Saturday, 25 December 2010


Many readers of this blog do not celebrate Christmas. However, even for the this is a good time to think about presents and gifts?

Think about what would really transform your organisation - new technology, new ideas, new organisation, or whatever ... and then think about how you can become Santa (the catalyst) that can make it happen.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Energy Strategies

Governments around the globe are trying to determine 'sensible' energy strategies. Sometimes these strategies cost (taxpayers) quite a bit of money as governments mandate or encourage the switch to 'greener' energy technologies.

However, it is clear that (as fuel gets scarcer) the costs of fossil-based fuels will continue to rise. So we clearly need to switch to greener alternatives ... the question is how fast?

For example, the California Energy Commission earlier this month approved almost $2 million for the University of California Davis to develop ways to increase the energy efficiency of light commercial buildings.

The research represents a promising opportunity for helping the state reach its ambitious greenhouse gas and energy efficiency targets. The goal of the project at UC Davis is to increase the energy efficiency of existing multi-tenant light commercial buildings — such as strip malls, office parks and mixed-use developments — while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.

The project aims to identify the best technologies to use, market barriers to avoid and to make recommendations for retrofitting buildings. Three principal investigators will join faculty and staff from the California Lighting Technology Center, the Energy Efficiency Center, the Graduate School of Management and the Western Cooling Efficiency Center on the project.

There are bound to be mistakes and stumbles along the way to a greener future ... but we do need to progress on this journey ... and we need more research like this to give us better signposts for the journey.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Good or Bad Figures

I see lots of national and regional productivity figures ... I even publish some of them in this blog.

However, I am holding back at the moment ... the recent (ongoing?) recession means that most figures are not really to be trusted. Oh, they're 'accurate' ... but at the start and end of recessions especially there are lag effects that make interpretation of the figures more difficult ... and certainly more dangerous.

So, in many countries productivity appears to be going up .. but that's because output is rising but many organisations have not started re-hiring ... they are using overtime and other temporary ways of providing the resources necessary to create those outputs.

So, governments should be way about trumpeting higher productivity ... in time the figures will settle to their 'real' levels.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Jamaicans - Read This!

The publication Jamaica: Productivity Summary Report 1972-2007, by the Jamaica Productivity Centre, should be required reading for all Jamaicans - government ministers, officers and public and private sector management and employees. It states: "Labour productivity or output per worker has been declining at an annual rate of 1.3 per cent over the past 34 years (1973-2007). For the past five years (2003-2007) this decline has increased to 1.8 per cent per annum."

And this is at a time when technoloy has been revolutionsining manufacturing, offices, hopsitals and mostl other workplaces.

The statistics also compare most unfavourably with the figures achieved by Jamaica's Caricom partners who have shown improvements of 1.5 per cent per annum from 1972, and pf 2 per cent in the last 10 years. The report states: "In 1997 the average worker in Trinidad was three times more productive than the average Jamaican worker. However, this gap had widened to over five times by 2007".

Friday, 26 November 2010

China - the great balancing act

I have just returned from a few (very busy) days in China – in Beijing and Guangzhou. The country never fails to amaze.

For example, I went to the Guangdong Higher Education Megacentre – a ‘town’ just outside of the city of Guangzhou which houses 15 Universities and 300,000 students. Now that’s what I call investing for the future.

This investment is seen elsewhere. The infrastructure continues to develop. I saw new roads, new railways, new bridges, new tunnels.

I also made a couple of internal flights with China Southern – a very good airline with fantastic customer service.

Of course I also experienced some of the less welcome aspects of China’s development – I couldn’t (at first) blog or tweet – Blogger, Twitter and Facebook are all banned. I did eventually manage to ‘beat the system’ … I won’t tell you how or that route will be blocked too.

China is trying to develop – very fast – in a controlled way. It tries to balance growth and freedom. My overall assessment after several visits – is that they have largely got the balance right. And I am not so arrogant t as to claim that the West has all the right answers … we all know the ills of our own development processes … and freedoms.

So China continues to be an enigma. I continue to love the place. I will most certainly return.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Get them to read

We all look at technology and technical improvements to give us more productivity. But sometimes, the answers lie elsewhere.

According to the research on literacy, four in 10 Canadian workers lack the necessary level of literacy to understand a safety manual, a set of instructions on a new piece of equipment, or a new piece of computer software necessary for them to accomplish their work.

One recent report on the subject shows that improving literacy scores by one per cent would increase labour productivity by 2.5 per cent.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Cold progress

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market recently opened the first grocery store in Southern California to use naturally occurring carbon dioxide (CO2) refrigeration. The store, located in Rosemead, is Fresh & Easy’s first to be GreenChill certified and is among four stores that the company opened today, including the 100th in California.

Fresh & Easy’s sub critical cascade CO2 refrigeration system, which is one of only four in the United States, reduces the impact of the store’s refrigeration on the ozone layer by about 70%, as compared to industry standards. By utilizing a natural refrigerant, the system has an approximately 50% lower Global Warming Potential than traditional refrigerants.

The store also earned a silver certification award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) GreenChill Partnership by meeting tough benchmarks for cutting emissions that harm the earth’s protective ozone layer and contribute to global warming. Fewer than 40 of the nation’s 35,000 grocery stores have received GreenChill Store Certification awards.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Walk a mile in their shoes

TOMS shoes is a small(ish) US company selling cloth & canvas shoes through retailers and through its website. But its USP is that for every pair of shoes bought by a customer, the company donates a pair of shoes to a child in need somewhere.

They say they are a "for profit company with giving at its core". Their customers have a strange sort of "buy one, get one free" arrangement, knowing that they are doing good.

They are not the only organisatiion adopting this approach with what - though very small - seems to be becoming accepted as an alternative business model.

Of course TOMS has to be productive enough to be able to make a profit under this arrangement - and it is!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Auckland is the future?

Auckland in New Zealand, want to grow and become a 'super city' believing that larger cities have a better chance to thrive in a knowledge economy - because people, companies and institutions clustered in close proximity interact creatively to achieve more than they would if widely dispersed. This leads to higher levels of productivity, and higher returns to businesses - and workers.

Of course there are other factors created by size - 'critical cultural mass', for example, meaning that a wider range of cultural events seems to emerge in bigger cities - because specialist audiences become large enough to sustain professional cultural service provision.

The challenge for Auckland is how to achieve an urban environment that will create growth and realise such benefits. Is this always an organic, natural phenomenon or can it be accelerated by appropriate policy intervention? Time will tell!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Royal Society got there first

Those of you who are into the Lean philosphy will probably know of the term 'Go To Gemba' which means that you should never simply trust what you are told; you should go and see for yourself. (Gemba is the japanese for 'truth', so by observing things for yourself, you get to the truth.)

Of course those of you who are not into the Lean philosophy will probably just be thinking ... "Well, that's common sense" ... but it is surprising how often we fail to abide by the rules of common sense.

The neutrals (and perhaps even the rest of you) might be interested to know that the Japanese were certainly not the first to codify this particular piece of common sense. The Royal Society - formed in London in 1660 and still very much alive - has as its motto ... "Nullius in Verba" ... which the Latin scholars amongst you will know translates (very roughly) as "Don't take someone's word for it - check it yourself".

So the Royal Society got there first - by a few hundred years. That's the thing about common sense - its usually been around for a long time!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Ireland needs productivity

Ireland's productivity was €18,850 (GNP) per worker in the 1st quarter of 2008. Over the next 12 months this dropped by about €1,000 per worker as a result of a fall in output of 13%, together with a drop of 8% in the number of workers.

Then in the next 12 months (taking us to the first quarter of 2010), the drop in output was only 4% cent. However, the fall in the number of people at work was slightly greater than this, so there was a small improvement in productivity - in terms of output per worker.

The decline in the workforce is still going on - though more slowly. Ireland thus has to maintain its productivity growth to keep output levels up.

Friday, 8 October 2010

India goes for growth

India is aiming at 9-10% economic growth in the coming years but labour productivity has to improve to sustain high growth, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Wednesday. “Our aim is a growth rate of 9% to 10% in the medium term. But this will not happen automatically. There are deficiencies we will have to remove and strengths that we will have to acquire,” Singh said at an award function. “As you all know, India’s economic performance in the last few years has been truly impressive. Our country is poised to move to trajectory of sustained high economic growth, which is so essential for fighting mass poverty, hunger and disease that still afflict millions of our people,” he said.

Policymakers have forecast 8.5% growth in 2010-11, higher than 7.4% of previous year, after a series of stimulus in the form of cuts in interest rates, excise duties and higher public spending. India’s economic growth was hovering around 9-9.7% between 2005-06 and 2007-08, but it slowed to 6.7% in 2008-09 after the global economic crisis trimmed demand and output.

While praising the country’s millions of workers, who have toiled to build India’s infrastructure and industry, Singh said high economic growth could be attained with higher productivity. “To achieve our goals and our ambitions, we will have to enhance productivity across all sectors of the economy. Our resources are limited and need to be utilised optimally,” he said. “I would urge all of you present here to pay greater attention to cutting costs and boosting the quality of the products and services that our country produces,” he said.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Small Power

Sometimes, democracy throws up some interesting anomalies.

For example, we generally assume that policies that come to the fore are those espoused by the majority party – who had the most backing for the electorate.

But take the current situation in Australia where the labour party only just retained power – by ‘dealing’ with a couple of independents and the Greens.

The dealing was around the ‘green’ agenda – Australia is likely to take a greener route than previously because that small band of people that were needed to secure power was able to do some tough negotiation on priority polices.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Can we offset public sector cuts

Public sector cuts are coming ... indeed, in some case they are already here.

The doom-mongers suggests that there will be massive cuts in services resulting ... but is this necessarily true?

Local government is lagging behind the private sector in terms of getting the most out of staff, according to research into workplace productivity by Knox D'Arcy.

The management consultancy's study found that more than two thirds of junior staff members' working day is lost on average, while the staff utilisation rate for local government stands at 32%.

In comparison, the private sector had a rate of 44%. If the public sector matched this rate, staff numbers could be cut by approximately 500,000 without affecting services.

Paul Weekes, the report's author and principal consultant at Knox D'Arcy, said: "Put simply, by matching average private sector staff utilisation levels, local government could increase its productivity by roughly a third.

"This sort of dramatic increase would help significantly offset the cuts that are on the agenda as part of the government's austerity package."

It was also found that managers and supervisors within local government were spending fewer than 15 minutes a day engaged in "active" management tasks, such as following up work assigned to their team.

Monday, 20 September 2010


The National Research Centre for Banana (NRCB) at Podhavur village near Tiruchi, a unit of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, has released a special micronutrient, ‘banana sakthi,' for enhancing crop productivity.
This is one of the major outcomes of research undertaken at the NRCB this year, said M. M. Mustaffa, director. He was speaking at the inaugural of an exhibition-cum-seminar on banana conducted as part of the foundation day celebrations of the NRCB recently. Mr. Mustaffa said that the nutrient was a solution comprising a mixture of zinc, iron, copper and boron and should be sprayed on leaves during the fourth and fifth months of the season.

Giving away the ‘banana sakthi' to farmers present on the occasion, he said that there was a strong need for supplying micronutrients to the crop. Continued application of chemical fertilizers coupled with lack of awareness of its importance had resulted in serious shortfall of micronutrients, he said.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Recipe for Success

Korea (South, of course) has had a meteoric rise up the competitiveness ladder ... mirroring that of Singapore a couple of decades earlier.

To what do we attribute their successes. Well, of course to productivity - borne out of essentially stable economies, favourable macroeconomic climates .. and discipline - a willingness of the workforce to work for both their own gain and the greater good of society.

But one other thing as well - creativity. Both of these countries - and especially Korea - have not only adopted 'Western' technologies ... they have adapted, refined, improved and extended them.

This is a 'killer combination - productivity and creativity. Together, they are unbeatable. Of course each will slip a little ... but if that overriding discipline remains, they will come back.

Singapore has been 'off the pace' recently - not performing badly, but not as well as it was doing .. or as it can. The government knows this and is taking measures to rectify this 'slippage' ... and it has Korea firnly in its sights as both role model and competitor.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

A healthy prescription

The new US healthcare bill reduces Medicare payments for goods and services (other than doctors' bills and drugs) by an amount equal to the annual economy-wide increase in productivity.  The assumption is that the health-care industry can raise productivity by at least as much as the rest of the economy.  Of course the figures show that it has rarely done that in past years.
If it doesn't, is it just 'more inefficient' than other sectors.  Well, of course it is very labour intensive ... and it is 'service-intensive in that it relies on a lot of one-to-one interaction with the customer.

So times will get tough for the sector over the next few years ... unless, of course, there ARE real productivity improvements to be made .. and someone can unlock the secrets that lead to them.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

SMEs are excellent

An SME Manufacturing Excellence (S.M.E.) Programme to groom a pool of “Change Agents” or “TechnoVation Managers” within the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector of Singapore has been launched by Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan.

SMEs employ nearly six out of 10 workers in Singapore and play an important part in the national productivity drive.

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the manufacturing sector seeking to raise their productivity and capability, received a shot in the arm today with the launch of the new SME Manufacturing Excellence (S.M.E) Programme.

Designed to groom a pool of Process Improvement Champions or “TechnoVation Managers”, the programme aims to train managers in Operations Management Innovation (OMNI). With the knowledge and skills acquired from the programme, managers in the SMEs can help raise productivity, and improve business and operational excellence within their companies.

Developed by A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech), the S.M.E. Programme will be offered under the Singapore Workforce Development Agency’s (WDA) Precision Engineering Workforce Skills Qualifications (PE WSQ) framework.

Friday, 13 August 2010

South Africa - could do better

South Africa needs a greater emphasis on productivity and competitiveness to boost economic growth and job creation, the World Bank said recently.

"South Africa's business environment compares favourably to its peer group of upper-middle-income economies globally," lead author of the report Taye Alemu Mengistae told a briefing in Benoni on Johannesburg's East Rand.

However, he called for greater efforts to raise the market share of efficient, high-performing enterprises, enhancing productivity, and increasing export competitiveness for job-led, sustainable economic growth.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Life in the old dog

I saw a flyer for a 'Mobile Voice Conference' the other day (its in January 2011 in California) and thought ... 'How quaint ... still holding conferences on something that's been done and dusted for years'.  After all, can you think of many innovations in the mobile voice arena over the last few years  ... since conference calling became commonplace.
Then I thought a little deeper (yes, superficial thinking is one of my vices) ... if you're in the mobile voice business, you have lots of revenue and it makes sense to explore every avenue that might retain or even increase that revenue.
And we know - don't we - there are ideas' out there' that can still have significant impact on this relatively static area of technology. If I knew what they were, I'd make my fortune.  But I would be prepared to bet that someone will come up with an idea that will amaze us all in both its simplicity and its impact.
Think, John, think!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Terms of payment

Banks in the UK are reporting healthy profits ... they seem to have 'turned the corner'. Bad debts are down. Sounds like good news .. and it is .. in the sense that our fortunes are inextricably linked to those of the banks.

However, what about 'fairness'. There is little doubt that reckless behaviour by bankers, seemingly fuelled by both corporate and personal greed, was a major factor behind the global recession ... a recession which means that you and I - and especially our children - are going to pay for for many years to come. The living - and retirement - standards of millions of people will be worse than they should have been.

Yet the banks - and those same bankers - are now on the up. Profits are rising. Bonuses are rising. I would have liked at least some trace of guilt, humility and regret.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Pressure from the big guys

We are increasingly seeing large organisations insisting on 'compliance' from their many suppliers. This used to be about quality - understandably. Now, in many cases, this insistence has extended to environmental performance and sometimes as far as corporate social responsibility. (The big guys know they are at risk if their suppliers are caught adopting unethical practises.)

Few, however, extend this influence to issues such as productivity. Yet, if a supplier becomes more productive, there is more room for manoeuvre on pricing and the company is more sustainable, likely to stick around longer ... so it IS in the interests of the buyer to help suppliers become more productive.

So anyone thinking of starting a productivity hub for their supply chain?

Friday, 23 July 2010

US healthcare bill makes India fitter

The recent US healthcare bill is a great help to India’s pharmaceutical industry, which is focused on the generic drug market and contract manufacturing.

India's pharmaceutical companies enjoy the advantage of having access to a good talent pool at affordable costs and they boast of having the largest number of US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved production facilities outside the US.

As the industry matures, the growth has to come not only through capacity expansion but also through productivity improvements and the pursuit of operational excellence to satisfy regulatory authorities about compliance to standards, good manufacturing practices and electronic record keeping.

Friday, 16 July 2010

China does not care about the environment. Right?

CHINA is using an “iron hand”, in a silk glove (of an extra $12 billion) to achieve energy efficiency targets.

The hard line is being taken after it was revealed that energy use rose 3.2% in the first quarter compared to last year, reversing the decline in the energy used to produce each dollar of gross domestic product.

This is seen as a major setback in China’s push to cut energy use by 20% by the end of this year from 2006.

Premier Wen Jiabao held a nationwide videoconference and used the occasion to direct government officials to wield an “iron hand” and shut down inefficient enterprises. China Daily, in reporting on the videoconference, stated the Chinese government had also earmarked an extra $12 billion to pay for upgrades and other measures to reach its energy efficiency goals.

The government pledged to shut down hundreds of smaller coal-fired power plants, below standard steel mills and smelting plants, cement works, aluminum manufacturers, glass factories and paper mills.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Garden for growth

A new gardening project in Senegal is addressing issues of food security, poverty and climate change.  'Super Vegetable Gardens' are hoping to help small-scale farmers throughout Senegal and in tropical areas around the world.

The 'super vegetable gardens' initiatve has been running in Senegal for just over a year and there are now more than 150 such gardens throughout the country.

It is the result of 30 years of research that was first field tested in Niger in 2007, as a collaboration between the international aid group Pro-Natura and the French firm JTS Seeds.

"It is very, very new. The only obstacle is linked to the type of person taking care of the garden.  It works exceedingly well technically, but you have to spend two hours per day to feed a family of ten people," says Guy Reinaud, president of Pro-Natura.

Each 60-square-meter garden starts with a simple kit - a toolbox for farmers.  Inside is a selection of organic, non-genetically-modified seeds for fruits and vegetables including cabbage, tomatoes, carrots and melons.  The kit also includes soil conditioners, such as fertilizers, and growing equipment, like plastic veils to protect the plants.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Is it science?

Sergey Brin, the Google co-founder, is helping to search for a cure to Parkinson's disease ... tests show he has a pre-disposition to the disease.  What's interesting is that he is doing it by turning normal 'scientific method' on its head.

Scientists usually work by creating a hypothesis and then conducting experiments and collecting data to prove or disprove that hypothesis.

Brin's approach is to work with 10,000 sufferers of Parkinson's, gathering data about them, their lifestyles and their condition .. and then looking for patterns that might create a hypothesis.

This is, in effect, a new approach to science made possible by the ability of computers to store and analyse vast amounts of data.  Is it science?  Well, yes. In effect, Brin's hypothesis is that the data collection and analysis project will identify patterns, connections or trends. If he proves this, its good - and very useful - science!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Failed States

I've just been in Pakistan.  In fact, I'm posting this from Abu Dhabi airport while in transit on the way back home.

While I was there one of the local newspapers published some think tank's list of failed states (measured on a range of criteria such as security, access to education, wage levels, health, etc).

Somalia topped the list, followed by Zimbabwe ... with Pakistan at No 8.

Did it feel 'failed'?  Well, unfortunately it did, rather. I met some great people but most of them are bewildered and frustrated by an environment in which vast natural resources go untapped, small companies grow into comfortable slightly bigger companies and then stop, corruption is rife, many good jobs are 'political' appointments, the government often bails out failed companies (leaving no incentive to turn it round), only those whose parents can afford to pay for it get a good education, and so on.

The situation is not hopeless ... but its going to take a bold leader to take on this 'climate of cosiness' and create rewards for real success (not just commercial success).

That leader has not emerged yet!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

A Community building a Future

Today I was on Bhit island (just off Karachi in Pakistan) talking to representatives of the Baba Bhit (two islands making up one community) Fishermen Educational Society.

Baba Bhit is a community of fisherfolk who, until recently, had a literacy level of zero and an uncertain future. They land their catches at Karachi fishing harbour where 'middlemen' take a significant cut of the proceeds.

In the last 5 years, they have:

1. Established the Educational Society which has itself started a school - for boys and girls - on the island and recruited teachers from the mainland
2. Worked with a micro-finance bank to provide a 'branchless bank' on the island where fishermen can deposit and withdraw funds (within a certain agreed 'float') using chip & pin technology.
3. Established a plan for their own landing site, chillstore, market hall and shrimp peeling plant so that they can sell direct to processors, add value, employ women and - hopefully - secure permission to export to the UK

This is productivity in action!

I was there with UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) and we hope to be able to help them with some funding for number 3. It is always better to help those who are helping themselves.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Can New Zealand match Australia?

The poor old New Zealanders work among the longest hours in the OECD but have relatively low pay.
To address this, they naturally compare themselves witrh their nearest neighbours and matching Australian levels of productivity has become a kind of holy grail.

Australia has the advantage, however, of vast mineral wealth.

New Zealand, therefore, has to think and act smarter - taking advantage of its own advantages. Perhaps prime amongst these is New Zealand's smaller size.  This should give it the flexibility it needs to to transform the economy, using their own impressive natural and human resources.

Of course, only time will tell whether they can pull this off.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Measure what?

Last month the Washington Post ran a story about an employee in Alexandria, VA having to work so much harder (in effect doing the work of two men) due to the recession forcing companies to opt for 'greater productivity'.

This confusion of 'productivity' and 'production' is understandable ... since it reflects the difficulties of measuring productivity in appropriate ways.  If this company has indeed made workers work longer hours - for the same money - then productivity ... measured as output per dollar ... has gone up, but productivity ... measured as output per person hour ... has not.

So, we need to be careful about making decisions or judgements on productivity figures without understanding the basis of calculation (and the underlying 'truth').

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Singapore: 12 priority sectors

Singapore has a new productivity council headed by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and this council has its sights fixed on a dozen key industries that employ half of Singapore's workforce and contribute 40 per cent to the economy.

These sectors have been identified to lead the national drive to raise productivity as part of Singapore's move to transform its economy to one fuelled by innovation and better skills.

A dedicated group will be formed in each sector to come up with ways to improve productivity, especially in devising measures specific and relevant to the industry, Mr Teo told reporters yesterday before he chaired the first meeting of the National Productivity and Continuing Education Council.

'If you take the construction or hotel industry, we'll look for things where we can compare with best practices in other countries, and I think these will give us a sense of where we stand, how we can improve.'

These measures will also help companies and sectors identify better with the national goal to raise productivity, he added. Singapore aims to boost productivity by 2 per cent to 3 per cent every year for the next 10 years.

The 19-member council met for four hours and later, in a statement, identified the 12 sectors. These are: construction; electronics; precision engineering; transport engineering; general manufacturing; retail; food and beverage; hotel; health care; infocommunication; logistics and storage; and administrative and support services.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

What is half a metre among friends?

The Australian Prime Minister set productivity as his number one priority back in January and has 'talked a good game' since ... but actions have not always matched the rhetoric.

Take one simple example. The New South Wales and Victoria governments are at an impasse on the subject of truck widths.

Under current regulations, Victoria allows trucks up to 3 metres wide to cross its borders while NSW only allows 2.5m.

This dispute over 50 centimetres is estimated to cost $2.4 billion per year in potential national income.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Save Water ... Grow More Sugar

A new system of Rice Intensification (SRI) in India greatly reduces water requirement and ensures higher yield and less chaff.  Motivated by its success, a Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI) has been designed, and was announced by P. Subbian, Registrar, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.
He was launching the SSI, an initiative of the International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics – Worldwide Fund for Nature (ICRISAT-WWF) Project, in the TN-IAMWARM project at the university.
Mr. Subbian said SSI was a combination of cane planting innovations and water saving practices that had great potential to increase productivity, improve natural resource management, and assure higher income for farmers.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Guest Blog: Active Assistance drives real CSR

While recognizing that BOP [bottom of the pyramid] suppliers are endemic to such sectors as agra-business [small farms feeding into large farms feeding into coops/distributors, and so on], we should also note that most of the world’s economy is sustained by SMEs [small medium size enterprises]. This is not only true for advanced industrial nations like the US, EU, Canada, Japan, but is especially true in developing nations, even one like China. SMEs feed the Chinese heated economy more than state owned enterprises [SOEs].

Aside: I warn Westerners trying to do business in China not to be enamored of SOE powerhouses. These mega companies do not deal with little foreigners, and unless you can match their might, you will be dismissed outright. Opportunity in China is with the SMEs not only because there are more of them but also because they are hungry to do business with similar enterprises from abroad. They too cannot easily work with SOE monopolies, so foreign SMEs and Chinese SMEs have similar issues in terms of competitive advantage and growth opportunities.

It is an easy step to go from BOP to SME, and while the level of poverty may not be the same, the restrictions in size are quite similar. Multi-national corporations have the infrastructure, resources [people and otherwise], and financial capabilities to design, develop and implement across the board standards, which ultimately have a nugatory impact on SMEs which do not have comparable resources to implement them. This inability eliminates many from participating in MNC advantages on a global basis. From a business perspective [in addition to any CSR consideration], it stops good business practices in their tracks.

I was particularly taken by the “AAA” stance, that is, active assistance approach. It is not enough for a financially well-heeled MNC to establish a standard – whether it is a sustainability standard or a quality standard or a service standard – and then expect all of its suppliers in the chain to comply. Compliance is but one fact, and as essential as that may be, it must be recognized that compliance can defeat the entire goal by forcing suppliers [BOP, SME, etc] to subvert the goal by circumventing actual implementation through a smoke and mirror process [e.g., agreeing to comply but finding sub-suppliers to provide output, hence separating outcome (perceived good practices) from output (goods produced by someone else)].

This is the Mattel Toys issue with lead paint – policing the supplier contract to ensure compliance with quality standards while contributing little to the supplier’s ability to meet those standards in the first place. “Policing compliance” is the lowest common denominator of “managing inter-organizational relationships” along complex supply chains.

Active Assistance means you the customer get into the boat with the supplier and row towards the same horizon together/jointly. To me, this is key – AAA is an attempt to go from finger-pointing accusations from outsiders to collective effort of all key stakeholders to ensure everything that possibly can be done is done. More than compliance, it is about building opportunity – for the supplier and for yourself as the customer of the supplier. We are all in this together, so let’s stop throwing brick bats at supposed offenders. It is time to move away from the “management by fault/accusation” mode, with penalties incurred [a la Walmart].

This case also has an interesting take on global supply chains – we go from inter-organizational relations to developing a sense of inter-organizational shared responsibility. The issues for Starbuck’s are twofold: quality product at source and dependable/reliable/consistent source of supply. In the globalized business world, the real competitive issues are not products in the market, but the ability of a MNC to secure supply in the first place and to handle delivery/velocity through the pipeline to end use. Supply has become the critical issue – the new war of the worlds – whether that supply is coffee, water, gold, steel, coal, lumber, fish, or what have you. They who control the supply of any one thing have power over all the others.

Purely, from an enlightened self interest business perspective, Starbuck’s ‘do good sustainability principles’ are as much about securing sustainable supply, that is, steady and assured, as about sustainability from a social and environmental perspective. This is not to lessen or criticize the value of what Starbucks does; it is to put it in perspective. For me, CSR at root is about making money, winning the competition war, being profitable. One hugs mountain dwelling poor coffee growers in Mexico in order to ensure consistent, steady supply of quality coffee, and the financial viability of the company. It is not just for good PR to attract overfed North Americans to buy their morning lattes with a good conscience.

Guest Blogger: Victor Deyglio, President, Canadian Professional Logistics Institute

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Two strikes and you are out

The Australian federal government is supporting the Productivity Commission's proposal to introduce a "two strikes" rule on executive pay.

Financial services Minister Chris Bowen and Treasurer Wayne Swan are backing changes that mean if more than 25 per cent of shareholders were to vote against a remuneration report for two consecutive years, then all directors must face election at an annual general meeting (AGM).

Mr Bowen said the change would benefit shareholders, without harming a company's ability to attract talented executives, and would mean that votes on remuneration reports would become binding.

Though some are unhappy about some of the detail, the measure does seems to have across the board support.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Demograhic changes means trouble for Canada

At a recent political event in Montreal, Rick Miner, the former president of Seneca College, served up some painful truths ... "Canada has two major trends emerging," he said. "First, an ageing population. And second, the movement from a labour to a knowledge economy."

Over the next several years, the great population bulge (the 'Baby Boomers') will pass retirement age and even if, as seems likely, they stay on longer than workers in the past, the labour force will lose a huge number of bodies. At the same time, the demand for skilled and adaptable labour will continue to rise rapidly, and projections show Canada's education and training systems won't keep up.
Combine those two massive forces and we are likely to find ourselves in a uniquely awful situation: High unemployment rates and severe labour shortages at the same time.

There's still time to avoid a future in which there are "millions of people without jobs and millions of jobs without people," Miner said. But it's dwindling rapidly. A big push on education and training is needed right away.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

India needs to modernise capital good sector

Corporate India has sought an allocation of Rs 1,500 crore for modernising the capital goods sector and developing industrial parks to reduce India’s dependence on imports.

“The capital goods sector needs a modernisation fund of Rs 500 crore and another Rs 1,000 crore for developing capital goods parks in the country,” the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) said in a paper.

The development of such parks is required to overcome the infrastructure deficiencies faced by Indian capital goods sector, said Ficci.

Capital goods imports in India have increased by over five times in the last six years from $6.5 billion in 2003-04 to $30 billion in 2008-09.

Ficci said the parks would ensure timely delivery of components and standardisation of manufacturing processes. They would also improve productivity and thereby help the sector become cost effective and competitive.

The proposed fund should be used for productivity enhancement through technology transfer, support to research and development projects, climate change, common facility centres and market development support, it added.

“The primary reason for lower productivity of the capital goods sector is the lack of latest technology,” it said.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Predictable Supply - Innovative software

Only very occasionally do I refer to specific products or systems ... when I see something which I think is innovative. Here is one such product.

TraceLink’s Predictable Supply Suite establishes a supply chain management and outsourced contract manufacturing solution for integrating companies, their partners and the resultant virtual teams across inter-company business processes. This supply management solution enables virtual teams to create a secure business cloud that can execute any business process with any partner at any time and using any information.

This approach eliminates the need for costly portals and fragile b2b links when connecting to virtual supply network partners. Individuals and companies can decide the appropriate level of cross-company connection. For companies looking to tightly collaborate with an entire, hard-to-reach network ecosystem, the Predictable Supply Suite offers a unique "integrate-once, inter-operate with everyone" approach to connection.

For more, see

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Malaysia to attact more investment?

Malaysia is poised to attract more foreign direct investments (FDIs) when higher skills and productivity set in through the New Economic Model (NEM), two government leaders said in response to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s comments in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Najib is scheduled to unveil a number of administrative reforms when he introduces the NEM next week to emphasise the execution of the model to transform Malaysia into a high-income economy and spur greater economic development.

Economic bureau member Datuk Dr Norraesah Mohamad said the country needed the NEM to break out of the “middle-income trap”.

“NEM’s greater focus on climbing up the economic value chain, attracting and retaining talent, as well as emphasis on innovation will definitely drive more investments into Malay­sia.

“This is our wake-up call. With stiff competition for FDIs from our neighbours and the world’s focus on the larger Asian economies of China, India, Vietnam and Indonesia, Malaysia faces challenges in not just attracting FDIs but also in attracting talent to our shores,” she said.

The NEM, she said, would address that imbalance.

The Government approved 766 manufacturing investments worth RM32.6bil last year, of which foreign investments accounted for 67.8% or RM22.1bil.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

NHS needs surgery?

UK official statistics show that the productivity of publicly funded healthcare fell by an average 0.3 per cent every year from 1995 to 2008.

Figures just published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that productivity within the National Health Service fell by a total of 3.3 per cent during the period.

In the report, the ONS said that between 1995 and 2008 inputs — the amount spent on healthcare — rose by 75 per cent, or an average 4.4 per cent a year. Yet outputs — the amount of healthcare provided and its quality — rose by only 69 per cent, or 4.1 per cent a year.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Coffee Up

Thiet Van Nguyen, Vietnamese coffee specialist with UTZ CERTIFIED, the leading global agricultural sustainability certification program, presented at the National Coffee Conference (March 19) and showed how coffee production under the UTZ CERTIFIED program increased in Vietnam as a result of the organization’s program which focuses on productivity, efficiency, and quality.

Results show an increase in both Arabica and Robusta coffee grown under the program in Vietnam from 11,600 metric tons (MT) when the UTZ program started in 2002 to 93,634 MT in 2009. Currently 10 percent of Vietnam’s coffee production is UTZ CERTIFIED and 13 leading traders offer the coffee. The Vietnam program is a positive example of a country’s coffee sector growing in a sustainable fashion.

The efforts of each company and country can add up to major changes in efficient, yet sustainable coffee production globally.

One of the main benefits of UTZ CERTIFIED’s program for farmers in Vietnam is cost-reduction through adequate use of fertilizer (correct mix, amount, and application methods) and pesticides (spray less of the correct product and only on the infested areas of the farm, rather than the entire farm). In addition, irrigation water use is reduced by understanding the required amount of water per tree. These steps have reduced costs by decreasing inputs while steadily increasing productivity 6 to 8 percent per year.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Nigeria puts productivity into schools

Government Girls' Science Secondary School, Kuje Abuja. Nigeria has won the Schools Productivity-In-Action Debate, organised by the National Productivity Centre (NPC).

At the grand finale of the competition held in Abuja, Government Girls' Science Secondary School, Kuje and Government Day Secondary School, Karu, proposed and opposed the motion that, 'Agriculture has contributed more to national productivity than the Petroleum sector'.

Director General of NPC, Dr. Paul Bdliya said the contest was, a part of the centre's Schools Productivity Programme, an educational project aimed at empowering students with basic productivity concepts and culture for self and national development and with an overall objective of breeding productivity conscious citizens.

It is also an important aspect of the centre's campaign for improved productivity culture amongst the youths; to draw their attention to the benefits of improved productivity through culture building and value orientation.

Bdliya expressed hope that the programme, which included productivity lectures, debates and quizzes in schools, would eventually lay foundations that will help the students understand the values of productivity and how best to inculcate its concepts in their daily activities, He disclosed that arrangements were in top gear for participation in an international productivity debate with South Africa and Mauritius where productivity in schools programme are encouraged&

The winners, as well as Government Day Secondary School Karu and Government Secondary School Lugbe which came second and third respectively, went home with television sets, DVD sets, mini refrigerators and among other gifts.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Not so sweet

Production at Cuba's sugar plants has been hit hard this year by inefficiency, a spate of breakdowns and other technical problems, state-media reported last Wednesday, adding to sobering news for the Communist-run island's economy.

The media blame poor planning and "a lack of discipline" going on to say "we must defeat a hard enemy - loss of industrial time".
Sugar - once the be-all and end-all of Cuba's economy - now ranks no higher than third behind nickel production and tourism, contributing about $600 million a year.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Greece takes a step forward

The International Monetary Fund has welcomed "substantial"  fiscal measures announced by Greece on Wednesday and urged the authorities to develop and implement reforms to increase productivity and growth.
In a statement on Greece's earlier announcement of extra austerity measures to meet fiscal targets this year, the IMF said the fiscal program will be a "crucial step forward". "We stand ready to support the implementation of the authorities' plans by sharing our technical expertise in these matters," it added.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

People care about productiivty

The Singapore government delivered a new budget last week - and made several references to the need to improve productivity ... and raised several means of doing just that. The government runs a feedback web portal called REACH and in the 5 days following the budget there were 21,000 page views and over 200 comments and suggestions.

Most were generally complimentary but a few expressed disappointment that there were no new incentives for individuals such as targeted tax rebates and reliefs.

The interesting, and important, thing from my point of view is that citizens will engage - constructively - given the chance.

Monday, 22 February 2010

World Cafe

I came across something today which I haven't heard of before - the World Cafe process ... a process aimed at involving people in discussion of ideas and issues and in a relatively short timeframe, arriving at conclusions. It is a process that can be used as a form of 'larger-scale brainstorming' as part of a wider innovation process.

Like many ideas it is an extension of earlier forms of similar process ... but with a new 'twist' that makes it sounds interesting.


Friday, 19 February 2010

Read the figures carefully

US productivity figures for the last quarter of 2009 look great ... but typically at the end of a recession, output grows before hiring does. This corrects itself and productivity takes an apprarent nosedive soon after. This is where the US is now.

Critics will say that Obama is not in control and is letting the recovery falter ... but it is just the way of the world. If output is still going up (and it will be) then the productivity figures will catch up.

So why measure productivity? Because over the longer-term it is a much more reliable measure of well-being - and future well- being - than simply measuring output. After all we all know that you can make lots of stuff and make no money.

So we have to accept the imperfections of measurement and filter the numbers through our common sense. Now if only journalists and politicians would do the same!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Productivity drives decision-making

Jim McNerney, chairman, president and chief executive of Boeing announced last week that the company will decide this year whether to add new engines to the existing design for the 737, which could be ready for customers by mid-decade, or to design an all-new plane ... which would not be ready till much later.

The decision will be taken on productivity grounds .. .what are the relative productivity improvements offered by the alternative strategies.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Long Game

The U.S. has lost more than 7 million jobs in the past two years. This means that 200,000 net new jobs would have to be created each month for the next seven years to get unemployment back to the (normal) 5%. I hope someone is planning a long game and not 'knee-jerk' policies that might sound good to voters.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Productivity or Jobs

A recent letter to the Denver Post complained about $200k of 'stimulus money' being spent on road signs. The response was to suggest that the letter-writer did not understand stimulus spending (what an intelligent defence!). But it also - in the context of climbing out of the recession - leads to the old question about whether productivity creates jobs or kills jobs.

Of course in the short term it can do either ... but in the longer term it creates many more jobs than it might kill. Try decreasing productivity, see how competitive you become and see how many jobs you save.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Linking performance to pay in Sri Lanka

The Employers Federation of Ceylon (Sri Lanka)(EFC), with International Labour Organisation (ILO) assistance, has conducted a study of the SME (Small and Medium Enterprises) sector to identify training needs for SMEs.

Business planning and productivity enhancement were identified as the key priority areas which needed attention with regard to these enterprises according to the EFC. As a follow up to the findings of the study, the EFC will identify SMEs that need training in these areas and will provide a training package for them. This is to be done with the assistance of some of the larger enterprises within the EFC membership.

The EFC believes that through this training package these SMEs would obtain the required assistance in making their businesses more vibrant and sustainable. The EFC has identified employment generation and productivity improvement as two main areas of activity to promote the Decent Work Country Programme in Sri Lanka.

Enhancing productivity has been one of the key policy directions that has been identified in the Ten Year Horizon Development Framework under labour policies. The EFC says that it has taken positive steps in this direction through productivity linked payments.

The EFC is happy to record that during the calendar year 2009, out of 41 collective agreements that were signed between employers and trade unions, 13 agreements include productivity/performance based incentive payments.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Film highlights need for new forms of humantiarian aid

The devastating impact of global warming on communities worldwide is the subject of a powerful Sundance documentary aiming to put a human face on climate change.

Michael Nash's film - Climate Refugees - is a compelling look at the millions of humans displaced by disasters arising from incremental and rapid ecological changes to the environment and more frequent extreme weather events such as hurricanes, cyclones, fires and tornadoes.

Nash said the millions affected by climate change suffered because there was no international law that gave protection to environmental or climate refugees.

"We need to create another organization through the United Nations, or a completely separate organization that is going to take care of the humanitarian aspects of our changing climate," he said.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

More than one way to ...

Most developed nations - and many less-developed nations - have been through a similar economic crisis over the last couple of years. Yet, there have been several approaches to dealing with this crisis, reflecting the fact that there are several views on how to deal with any specific problem - depending on particular history, culture, state of economic development, politics, etc.

If one looks at results it suggests that the US is handling the situation rather better than most European nations - with growth approaching 3% during 2009.

Of course 'success' in the short term does not necessarily signal success in the longer term. It will be interesting to look back in 2015 or so and see whether real lessons can be learnt about how best to tackle such a situation.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Call to change US focus

The sole focus on profit maximization, which leads to offshoring and holds down wages, does not serve the nation. This must change. And it must change before the damage to our economic ability is irreversible.

This is a quote from a blog in the Huffington Post by Ralph Gomory (See for full post) as he argues that the US needs to concentrate on fundamental productivity and GDP growth - and then sharing the gains of that growth.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Bulgaria joins the race

Ilian Mihov, INSEAD Professor recently nominated to become Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister, suggests that state policies should focus on achieving higher labour productivity.

“If Bulgaria becomes as rich per capita as Singapore, we will have fulfilled our goal. This will be a very hard task, but why not? 30-40 years ago Singapore was poorer than Angola but with mobilization, innovations this is possible, and Singapore is now richer than the USA. It has proven this is possible. There is no problem for Bulgaria to become a country of hi-tech and innovations in 20-30 years,” Mihov told Darik Radio on Saturday.

He stressed the fact that companies in Bulgaria must become more efficient and that obstacles to entrepreneurship must be removed.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Does personal productivity matter?

I have just started a discussion on the Productivity Futures group on LinkedIn about personal productivity. There seems to be an increasing number of 'personal productivity gurus' all willing to share their secrets which will make each of us more productive.

I am - out of general and genuine interest - asking if this 'movement' is something more than a lifestyle fad ... the equivalent of one of those lifestyle books that emerge every so often (especially just before Christmas). Do these gurus and their secrets (which, to be fair, are not so secret since many of them give them away in their blogs)actually make a difference?

And, perhaps even more importantly, does becoming more productive,personally have an impact on organisational productivity.

I doubt it exists but I would love to see some real, robust research on the subject. In the meantime, I'll settle for people's views.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Renewables may not renew

This renewables stuff gets harder. Hydo-electricity has always seemed a pretty safe, renewable energy source ... it continues to rain after all. Well, perhaps not. If global warmimg means water gets scarcer, and water levels go lower, it might mean existing hydro facilities become unproductive ... and fail to renew!

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Canadian productiivty drops during recession

Labour productivity in Canada has slipped during the recession, according to a report released Thursday from Statistics Canada. This is in contrast to previous recessions when productivity has risen.

These findings paint a troubled picture for Canada’s export-rich economy as there is a growing productivity gap with the United States - where productivity has risen during the recession. This makes it even harder for Canadian businesses trying to compete on the international stage.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Textile industry in Pakistan needs to remove key barriers

Pakistan does not have enough innovation and new product development within the textile sector and, as a result, produces mostly basic apparel products, a new report revealed.

The draft report jointly prepared by the Asian Development Bank and the government of Pakistan is part of the process of formulating a Business Development Plan, and is part of a National Trade Corridor Strategy Study.

The report points out that though the list of issues affecting the textile & apparel sector is long, there are 3 key issues that place Pakistan at a substantial disadvantage. These are value addition, productivity and customer relationships - with perhaps labour productivity acting as the key obstacle for the industry.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Head in the Cloud

Google's move to 'cloud computing' (with all data held on the web)looks as though it might bear fruit. People's use of smartphones has transformed their attitude to 'computing' - they now expect 'instant-on', permanent web access, and regular notifications and updates from their social networks. All of this will work on the new tablets coming from Apple and others without the overhead (and long boot times) of Windows.

Of course cloud-based word processing and spreadsheeting won't have the same power as desk-top equivalents but for most people this is not a problem ... getting access to their files wherever they are more than makes up for this.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

ILO helps Nigeria

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has nominated Nigeria to benefit from an integrated assistance package under the Global Jobs Pact (GJP) initiative.

To this end, the organisation has requested that the Ministry of Labour and Productivity formulate a roadmap which would lead to the establishment of a finalised GJP by April 2010.

In a letter informing the Ministry of Labour of the nomination, the ILO urged the Federal Government to consider options such as public infrastructure investment, special employment programmes, broadening of social protection and minimum wages, as measures to reduce poverty, increase demand and contribute to economic stability, to achieve the job pact.