Saturday, 28 December 2013

New Year, New ....?

Christmas has gone. we now turn to celebrating the coming of a new year.  This is traditionally the time to make resolutions to affirm values, to set out our new path.

We can, of course, do this at both the personal and the organisational level.

So, take a little time to think through how your work will change this year.  What will you do that is different and/or how will you approach it differently.

Think about others who are affected by what you do - and how you can improve their lot.  Doing 'a good turn' almost always pays dividends.

In productivity terms think through the implications of what you do and how you do it to make it more effective, more efficient and more sustainable.  This is not just good at new year; it is good business practice at any time.

Make 2014 the year you think afresh!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Its Christmas time

Christmas is coming (sounds like the cue for a song!)

Whether or not you are Christian, I am sure you can appreciate the overall Christmas message of 'peace and goodwill'.

It is, however, a little bizarre that we wrap this message up within the biggest commercial period of the year when material presents seem to count for more than good thoughts.

It should do us good to remember that we are part of a 'big society' that extends across and around the globe.  We should refocus our productivity efforts on providing a 'return' to those poorer members of that global society who often underpin our wealth at the expense of their own.

So think what you can do to make that Christmas message a little more practical, a little more 'real' for people in South Sudan, Saskatchewan, Senegal, Sarajevo, Southampton or wherever you have some influence.  

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Gert the basics right

I have seen reports recently that relate to the literacy levels of young people in some of the most developed nations. .. like the UK and Australia.  These reports suggests that these countries are moving in the the wrong direction in international league tables.

Remember we are talking about 'developed' nations with a long history of compulsory schooling.

The problem (it seems to me) is that education has become a 'political football', used for 'social engineering' purposes.  Certainly in the UK, we have tried to create an educational system in which no-one can fail ... and all are 'successful'.

To do this we have 'equalised' to the lowest common denominator.  So, instead of giving every student the education they need to stretch themselves to the best THEY can be, we give everyone a relatively unsophisticated and certainly non-stretching education with assessments they have a very good chance of 'excelling' at.

We are now reaping the results of this policy - finding that recruits to the workforce do not have basic numeracy and literacy levels.  Some of these people are very smart - just not well-educated.

And these things take a long time to turn round.  Who is going to create the high-skilled workforce needed to secure my well-being through old age?

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Taking Care of Business

I'm in Mauritius - working!

This is a beautiful place, of course.  But when we look at such island paradises, we sometimes forget they too have to build an economy to look after their citizens.  Of course, tourism is a major focus of economic activity but it isn't enough.  They need other sectors to be productive and contribute to the economy.  This means they also need the infrastructure and support services that other nations have to ensure high productivity.

But, of course, Mauritius is small. Building a full transport and telecommunications infrastructure is a heavy capital expense.  But bit has to be done.  What small countries need to sustain them through the pains ands trials of difficult economic times is a vision - a shared vision that all key stakeholders have signed up to ... to ensure momentum keeps the plan going through the difficult times.

i am  trying to help Mauritius build this shared vision of a highly productive nation - working with the excellent staff of the National Productivity & Competitiveness Council.  My discussions here on this my second visit give me confidence for the future ... but I know there will be plenty of slips along the way to a brighter future.  It is the vision that will keep the plans on track - and the collective efforts of lots of people who share, and believe in, that vision.

I am hoping that in subsequent visits, I see the seeds we have planted starting to sprout and grow ... and that Mauritius has a future as bright as its sunshine.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Get them onside

We want our staff to participate ... to take part in improvement projects and initiatives - even to initiate them.

But we have to first engage them - we have to make them see why we want to improve , why it is in their interests, and why they should become involved.

If we don't get their interest and support, they won't participate willingly.

So, think about what motivates them, what might encourage them and offer them reward .... understand their concerns, hopes and fears ... and  then find ways to engage them - on their terms, not yours..

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Moving Forward

On the LinkedIn group which I moderate (Productivity Futures) we have recently had a discussion about which come first - motivation or productivity.

One side of the argument (conventional wisdom) suggests that we motivate staff (with exhortation. encouragement, rewards or whatever) and that motivation results in higher productivity and higher satisfaction for the workforce.

The counter argument is that workers work hard - perhaps because they are well-organised and well-managed.... and that performance results in them being rewarded and satisfied, creating motivation for future performance.

In some respects, the argument is irrelevant.  As a business manger or owner, you need to work on the motivation of staff, setting achievable targets and goals (which are understood and agreed by those responsible for achieving them).   This is something which should be ongoing and regular - not an occasional one-off intervention or initiative.

Then we end up with satisfied, highly productive workers - completing the cycle of motivation, productivity, motivation.... wherever it starts.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Targets are not enough

In the measurement field.there seems to be an assumption that, if you set targets, people will - by default - be motivated to achieve them.

However, clearly you need also to have a plan ... a sequence of activities that move you ever closer towards the target.

The target is the easy bit. Establishing an effective plan is much harder.  So you should spend your effort in proportion to this difficulty ... and focus on the plan.

But even this is not enough.

When you have the plan you have to marshall the resources to make it happen ... and motivate people to make them want to achieve it.

In most situations, whether you reach your targets will depend on people not plans.  Focus your people - and make sure they have the knowledge and skills to help you move towards your targets.

Now you have a chance of success.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Productivity in SMEs

This week I have been at an event organised by RKW in Germany and involving representatives of the European Association of National Productivity Centres (EANPC) and the European Management Association (EMA).

We have been discussing the current state of SMEs in Europe ... and what can be done to improve their contribution to the European economy - important as Europe continues its attempt to climb out of recession.

My own view is that governments often have too many policies and programmes aimed at helping SMEs. My experience is that SMEs are flexible and adaptive ... and therefore will adapt to take advantage of, and funding from, government initiatives.... but the strong ones will survive anyway ... and the weak ones are unlikely to thrive and grow even with such interventions.

Governments should establish the necessary infrastructure (especially the macroeconomic and regulatory framework - where regulation should be minimal and supportive - but crucially also the education and training - for skills - infrastructure, the transport and communications infrastructures). Note that this framework applies just as much to large companies as to SMEs.

Government's job, then, is to get out of the way and let flexible, dynamic, innovative SMEs build their businesses within that supportive environment.

So we need fewer initiatives but a stronger, more appropriate infrastructure. Then we  let the strong survive and thrive.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

How much?

We often see statements that such and such an issue cost so many millions of money.  The latest case was the US government 'shutdown'.  I have seen various estimates of the cost to the economy.

Almost certainly all are wrong.

When there is, say, an industrial dispute at a small factory, 'losses' are often based on average daily revenues.  However, when the factory is shut down, the organisation saves costs and products may continue to ship from stock.  Any losses are hard to estimate.

Think how much more difficult it is to do this when considering: (a) a complex organisation like the US government; (b) an organisation in the public sector.

Sure, the shutdown cost - but how much we'll never know.

And, perhaps the greatest cost was to the US' reputation and the degree of confidence in the US from potential foreign investors and purchasers. 

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Can I create a MOOC?

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are becoming fashionable.

I can put an online course on my website and make it available to all free of charge.

Is that a MOOC?

Unlikely, because it might be found and accessed by a small number of people ... but that does not make it 'massive'.

The essential attribute of a true MOOC is that lots of students take it at the same time and create a large (massive) peer support network. Learning takes place as much through student interaction as it does from the content.

So, unless I have what it takes (the right name, mostly) to attract large numbers of simultaneous learners, I can't create a MOOC!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

UK moves forward

U.K. labour productivity rose for the first time in two years in the second quarter, led by manufacturing industry.
Productivity measured by output per hour increased 0.5 percent from the first quarter according to the Office for National Statistics -  the first growth since the second quarter of 2011. Manufacturing productivity rose 0.7 percent and services was up 0.1 percent.
Is this a great recovery?  Its too early to tell ... but at least things seem to be moving in the right direction.   Of course we need the rest of the world to improve as well - so that markets recover.
In the meantime, we are thankful for 'small mercies' ... and the first signs of recovery.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

We don't need technology

How much can you improve the productivity of a process without changing the underlying technology?

Sometimes we look for the major changes that major process change can bring about.  However, real gains can often be achieved by simple changes to the way we plan, organise and control the process and the resources it consumes.

Measure and understand the process ... and where it might be improved.  Then, improve it - simply.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Remove disractions

Success comes from being clear about what you are aiming for ... and then single-mindedly executing the strategy to get you there.

What you don't need are distractions - the little problems along the way ... but also the little side projects that crop up and you 'fit in' alongside the main project.

You need to be ruthless in eliminating these distractions ..... they constitute 'wasted effort'.

Organise your work and the work of those around you is that it is absolutely clear where the focus lies.... and what constitutes success. Then remove all the distractions, leaving the team to focus completely on this main focus.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Wrong day, right sentiment

I normally post to this blog on a Saturday ... but this is not a normal week.

Firstly I am in St Johns, Newfoundland attending a Board Meeting of the World Confederation of Productivity Science.

Secondly, today is National Manufacturing Day in the US.

Co-incidentally, one of my WCPS colleagues, George Smith, happened to mention that his toaster had broken.  This  was a wedding present 50 years ago and has given 50 years of excellent, consistent service.

One is tempted to say "They don't make things like that, anymore" but, of course, they do.

In spite of its trials and tribulations, manufacturing has moved onwards and upwards increasing its reliability, its quality, its consistency. Unfortunately for too many countries in the West, it has also moved away - off shore and overseas.

There are some brave attempts to 'bring manufacturing home' but too often these are limited to final assembly.

However, let's not forget that we do still have fine examples of high tech, high spec manufacturing and we should celebrate their innovation, ingenuity, tenacity and sheer bloody-mindedness that keeps them at the top of the pile.

Thanks for the stuff you make for us!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Picking Blackberies

So, Blackberry seems to have gone.

A few years ago, business executives were addicted to the mobile email platform ... for that is what it was.

Then Apple - and Google via Android - showed what else could be done by a mobile device... and Blackberry was left behind.

Remember, however good your product is, however dominant you are in the market. some young upstart (startup!) will be trying to overtake you.  if you rest on your laurels, you get left by the roadside.

This is one occasion where productivity cannot help.  if you are selling the wrong product, it doesn't matter how efficiently you make it.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

We're all in this together

Many organisations are thinking through their 'corporate social responsibilities'.  They see this as either a good means of getting positive PR (the cynical ones) or as a means of making their contribution to the communities they touch with their operations (the good guys) ... or perhaps for many, somewhere in the middle (the majority).

Unfortunately, for too many, CSR translates as environmentalism .. with little regard paid to 'social' issues.

The World Confederation of Productivity Science is committed to the promotion of social, environmental and economic (SEE) productivity - believing that a focus on all three is needed to achieve longer-term sustainability and success.  However, it is sometimes difficult and expensive to act alone.

This is something that needs concerted, committed and, above all, shared effort.  That is why WCPS supports the UN Global Compact and its commitment to social justice within business operations.

Together we can make a difference - and create successful, sustainable, thriving, productive  businesses.

Saturday, 14 September 2013


One by one the BRIC countries seem to be losing their lustre.  Most of them are growing at a considerably slower rate than they were a few years ago ... some are really struggling.

Is this merely the result of the world recession taking away their markets .. or is there something more fundamentally wrong.

We know that many businesses fail because they grow too quickly .. and run out of working  capital.  Are we seeing a business failure on a grand scale... or will BRIC Inc. recover?

My personal observations from my travels is that China has used its largesse to beef up its infrastructure, wisely investing the fruits of its success. India has not.  Russia has been sidetracked by internal political in-fighting.  Brazil has failed to return rewards to its population.

the BRIC economies are all quite different.  They were only grouped because they were doing well at the same time... but they all have different lessons to learn ... as do we all!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

How are we doing?

On one of the forums (groups) on LinkedIn there has been  a very interesting discussion recently about the relationship of productivity to profitability.  The relationship is certainly there but it is not necessarily direct or obvious.

One of the reasons that I encourage companies to measure their productivity as well as their profitability is that profitability is a very good measure of how well the company is doing... but productivity is a much better indicator of the future health of the company.

The profitability measure is like taking the temperature; the productivity measure is like a blood test ... it tells you far more, if you have the expertise to interpret it.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Please share

I've just returned from India - one of the world's economic success stories over the last decade. Yet it doesn't feel like that. 

Partly because the rupee is in free fall. 

Partly because the government is focusing only on the next (forthcoming) election. 

Partly because though wealth is being created, much of it remains in the hands of a small number of people. There is still a vast underclass who has yet to se the fruits of economic success.

The World Confederation of Productivity Science, of which I am president, espouses SEE (social, environmental and economic) productivity. If India wishes to see long-term, sustainable success it needs to start including all stakeholders in its wealth distribution. 

The best way it can do this is to invest heavily in skills development and to use those skills to drive further economic success and as a way of ensuring more of the (vast) population can participate in, and benefit from, success.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Absent without leave

I read some data the other day on the level of absence in the Australian public sector.  It was astonishingly high.

Why is this ... it seems to be a pattern in public sector employment the world over.

There are a number of possibilities.  One is that public sector organisations work their employees so hard or treat them so badly that they suffer stress. Another is that the nature of the work is so unfulfilling that workers lose motivation.

Whatever the reason, something has to be done ...  but that 'something' must be based on a clear understanding of the problem.  And we don't have that yet.

We need some research - something beyond asking workers how they 'feel' - to determine how we can create work that is satisfying and engaging and does not result in excessive absenteeism.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Knowledge workers deserve consideration

Increasingly our workplaces are filled with 'knowledge workers'. The way in which they work differs from the working patterns of 'traditional' office workers - much more participative, team-based and relying on research and discovery.

How does the way in which you design and build your office space recognise these different working patterns.  Probably not at all.  An office is an office is an office seems to be the design mantra.

Design for the work they do, not the place they sit at should be the new philosophy.  Observe, record, ask - then start to think about space and the way in can be configured.... and, of course, make it flexible.

Your staff will thank you for it .. and they are likely to be more productive.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Public or private?

There is a number of things we, collectively, have to improve over the next 10 or 20 years.  Food supply, energy supply, waste disposal, and so on.

Governments have a role to play … but how much is real change driven by the private sector via the profit motive?

Some argue that the private sector comes in too late when crisis has changed the economics of investment … but oil companies have been investing vast sums in alterative energy sources for many years.  Of course it is in their interest …. but their long-term interest. They can play the long game.

With issues like carbon taxation, governments have shown an understanding of the fact that macroeconomic policy can drive change … but, overall, the results of such initiatives have been disappointing. Governments have pulled our of their long-term commitments to address shorter-term issues brought on by the global recession.

It seems perhaps the intuition is wrong … the private sector is capable of taking a longer-term view than the public sector which caves in to short-term pressures.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Acts of faith

The IMF recently called on Sri Lanka to increase government spending on education and healthcare saying it would lead to increased labour productivity.

However for a government under real pressure, increasing public spending is a brave decision.... and a signifiant act of faith.

Will it really increase productivity? And when? And by how much? And is this a better investment than spending or, say, infrastructure or technology?

Who would be a public policy director?  The best you can do is to get it 'least wrong'.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Is it too late to 'bring manufacturing homer'?

Both the US and the UK are experiencing a mini-revival in manufacturing with firms re-locating manufacturing processes from offshore to back home.

Well, that;s what the media  - and the companies involved - would have us believe.

However in most cases, 'manufacturing' means 'assembly'.  The production - or sourcing - of components is still outsourced .. only final assembly takes  place at 'home'.

Take the position of a firm making complex, engineered products. If they need a new type or size of screw for  a new product , then in Shenhzen, China they can get a prototype made within 24 hours and production ramped up into the thousands within a few days.  Back 'home', those support services went when manufacturing was outsourced.  It takes many years to build up this kind of supply chain flexibility but a very short time to destroy it.  So outsourcing of components is almost bound to remain outsourced.

The horse has not only bolted.  we have locked the stable and thrown away the key.

Of course it is good to see the current moves to home assembly (even if in some cases, it seems to be as much about PR as operational efficiency).   But don't expect either the UK or the US to suddenly revert to the manufacturing powerhouses they once were.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Seen through PRISM

The recent revelations that Western Governments (particularly the US and UK?) are involved in widespread monitoring of digital communications challenges what many think of as the' right' to privacy.

Many of us are moderately happy to give up data to google and Facebook in return for free services.

What do we get from the government in return for our lack of privacy? They would argue we get security.

However, with Google and Facebook, we can read their privacy policies and take a rational decision to be bound by it or opt out.  With the government we get no such option.

Why am I writing this in a blog about productivity?  Because some firms might be put off doing business in countries that 'snoop' excessively.  There might be long-term issues for online trading.  We have uncovered something which will have unintended consequences. Only time will tell what those consequences are.  But 'down the line' we might all suffer from those consequences.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Are you a pragmatist?

I want to return to the subject of Europe.

The EU is one of the world's largest trading blocs  - yet too often we view it as a collection of nation states, in competition with each other rather than collaborating with each other to create a truly competitive European economy.

Europe generally has very liberal and progressive attitudes to social partnership, to health and well-being at work, to workplace innovation. Sometimes these are seen as being a drag on competitiveness because they 'cost money'.

However, well-cared for, safe, empowered employees aree more likely to be 'good' employees, capable of effective participation in continuous improvement programmes.

Europe should be proud of its social innovations and, indeed, should build on them to create innovative, flexible, responsive organisations that can exceed the 'value' created by low wage, low participation economies.

Yet at this time we are seeing a fall in the popularity of social democratic political parties.  In 'tough' times, the weak seem to want to act tough - to break down the social structures that could be the building blocks of a new European competitiveness.

In tough times, it often pays to keep your nerve and maintain your values.  Let's hope 'Europe' can do so.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Big Ideas ... little actions

We know there are some big questions to ask (and answer) to solve some of the current world problems - poverty, food security, energy capacity and so on. It seems however, that we have known about these problems for quite s while.  The energy issue is being addressed by companies who have a vested (financial) interest.

We all have an interest in the other issues - but on-one seems to have enough of a financial interest to drive action.

Time is getting short. if I act, will you?

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Too late for European productivity?

The  financial crisis of the last few years led to the eurozone crisis.  Recently, there have been signs that the EU - and the Eurozone itself - is making progress in terms of solving some of the underlying problems. Certainly in those countries that have received 'bailouts' the conditions of the financial aid have forced them to address macroeconomic issues that have ben holding back productivity development.

The problem is hat Europe is addressing its problems just as public confidence in the European ideal is at an all-time low.  Those undergoing 'austerity' programmes see the EU a being to blame.  Those financing the bailouts see Europe as an expensive planning of a small number of politicians. others are concerned about the lack of accountability for European budgets and spending.

The dream has soured just as the offices of Europe are starting to shape a sustainable economy.

Perhaps the changes are too little, too late.  Perhaps the productivity gaps between the Northern and Southern European nations are too wide to close before the whole edifice comes tumbling down.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

What should I improve?

Do you know which factors of your business are important?

What, if it changed, would have the biggest impact?  A 5% reduction in your material costs, your energy bill, your wage bill, or ...?

If you know which are important, you know where to focus attention and improvement activity.
If you don't, then who is managing your organisation?

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Do less

Many people think that raising productivity means doing more things ... but sometimes, it means doing fewer things more effectively.  Some even think the more things they have to do, the more important they are.

However, at a personal level, if people concentrated and focused more they might avoid endless 'email tennis' and cut the size of their Todo list.

The same is true of your organisation.  Make sure it is doing those things which your customers want done. Find out what it is you can stop doing.

So if you feel you are very busy, with lots of varied tasks, try prioritising and delegating.  Make sure your agenda consists of those things that make you money.  leave lesser things to others.  By all means keep a 'watching brief' but if you try to do everything yourself, you will fail to do some of those important things properly and thoroughly.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Tell the Truth

Recently, US Vice President Joe Biden claimed that U.S. workers “are three times as productive as any worker in the world.”  

Of course he was currying favour but it does no good in the longer-term to pretend other than the truth.  

The US is a highly productive nation - but much of that is down to its intellectual assets and its capital performance... labour performance is not bad but it is not outstanding.

So, please Joe .. .tell us the truth.  We can take it ... we might even vote for you ... but we won't  if you treat us like kids who have to be told what you think we want to hear.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

What are the questions?

The world population will rise to 9 billion by 2040 (from the current 7 billion).  This has massive implications for all sorts of human activity and human well-being ... perhaps first and foremost being the questions about how we feed and water that population.

There are all sorts of answers we need if the world is not to go into some kind of 'meltdown' ... but before we start to answer the questions, we need to be sure that we have asked the right questions ... and ALL the right questions.

We need a full discussion amongst the various sets of stakeholders (and who is not a stakeholder in this area) to set the agenda. Only then should we move towards solutions.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

When does planning become counter-productive?

We all know that planning is essential ... it allows us to create structure and efficiency. We plan at various levels - from detailed production or marketing plans for our company to personal ToDo lists.

However, the other day I felt my own ToDo list was so long that it was starting to make me unproductive - because I knew I had to get to items on the bottom of the list but the urgent ones on top stopped me from doing so.  It started to irritate me ... and then to annoy.  My planning was getting in the way.

Then I got to thinking whether it is the same for more formal planning - the kind of planning we do at departmental or organisational level. Can these get so complex and complicated that they start to become unproductive?   If so, what is the answer. Does this only happen when we are under-resourced ... or is it a fault in execution?  Should we rely more on intuition? ... or improve our planning?

Saturday, 18 May 2013

How much do the figures matter?

The UK looks to be doing a little better than most people thought. Rather than contracting - and leading the UK into a further recession - growth has been positive, based on improved service sector activity.

Is this a good sign?  Well, its probably better than the alternative ... but reading too much into short term results is dangerous.

Wait and see is probably the best advice.  If things continue to go well for the next few months (at least two quarters), we can breathe a sigh of relief. In the meantime, we ait.

So the figures do matter - but not always the  figure (singular) - unless it tells us a real 'story'.  This is true of all performance indicators - they point somewhere but until we see a few consecutive results, the direction is not always clear.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

It might cost ... but...

Small businesses often use 'involuntary IT mangers' (IITMs) .... non-technical, untrained staff who, by accident or through organisational prompting, take on the role of managing IT operations.According to a recent small business survey commissioned by Microsoft, this costs the US about $24 billion in lost productivity, largely because these staff are taken away from their 'real' jobs.

This just reminded me of the old adage... "If you think training is expensive, consider the costs of not training".

Saturday, 4 May 2013


'Bring Your Own Device' is the term given to the situation where companies allow staff to take in their own smartphone or tablet and have it connected to company networks and data sources.

What does this do for productivity?

Well, I dont think we have enough evidence yet to suggest this is a help or a hindrance.

Clearly there is quite a bit of work to do by the IT department to ensure all devices  (or at least all major operaring systems) can work .. and that security can be maintained.  However, much of that work overlaps with the work they would have to do to provide security on 'company-owned' devices.

For staff, it means they get to stick with a device - and a user interface - with which they are familiar.... but possibly means they get little training or support from the company.

Perhaps the question about productivity is not one we should be asking ... the situation exists ... it seems that staff do want to use their own devices ... let's just work out the best and safest way in which we can meet their needs.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Don't blame Facebook

New data on the workplace by Evolv, a startup that monitors hundreds of metrics from Fortune 500 companies, suggests that social media should not be considered the the bane of employee productivity. Rather, the more social networks an employee uses, the more productive they are.
In the study it was found that employees who regularly used up to four social networks — such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or LinkedIn — made more sales or handled customer service calls faster than those who weren't on any social networks. Those who used five social networks or more were slightly better at converting sales and handling customer service than employees on four or fewer networks, by 1.5% and 2.8% respectively, Mashablereported.
In addtition to improved productivity, employees in the social media camp also had a longer tenure. The employees who used four social networks stayed at the company longer, (an average 94 days of tenure with a company compared to 83 days for those who shunned social media). For those who used five social networks, their average tenure was slightly lower at 92 days.
Evolv goes on to suggest that the increases in productivity and tenure may simply be a reflection of the employee's computer literacy and sociability, and therefore greater ability to provide better service and handle customers better.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Are we providing the right lessons

Most developing countries are following the same development path - aping the West in terms of urbanisation, increased use of fossil fuels, technology and increased consumerism.  This is understandable - after all the West has enjoyed the trappings of 'the good life' for many years and has done a good job of 'selling the ideal' to the East. However the West is bundling in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, pollution, climate change and a whole range of other negative factors.

Hopefully some of the Eastern countries - with their traditional approach to life which includes a major  spiritual (rather than religious) component - might find a 'third way' which imposes some controls on unbridled consumerism and helps teach the West that there are routes to 'development' which do not 'throw the baby out with the bathwater'.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Maintain balance

I'm currently writing (or more accurately co-writing) a book on productivity improvement in the retail sector.

It seems that retailers have broadly 'got it right' ... they work hard at productivity improvement ... but they always maintain a balance with maintaining excellent customer service.

Of course those of us in the know about the the true focus of productivity improvement - and those steeped in the 'lean' tradition -know that productivity always has a focus on customer need and customer value.

If we are not creating customer value, we are not being productive!

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Indian Skills

I've just spent some time in India.  The educational system is india is large and varied - it includes state provision and much private provision. the system is 'good'if you measure it in terms of knowledge transfered from tutors to learners - Indian students know lots of stuff and can regurgitate it in examinations   However, India graduates are often considered unemployable - because they can't 'do stuff' - they have few practical skills ... or soft skills come to that.

India needs to provide these skills if its economy is to continue to grow.  Of course employers will, as now, provide remedial training - but India needs its graduates to 'hit the ground running' and maximise the ways in which they can exploit their considerable knowledge by applying it in creative ways.

In the medium term, India needs to develop a vocational education and training system that provides industry with the skills it needs. It knows this and is currently finishing a process of establishing sector skills councils - adopting a model similar to the UK model.

Time will tell whether these SSCs can help change the focus - so that vocational skills are recognised and valued.  This requires a cultural change as well as technical changes... and requires industry to pay for vocational skills so that young people can see the sense in adopting a skills-based approach to their personal development.

I wish India well - watch this space and in a few years i hope I have good news to report.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Can I have a glass of water?

The Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO) report reveals that not even one out of 49 countries of the Asia Pacific region can be considered ‘water secure’. South Asia and parts of Central and West Asia are faring the worst, with rivers under immense strain, it adds.
In the Asia Pacific region, the study highlights two stark realities – sharply rising inequality in access to water and sanitation, and the increasingly precarious state of rivers. It also presents measures that can be adopted to improve water security to mitigate growing pressure from booming populations, urbanisation, pollution, over-extraction of groundwater, climate change and other factors.
It added that there are already signs of growing water scarcity and environmental stress in large parts of important agricultural regions in Asia. Groundwater levels are falling in northern India, Pakistan and the northern plains of China, it points out.
80% of the rivers in the region are in poor health, as measured by the river health index. South Asian and Central and West Asian rivers have been assessed as being in the poorest health. Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka all have rivers that are in such poor health that environmental water security is threatened in these basins, the report warns.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Productive again

I talked last week about employability skills. During the past week I have delivered a pilot program developing employability skills using productivity as the 'engine' or focus. The students really enjoyed the program - in India they rarely get asked to 'do' something - and within a week had been in a factory and conducted an initial observation/analysis to identify the project they would do (as a team) over the next 3 weeks.  They will then carry out the project and produce a report which will go to the owner of the business and also be used as the basis of their assessment.

It has been fantastic to see the way they have responded to learning a new set of skills ... they have worked until 10 at night (voluntarily) .... and surmounted all challenges.

Just think how much talent has been wasted by not giving these people and all their peers the skills they need to make a positive contribution to the organisations in which they work.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Productive graduates

I  have been doing some work in India recently and have been talking to employers about the process of employing recent graduates and post-graduates. What came across loud and clear and often were comments that such graduates are not 'work-ready' because they lack the knowledge and skills to become an effective member of an organisation on day1.  
Graduates knows (lots of) stuff ... but they cannot do stuff.
This led the WCPS to collaborate on the latest book from the Institute of Productivity in the UK- Productivity and Employability skills - which helps develop some of the key organisation-related skills, but does so in the context of parallel and complimentary productivity improvement skills. Our belief is that we can help graduates 'hit the ground running' when they enter the world of work.
Because we are developing skills, the book is backed up by materials and exercises on the IoP website where they can develop skills and receive feedback.
If we can get into industry employable graduates who know something about the basic techniques of productivity improvement, then surely everyone wins.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Nice people

I have just got back from Turkey where I attended an event - a 'Leadership Camp' - organised by students for students - mainly students of industrial engineering. They had assembled an impressive set of speakers and sponsors and pulled off the whole event very well - complete with social programme.

Of course not only did they work hard to achieve their aims ... they had real fun. And people who have fun usually work well ... and they did.

They looked after me very well. So they are hard-working, talented,  committed and NICE people.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Small but effective

< I was reading something the other day which reminded me of the number of keyboard shortcuts available within some software packages.  If you take the time to learn these, they can shave seconds off simple tasks - improving your performance and productivity.  Yet each individual time you use one, the benefit is tiny.

Performance improvements in any process are like this.  Each one may be very small ... but a number of small improvements can make a substantial gain overall.

So always look for the simple, small gains ... but look hard and look often. They may offer you a massive gain over the next year.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Unemployable graduates

We (in the Institute of Productivity) have been doing some work in India recently and have been talking to employers about the process of employing recent graduates and post-graduates. What came across loud and clear and often were comments that such graduates are not 'work-ready' because they lack the knowledge and skills to become an effective member of an organisation on day1.

Graduates knows (lots of) stuff ... but they cannot do stuff.

This led us to produce our latest book - Productivity and Employability skills - which helps develop some of the key organisation-related skills, but does so in the context of parallel and complimentary porductivity improvement skills. Our belief is that we can help graduates 'hit the ground running' when they enter the world of work.

Because we are developing skills, the book is backed up by materials and exercises on our website where that can develop skills and receive feedback.

Go to the IoP Academy for details of the book.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

You must guard your ownsupply chain

I don't know whether you know about the horsemeat scandal in the UK - where horsemeat has been found in a range of pre-produced 'beef' products but it  does remind us that each of us is responsible for securing our own supply chain - and knowing what goes on within  it.

We can't blame our suppliers, our distributors or the government when something like this happens.  Well, we can try ... but our customers will hold us responsible ... and it is our brand that will suffer.

it takes a long time to build a brand; it takes one scandal - or perceived scandal - to destroy it.

How secure is your supply chain?

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Some productivity methodologies and techniques seem to be more used in specific sectors.

This suggests that either they are in some way particularly suited to the processes involved in that sector .... or perhaps just a historical accident that the methodology or technique started in that sector and has not yet broken our into wider industry.

My view is that all techniques are applicable in all sectors ... especially since most of them are simply structured ways of asking searching questions.

So, because a technique seems to be well-established in a particular sector doesn't mean you shouldn't transfer it to your own sector.  After all learning from others is always a useful approach.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Measure carefully

Two old adages say "Measurement creates understanding" and "You get what you measure".

The first is self-explanatory - if you want to understand a situation, measure it, once you know how mant/much, when, at what rate and at what quality levels things happen you can take sensible decisions about processes.

The second adage implies that measuring things changes the behaviour of those associated with those things - when they realise what you think is important(because you are& measuring it) they will give you more of that measured factor - but perhaps at the expense of other important things which either you are not measuring or they do not know you are measuring.

The lesson is that measurement is important - it does indeed help you understand what is going on ... and helps you work out why. But if you measure the wrong things, you might get changed behaviours that you had not planned to, and do not want.

So measure - but be careful what and how you measure.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Declutter the declutterers

There are many blogs offering 'personal productivity' advice - often linked to reminder/time management software... but often just offering simple advice. A common piece of advice is to 'declutter' your life - get rid of distractions and focus on the real issues.I can see the wisdom in this so from now on I will stop reading such blogs and focus on real work.

I feel decluttered already.

Saturday, 26 January 2013


How would a productivity director of a global enterprise exhibit leadership?

My first thoughts are that, like all effective leaders, they would define and articulate a clear mission, vision and set of values with commitment to : excellence, fairness, recognition, and reward.

They would demonstrate an understanding of the environmental and social impact of business activity.

They would support their mission and vision with the provision of appropriate resources.

Finally, they would ‘walk the walk’ - all the above would be reflected in the way they behave as much as in what they said

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Is it Fair?

For several decades after World War II, the graphs for productivity and wages mirrored eac other - productivity increases allowed workers to earn more money. Over the last decade this has changed. Whoever is reaping the benefits of increased productivity, it certainly isn't the workers.

Part of the explanation is that technological change distorts the relationship- technology when applied successfully lowers costs and increases productivity. You might think it is s fair that workers should not benefit if labour productivity has not brought about the change ...but if we can't design a society that shares the benefits, we build up unrest for the future.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Technology, anyone?

When times are tough (as they are now), we tend to turn in all directions looking for some help.

So, will technology help us out of the current mess we are in?

It is possible for some types of organisation - but I wouldn't bet on it.

In concert with something else - procedural review, process re-engineering - you stand more chance -but relying on technology on its own sounds like desperation.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

China has a difficult task

The productivity record of CHINA over recent years has been excellent - yet most of the improvement has come from capital investment.

As such it has been relatively low-hanging fruit. If growth is to be maintained, the job gets harder- needing real changes to systems, processes and procedures ... real changes to labour productivity.

It will be interesting to observe progress.