilty?

Today is 'Earth Day' ... a day when we are all supposed to think about, and possibly act on, the effect we are having (individually and collectively) on the planet.

I am at a Board meeting of the World Confederation of Productivity Science in Montreal and we will be discussing, amongst other things, issues relating to environmental productivity ... ways in which we can be more productive whilst minimising - even reversing - the negative environmental effects of business.

Yet, I flew here from the UK ... increasing my personal carbon footprint. I offset - but I don't really accept that that 'does the job'. Like many others - indeed most of us - I'm in this trap of wanting to do 'my bit' but realising that the world is complex and trade-offs have to be made.

Many businesses are the same ... especially now when saving the planet seems to come a long way back after saving the business.

Nobody said this was going to be easy. We all have to stumble through it as best we can ... but always mindful of the harm we do alongside the good.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Montreal madness?

This week sees me travelling to a Board meeting of the World Confederation of Productivity Science in Montreal. We hope to take a decision as to whether to hold the World Productivity Congress in 2012 in North America or in India. Each carries its own share of advantages and risks ... which we have to weigh ... fairly and evenly.

But often in such decisions there is also something else .. a spark of difference which overrides the careful number-crunching. Will we see it in the two presentations? If so, will we be mad enough to go with the spark in the face of logic?

Watch this space!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Times are tough!

We all know that the world economy is bad ... so we have to try that much harder to be more productive ... and add more value to what we do. Recent official figures from (South) Korea show that labour productivity grew by just 0.3% in 2008 ... mainly because labour wage rates are rising faster than in other nations. They don't need me to tell them this is not a good omen for the future!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Sunday Productiviy Proverbs

Today is Sunday. I am still in Bilbao - but I leave today. Sunday is a day of rest, so rather than comment on significant issues I report on a conversation I had with a colleague yesterday at which we agreed there was a need for one or more productivity proverbs. (Well, there was a need after a beer and a couple of glasses of wine.)

I give you my first attempts ... all with a different flavour.

1. Too many cooks make the meal expensive
2. First ask the reason Why?; then ask the question How?
3. The world's most efficient company wastes resources.

Can you do better? If so, please send your suggestions.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Can you buy this?

I am in Bilbao at a meeting of the European Association of National Productivity Centres. Besides our weighty discussions, we meet informally and share meals, conversations and so on. Last night I got involved in a discussion with two Belgians and a Finn about the intelligence of pigs and how it compares to other creatures.

Such conversations - perhaps meaningless in the great scheme of things - are often a real delight .. and oddly enough help shape the way you think about the world ... so they are not unproductive.

They also remind you why videoconferencing and online conferencing - good as they are - are not a substitute for face-to-face communications.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

European Productivity Conference

We are now deep into the organising process for this event. (Interestingly, setting themes and topics makes you think about current issues and priorities.) It is starting to look as though we will actually deliver the high quality event we have always aspired to. If you want information on the event - October 28th - 30th, Grimsby, UK - contact me .. or Helen Thompson (

We are sure you will both learn and enjoy!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Thinking is good for you

Yesterday I was at a strategic planning session for one of the bodies I am associated with. We moved thinking on ... but we had no outputs that we could show anyone. Were we productive? Of course. Most plans have intermediate targets or milestones, and all have stages which aren't even worth describing as such. Thinking is one such stage. Leave it out and you are doomed to disaster... but it is amazing how often people seem to 'do' without thinking first.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

UK needs to do better

UK Productivity is still lagging behind that of its major rivals according to recently published figures. The data – from the Advanced Institute for Management Research (Aim), which is funded by the UK government's Economic and Social Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council - suggests that output per hour was 15 per cent behind that of the United States and France last year and 10 per cent behind Germany.

While the "productivity gap" is closing, the authors suggest that shortfalls in innovation, skills and management practices and too much regulation hold the UK back.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The one true test?

Ask a businessman (or woman)about productivity ... and you are likely to get an answer about profitability. Of course - for a business - whether it is profitable is the one true test ... but it tells an incomplete story.

A real businessman wants to understand tomorrow's profitability, not today's ... and that is far more likely to be revealed by looking at today's productivity.

And increasingly, as we look to address the needs of a variety of stakeholders, our businessman needs to look at economic productivity, social productivity and environmental productivity. We need to look at each of these in the longer term.

It seems as though over the last few years many organisations have looked at only short-term economic productivity ... and today we are all paying the price.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

How does your garden grow?

Many nations are examining the mess left by recession. Many of those have come to the conclusion much too late that debt-fuelled growth is not sustainable.

They are at last realising that sustainable growth comes from improved productivity ... it will be interesting to see how they go about changing policy and action now they have learned this lesson!

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Arresting data

I make no bones (interesting cultural reference point, there) for returning to the important point about being careful what you measure. I recently read an American local newspaper which was lauding the local police force for its improved productivity - they had arrested more felons in the last month than in each of the previous 6 months.

Now, all well and good ... but it depends on what you want from a police force. I would prefer fewer arrests, with more prevention and deterrence.

But 'safe streets' look like an idle police force .. nothing to shout about or to be rewarded for.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Patently Obvious

If the current rate of progress is maintained, China will become the number one nation for obtaining patents by 2012. China currently lies 3rd behind only the USA and Japan.

China's patent law was passed only in 1985 so the rate of development has been impressive ... for a country that was always characterised - even caricatured - as being a technology and idea copier, not an innovator.

Clearly China's creative productivity has been rising steadily.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Who would be a national leader?

Leaders are currently trying to work out that to do to help their country through this turbulent economic time. A number are 'bailing out' their banks and investing in public infrastructure projects to get money circulating. Is this the right approach?

Well, one particular problem is that it won't work if only a small number of countries do it ... and if some of them do it half-heartedly. It needs co-ordinated action.

And if it fails, those who tried it have wasted their investment.... those who kept out (held their nerve?) then have an advantage.

Only time will tell who is right ... but I'm glad I'm not wearing those shoes!

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Open plan closes down

Recent research - looking at a number of existing studies - suggests that modern office layouts lead to lower productivity and higher worker stress.

The researcher, Dr. Vinesh Oommen, from the Queensland University of Technology's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, said that:

"In 90 percent of the research, the outcome of working in an open-plan office was seen as negative, with open-plan offices causing high levels of stress, conflict, high blood pressure, and a high staff turnover.”

Saturday, 31 January 2009

If you were Obama ...

If you were Obama, contemplating spending billions on jump starting the US economy ... where and how would you spend the money? The answer will almost certainly be on 'where the jobs are' .... but that's not necessarily the right place. The right answer is 'where it will make a difference to productivity'.

After all - in the medium to longer term - only improving productivity increases wealth, jobs and President-satisfaction ratings!

Monday, 26 January 2009

More tea, please

In a bid to boost tea productivity, the Tea Board of India, along with the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Plantation Management (IIPM) is setting up a Tea Planters’ Productivity Council (TPPC).

At present there is significant disparity in the management practices and the productivity levels among tea estates even within the same region and the proposed TPPC will work through district and zonal councils which would work like quality circles, providing a platform for disseminating information on best management practices.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

What are the rules?

In the UK - as elsewhere - the government is desperately trying to introduce measures to 'fix' the economy ... but this is new ground we are covering. Nobody knows what the rules are. We do know that it is difficult for any government to fix their own economy in isolation ... yet they have to be seen to be trying.

And for businesses, what happens to productivity when survival is all that matters?

The 'rule' here is that productivity always matters ... and businesses taking difficult decisions have to think through the unintended consequences of those decisions and how they impact on future productivity.

If you can, keep your nerve!

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Measuring the right things?

Presumably those who measure or assess the performance of banks would - 2 years ago - have re-assured us of the excellent performance of UK High Street banks. Now, we see some of them 'brought to their knees' and most of the rest struggling to make it through this 'credit crunch' period.

Were we using the wrong measures? Or did we just forget the importance of measuring risk alongside other measures?

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Share and share alike

The Centre for the Study of Living Standards in Canada, in a report issued last week, suggests that from 1980 to 2005 Canadian labour productivity increased by 37 per cent, while wages - adjusted for inflation - showed no real increase at all over the same period.

The study went on to suggest that if earnings had kept pace with the increase in the productivity over, full-time workers in Canada would have enjoyed a median income of $56,826 in 2005, considerably more than the $41,401 median income that they actually earned.

So, who's keeping all the gains?

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Back to the grindstone

Happy New - and Productive - Year to you all. This one is going to be difficult for many companies. Certainly improving productivity has never been more important. So, keep working at it ... it isn't always easy, but it is always possible.