Saturday, 28 December 2019

Promise yourself

Many of us are about to celebrate the start of a new year. It is traditional to make resolutions or promises to oneself that should make us a better person in some way. Those of us who are committed to productivity or performance improvement should make a similar professional promise.

For example if you travel often, especially by train or plane, how about promising yourself to buy a new business text to read on each journey. At the end of the year, you should have learnt some valuable lessons to help your improvement efforts.

If you are a business person, how about promising to take a waste walk each week, looking for obvious and less obvious signs of waste.

The promise you make to yourself will depend on where you are in your career, in your organisation and in your personal development. But, today, take a little time to think through possibilities - promises you know you could, and should, make and keep.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Consistent inconsistency is our goal

Six Sigma is based on consistency - on reducing variation so that processes run smoothly and consistently, to their specification. 

Most processes have some variation - due to  inconsistency of raw materials, variations in machine or equipment performance, human inconsistency and error, variations in  the environment and so on. 

We either have to stop such variations occurring or design the process to be flexible enough to cope with the variation.

If the variations are within acceptable - and planned - limits, the process should be able to  cope.

So, oddly enough, our aim is to control process elements and environmental factors  and train our staff so that we have consistent inconsistencies - within tolerance limits.  If you can get there, give yourself - and your team - a pat on the back.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Experts are not enough

What will a group of productivity experts do for you if you want to improve productivity.

Well, the best you can expect is to gain wisdom about best current practice.  That’s the job of an expert - to disseminate the best of current knowledge.

What the experts won ’t necessarily give you is innovation, new thinking and transformational improvement,

For that you need cognitive diversity - you need the views of the experts tempered and enhanced by other who are perhaps creative in other fields.

Cognitive diversity comes from educational and cultural diversity - so your recruitment and assignment process should help you achieve such diversity of employment - not because it is a good thing to do (which it is) but because it can help change the culture, the thinking and the innovation potential of your organisation.

Asking engineers to solve your engineering problems is clearly a good thing to do - but if you sprinkle into your thinking some extra, divergent thoughts from, say, musicians, sports coaches, medical professionals or others with different background and different expertise … you might just hit on a radical solution .which will transform performance and productivity.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Don 't uninvent

Why do people keep pretending that useful things have not been invented.

For example, I keep seeing waiting staff in restaurants struggling to carry more than a couple of plates and IK want to shout 'There is such a thing as a tray" but some unwritten convention decrees the tray to an 'object non grata'.  Why?

I am sure you can think of other examples.

Learning from the failure of others can be hugely rewarding.  But so can learning from their successes, their innovations, their 'wins'.

If we are doomed to pretend that useful objects and devices do not exist, we are doomed to recreating the inefficiencies of the past ... and we have enough in the present to concentrate our efforts on!

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Less work, more productivity

When we are young and inexperienced, we tend to think that if we work harder we will be more productive.

As we gain experience (and age), we start to realise that this is not true.  Too much of our effort is unproductive.  We slowly learn to work smarter, to prioritise, to  eliminate waste, to think our way to a better solution.

As a manager or leader, you must remember these things. Do not keep exhorting your troops to work longer hours or work harder. It is your job to find (and fund) the smarter ways of working, to eliminate tasks that are not productive, to eliminate distractions and to motivate behaviours that move things forward.

This is not always easy ... but you fail if you don’t try.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

The Chinese are copycats??

I was back in China last week.

The economic miracle of China is well know but many people still think it was, and is, built on cheap labour and ‘copycat’ products.

These people have never been too a modern Chinese gigafactory - lots of automation, just in time manufacturing, good use of AI - all backed up with solid, efficient supply chains.  

Just like the Japanese a few generations ago, the Chinese have taken the best of the West, reviewed and refined it, and employed their improved version to dominating economics impact.

Underestimate Chinese manufacturing at your peril!

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Sporting lessons

I watch quite a bit of sport on TV, including American football. Those of you who know the game will know that each side has virtually 3 teams playing in a match - the offence, the defence and what are called ‘special teams’ who handle kick off, kickoff reception and other isolated events. 

Each of these teams is very well-drilled to deliver specific, pre-planned moves which are part of a strategy to defeat a specific opposing team by exploiting its weaknesses and containing its strengths. Even in a team with poor results, one of these teams might be the best in the league, motivated by being the best defence or whatever. All sides and all sub-teams are ‘in pursuit of excellence’ in terms of strategy, tactics, fitness, motivation and execution.

Business leaders have lessons to learn here such as the importance of creating strong, motivated teams who know their job well and are fully motivated to carry it out. Every team is important and though all share the same ultimate goal (winning), each one can simply try to be the best at whatever they do.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

a nerw model needed

Recently I got caught up in a great commute ... I had to travel into the city centre at the same time as all the other unfortunates that do so at the sane time every day.

It is clear (or it should be) that we need a new model of work, of workplaces, of team working, of synchronicity. Technology can offer us a number of possibilities. Yet our cities are swamped by millions of people swarming in at the same time each day on overcrowded roads and overcrowded trains.

Take a link around your factory, hospital, retail store, office or wherever you work. How many functions and processes are similarly in need of fresh thinking. They work .. but they cause problems. We continue to operate them in the same way because that is how we have always operated them.

Take a look with fresh eyes. Look at the wastes of time, effort, materials involved. Take a little time to dream up possibilities. Then take more time to develop practical solutions. 

You might remove your traffic jam.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Keeping house

Does your organisation practise 5S? 

The answer Is probably ‘No’.  It is a much misunderstood and little used approach., regarded by many as ‘mere housekeeping’. It is, of course, housekeeping but absolutely not ‘mere’ housekeeping.

It improves engagement, productivity and safety ... who doesn’t want to do that?

As an example, think of your home desk. If you clear away the clutter you don’t need on a daily basis, get rid of cables (by routing them properly and using cable clips or ties), organise your computer and peripherals, use the stationery trays you always meant to get, place things like the stapler, scissors and hole punch somewhere close but out if the way, etc. then you should notice a change in your attitude to the desk,

It becomes a place for ‘work’ with fewer distractions, fewer delays, fewer frustrations.

If you maintain that new tidy workspace, your productivity should improve.

Now imagine doing that to a whole workplace!

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Stressed Out

Healthy workers are productive workers.

it is hard to argue with that statement.

However, we might argue about what makes a healthy worker.

Unlike the darkest day’s of the industrial revolution, nowadays, there are not many jobs - in developed countries-  that are physically damaging or dangerous.

There are, though, many jobs which create anxiety, stress and other mental problems.

Luckily, many employers are starting to see the dangers - helped by a general awareness-raising by celebrities including the British royal family - and are starting to address the issues.

Where they don’t, we tend to get ‘self-medication’ by employees taking energy drinks, alcohol and other drugs to ‘get through the day’.  Such stimulants may give a short-term boost but are very dangerous over longer timescales.  Even worse, the people involved are often so tired at the end of the workday, they fail to exercise and compound their problem.

Simple guidance - especially when built intro work-rest regimes within the workplace - can help tremendously-  Staff should be encouraged to stay hydrated, avoid stimulants, use stairs instead of lifts, park a short distance away and walk ‘the last mile’, and eat healthy snacks … but it is the job itself that is ‘the crunch’.

Jobs should be designed to avoid or minimise stress - as should working relationships and organisational structures.

Managers and supervisors must be trained to recognise signs of stress - and act accordingly.

If you think this is just pandering to the ’snowflake generation’, you are probably part of the problem … and you probably have lower than optimal productivity!

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Charity Begins ....

Many companies now encourage staff to get involved in charitable work. Some even organise it and provide resources, especially time. The motivation is usually to improve the company image amongst the local community. 

However there is a much more important reason for engaging with charitable work.

We want our employees to engage with us, to work hard, to give good service to our customers, to give of themselves over and above the bare requirements of the job role. What better way to introduce the habit of engagement and giving than by engaging with local charitable work for a cause or causes that mean something to the workforce. We are presenting a role model, an engagement strategy and a reward policy all wrapped up neatly in a charitable endeavour.

If we can get this to work, we sew the seeds for that more general engagement and giving that boosts our productivity. Truly win-win.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Over-hasty thinking

I am not immune from careless or overhasty thinking. Recently I read a report on new developments for air conditioning making devices more energy efficient.

My immediate thought was that we should just get rid of air conditioning and, for example, stop living in places where cooling is necessary.  (Apologies to those of you who live in Phoenix.)

Of course, at the time, I was reading that report on my iPad and it’s associated data centres consume a lot of air conditioning.

So, be wary of first thoughts. They often lead to hasty conclusions, poor decisions and inappropriate action.

Sometimes, we just need to stop and think - again. Think through the consequences. Think what others are saying about the issue. Then start to form our view. Our view might not change but it will be clearer and more robust.

It is not often we are in situations where a short pause would do a lot of harm.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

No so simple

There are great hopes for autonomous vehicles - though some worry about whether the technology is ‘up to the job’. There are some driving situations and conditions where autonomy is relatively easy and others (driving in busy high streets for example) where problems are greater and the autonomy mire difficult to achieve.

Goods vehicles, though, can exploit these differences.

Future goods carriers could operate autonomously on freeways and motorways where the technology can do its job relatively easily, and then switch to driver control for the ‘local loop’. This can avoid the problem of excessive driver hours but maintain current levels of performance.

The problem is that the word ‘autonomy' tends to be a ‘one size fits all’ concept with few thinking through practical and flexible approaches to autonomous driving and improved productivity.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Productivity Principles

I have been doing quite a bit of work with Lean approaches and techniques recently.

I like Lean ... not because of the tools and techniques (which are excellent on the whole) ... but because it is based on clear and firm principles. To practise Lean it is much more important to be guided by the principles than to remember the tools and techniques.

For those of you who might have forgotten, I summarise these principles as :

Make the work flow
Eliminate waste 
Respect the People (and especially front line workers.

If a management team ensures that they keep these principles firmly in their minds and allow them to shape all their actions, decisions and behaviours, they will find themselves managing a Lean operation with a positive and productive organisational  culture.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Diverse superteams

The benefits of workforce diversity are well documented. Usually, however, these relate to diversity in race, gender and sexuality. There are also benefits in an age-diverse workforce where the different attitudes and skills that come at different life stages can be used to create balanced, ‘superteams’.
In Western developed countries, this is well known and many older people remain in the workforce well into their ‘mature’ years.
In many developing and emerging economies, things are different. Though many countries in this category revere the wisdom and experience of age, the pressure to provide jobs for the growing younger population often drives older workers out of employment. 
This has to be resisted if the benefits of experience are to be retained.
This in turn requires governments to implement non-discriminatory legislation and employment policies. But it also requires a change in attitude from the young. They often assume that because older people  are often technically illiterate and do not have mobile phones grafted onto their bodies, that they are uninformed and even uneducated.
Similarly, older people should stop seeing the young as ill disciplined and unreliable. 
If we can get these different age groups to ‘meet in the middle’, we might create the potential fir mutual respect, greater cooperation and higher productivity,

Friday, 13 September 2019

Changing behaviours

~It is difficult to change the behaviour of a child who is a fussy eater.

If you try to punish, you reinforce the negative associations of the food they don’t like.

If you try to reward you remind them that the reward is so much better than the food they don’t like.

Sometimes, motivation is difficult. You seem to be forever reinforcing the behaviour you don’t want.

The same can be true of a workforce. You have to think very carefully about ways to successfully change - and maintain - behaviours you want to see.

I’m not giving answers here. The answer depends so much on history and context. I’m just asking you to think before you act, reflect after you have acted and make no assumptions.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Calm down and do better

Many people look to famous entrepreneurs as role models. They see people driven by success, working hard over long hours and completely focused. 

However, they fail to realise that such people might be ‘wired’ differently than the rest of us.  For us mere mortals there are things we can do to improve our abilities without working 24 hours each day. In fact, we are much better working fewer hours, focussing more and being ‘mindful'.

Slow down and put yourself in the present. Forget your emails and other distractions. Just concentrate on now and the task in hand.

Calm down, slow down, think down. Productivity up!

Saturday, 31 August 2019

No just cause

One of things we do, as productivity professionals, is to examine the evidence - the performance data - to identify where problems and Improvement opportunities exist.  Indeed, we often go further to investigate the root cause of a problem so we know we are not merely addressing the symptoms of an underlying problem which might re- emerge later.

However, too often I see people not just failing to identify the root cause but even failing to identify whether or not there is a causal relationship at all.

Let me give you an example. In s recent blog (not mine) the author stated that Monday was the worst day for productivity - suggesting that in many, even the majority of, organisations, performance dips on a Monday. If this is true (and I assume the author had evidence to show it was) and we could find out why, we might be able to address that issue and avoid this performance penalty.

However, we might simply be looking at a statistical anomaly or even a piece of well-established folklore. Perhaps there is nothing about Mondays that causes performance to drop.

So be careful how you treat what people say.  Don’t jump to hasty conclusions. Ask what the data is telling you - and what it isn’t. Dig deeper. Triangulate. Find the causal relationship and then identify the root cause. You then have a chance of solving your problem. But don’t address, or worry about, problems that don’t exist.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Technology is not the answer

Many firms believe that technology will make them more productive - technology in their main processes and in their communication/administrative processes. 

Technology, of course, can be an aid to productivity. But it is only really effective when the firm is already quite efficient. We have all seen firms where technology has simply automated or accelerated existing inefficiencies.

And many of us are ourselves caught in the email/ messaging whirlpool, constantly reading and replying to communications that we didn’t need to receive.

Introducing technology is an ideal time to review how you do things - and to find out how you SHOULD do things. Add technology to the improved process and you get a ‘double whammy’ - two sets of improvement for the price of one.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Rest while you work

A few weeks ago I wrote about the need to take some time away from the pressures of work to recharge your body and mind and come back stronger.  Here is little tip (hack?) complementary to that one.

Most of us have a ‘To Do’ list, things we have to get done. We might use a formal task manager or we might use a notebook but the list exists. Some of these tasks will be urgent, some will be interesting, some will be easy, some will be important; hopefully some will be  challenging and rewarding.

Throughout the day we will prioritise these tasks - hopefully based on their importance rather then their urgency. Some we might leave - perhaps because they are not urgent or important enough .... and sometimes we just procrastinate because we are too tired to face another challenge.

Well if you do tend to do this .. in effect having a mini-break during work time - try to have some of the boring, relatively unimportant tasks available to use during these gaps. You still get a mental break .. but your To Do list does reduce. At the end of the day, another 1 or 2 tasks will have been completed and you feel some satisfaction rather than guilt or shame at putting things off.

So, rest while you are working and you become more productive.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

The Lean Labrynthe

I have been reading and writing about Lean quite a bit recently. It is one if those topics where the more you know and the more you read, the more you realise you don’t know.  There are so many interweaving and interrelated topics where you can’t fully understand one topic without also understanding two more.

Some people might give up, thinking life isn’t long enough to work through all this.

I, however, prefer to think that this simply shows the all-encompassing nature of Lean ...  a philosophy and way of life rather than a set of tools and techniques.

In fact, if you immerse yourself in the basic principles , the rest becomes fairly straightforward and the detail is less important. Just focus on :

Making it flow
Eliminating waste
Respecting your people.

Then, whether you apply Kaizen, Kanban, Jidoka, Heijunka or any other specific tool, this focus on the principles will keep you straight.

Navigating the labyrinth of topics and tools will make you a better Lean practitioner but a simple focus on ‘becoming Lean’ will get you most of the way to being a Lean organisation.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Turn off sometimes

Recently I talked about value - and the fact that it is not a straightforward phenomenon.  What I didn’t mention in that piece was the topic of what you value ... personally.

Presumably if you are reading this, one of the things you do value is productivity - for yourself or your organisation  ... or both. You strive to be productive and to create a productive organisation.

Well, take an hour today .. and be unproductive. Do something frivolous ... just for the fun of it. It’s good to turn off occasionally.

Ironically, of course, it will make you more productive - by recharging your batteries and resetting your mind. 

So, turn off for an hour. I give you permission.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Fit for Work

There are lots of blogs written about topics such as a The 7 habits of the Superperformers, suggesting we can learn from what successful business people and entrepreneurs do to make them successful.

Well, we can. But the (one) secret is very simple.

Most successful business people - and politicians come to that - keep themselves fit. They jog, run, go to the gym or swim on a regular basis.

Of course they are very busy people but they take the time to get fit. No, more than that, they make the time. They schedule it into their busy lives.

Regular exercise obviously makes you fit, giving you energy and making you more able to cope with stress.  But it also makes you mentally sharp, capable of better analysis and decision-making.

So, get your trainers on.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Value is not a simple factor

Lean Thinking emphasises the concept of value - which in business is the creation of product/service features and attributes that the customer wants or needs AND is willing to pay for. 

The second criterion of that statement is very important. If the customer is not willing to pay for something you are creating or adding to your product/service, then you are wasting your time (and money). Take a few moments and think about, say, your car.  If all the items were separately priced, are there some of the ‘included extras’ that you would choose to exclude? In my case, one item is electric windows. In my youth, all car windows were raised and lowered by mechanically turning a handle. The system worked. It was simple. It has been replaced by a system that is more expensive and is more likely to go wrong, resulting in an expensive repair. So, I would  be quite happy to eschew this feature and save a little money. So, why can’t I?

Well, the car companies work on standardised procedures and economies if scale. If I, and others like me, were able to choose between electric and manual window opening, the manufacturer would have to create a separate production line or workstation for the manual option. This would increase costs, add to their parts costs and make manufacturing a little more complex.

These ‘value decisions’ are thus not simple. Manufacturers are continually balancing customer choice and value with manufacturing cost. You, as a customer, may lose a little choice but you do get a cheaper car.

And, of course, price is factored into your value decision. 

Friday, 19 July 2019

Efficiency is not enough

Are you doing everything you can to make your organisation efficient? Do you run a very ‘tight’ and ‘lean’ company..


But it’s not enough.

Efficiency is the baseline. It is where all organisations should start from. It is almost a ‘given’.

If your competitors are also striving for efficiency, they will be at the same base position.

So, on top of your efficiency, you need to add .... innovation, strategic direction, world-leading customer service ... those things that make a difference to the customer experience. These are often perceived as somewhat more difficult to achieve ... but a singular focus on the needs of the customer is all that is required.

One way to help this is to think not about what the customer wants but about what the customer wants to achieve.  So if you are selling dog biscuits successfully, you might, on reflection,, assess that what the customer really wants to achieve is a healthy, happy dog. The biscuits are simply a means to that end. 

You might then consider what other things you could do (and sell at a profit) to help create healthy, happy dogs.

Your expertise and experience with dog biscuits should be retained (and even enhanced) but you might look for complementary products and services ... or simply a marketing campaign for the biscuits that focuses on their role in creating healthy, happy dogs.

Your biscuit manufacturing should be efficient but the ‘wrapper’ of customer service and appropriate promotion is where additional profits lie.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Aim for the attainable

I saw someone suggesting the other day that increased private  investment in (private) education would improve its productivity.

 think this is debatable.

As in many other areas, it depends on how you define and measure productivity. We all know that productivity is quite different than production or output: fundamentally it involves the incorporation of resources consumed ... mirroring the judgement we all face daily on assessing 'value' for goods and services we consume.

More investment would certainly raise the numbers of students coming out of private education .... but, as we have just said, that is not a measure of productivity..... nor, importantly, of that very elusive factor 'quality'.  

Take India as an example. Lots of private colleges and universities output thousands of students each year. Yet, there is some doubt about whether many of them are fit for the workplace. They know lots of stuff ... but they can't do very much. Their employability skills are lacking.

Even in admittedly strong areas like engineering, India's education is limited. Their engineering graduates are excellent at solving 'standard' engineering problems .., but when faced with a problem that requires ingenuity and innovation, they lack the problem-solving and creativity skills to take the next step.

So, let's define what we mean by 'productivity' in relation to education, let's determine our aims, objectives and aspirations ... and then try to assess whether more investment from the private sector can help us deliver.

It possibly can .... but if we don't know what we want to happen, we can't bring it about.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Too Remote?

Remote or distance working (often referred to as ‘working from home’) has become increasingly popular over the last decade.

There is no doubt that fir many job roles, the technology exists to facilitate such working. Access to company data and services is no longer a problem.

What is still a problem, however, is that most workers are not ‘solo fliers’ ... their role is part of a wider set of roles that constitute a team - and, often, the performance and success of the team depends on more than the performance of the individuals within it.

Success depends on how the group of people function as a team, sharing responsibility, handing off tasks to one another, supporting one another when something goes wrong and acting on the basis of mutual trust. 

This can happen with remote workers but only if the relationships hsve been built by face-to-face working before remote working is introduced and preferably when at least some of the team maintains a physical presence and co-working. The team needs to maintain the ‘glue’ of shared values, culture and trust that make them a team.

So, introduce remote working by all means but you must manage it. Decide which roles can be carried out remotely without breaking team spirit, team responsibility ... and team productivity.

Well planned and well managed, it can work, and can save costs and help some employees with work-life balance, child care, etc.  But if you don’t plan and manage it well, it could destroy team cohesion .. and cost you more in the longer term.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

What do you need to improve productivity?

Interesting question, is it not?  I guess you found it interesting or you wouldn't be reading this.

So what do you need?

Well fundamentally - just one thing.

A burning desire to identify and eliminate waste in all its forms - waste of resources, waste of effort, waste of talent, waste of time and so on. 

Once you've learnt to identify waste, it can become something of an obsession.  Seeing people wasting their time and effort makes you angry.  Seeing people who create processes that makes people waste their talent and effort makes you even angrier.

So, start to attune your radar.  If you don't know the 7 wastes of Lean, read up about them - and start to look for them wherever you go.  Calm your anger and think about how you would organise things differently to avoid the waste.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Life is ....

I used to ask myself the question...

What have you done today to improve the organisation?

Now I am older and wiser, I ask ...

 What have you done today to improve your life?

After all, work is part of life and we are understandably being asked to think about work-life balance.

Too many people don't think about their non-work life ... yet there is quite a bit of evidence to show that those who do - and have an active, balanced life, are more effective during work time,

Remember also, that life is what happens whilst you are waiting for something to happen. If you don't take control of your life, you are left at the mercy of ..... fate.

So, regularly ask yourself ...

What have I done today to improve my life?
What am I planning to improve my life?

Your organisation will be better for it!

Saturday, 1 June 2019

BREXIT will improve UK productivity???

UK productivity has been bad for quite a long time and productivity growth is currently low. 

What impact will BREXIT (the departure of the UK from the European Union) have?

Well, we don't know all the implications but here is one scenario.

The UK is currently a high employment, low wage economy with lots of people working part-time.  This means that for some time it has often been easier for firms to expand production by hiring new staff than by investing in capital equipment.

When the free movement of labour from EU countries ends,  there may, in certain industries, be a shortage of the right people with the right skills.  This will create problems .... but in the medium term, it will make capital investment seem more attractive and more financially viable. So, in the longer term, we may see a gradual move to a higher wage but more capital-intensive economy ...  with an associated productivity rise.

Its an ill wind .....

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Throw the task manager away

Do you use a task manager to help you schedule tasks and activities?  Many people do.  There are many apps out there to help you.

Do you wake each morning, look at your list of outstanding tasks and feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of things you should achieve that day.

You are setting yourself up for failure.

At the end of the day, you probably look at the list again and find you are carrying over quite a few of those tasks until the next day.  You therefore feel you have 'failed'.

This is repeated each day, increasing the sense of frustration, of pressure, of failure.

This is no way to become productive.

What you should do is to determine which of the tasks should be done by you - and which by others.  You should maintain 3 or 4  important tasks to be done each day - others should be eliminated, automated or delegated.  You can then complete those tasks, tick them off and feel a sense of achievement,  Your morale will rise, your stress lower - and you will become more productive.

You can also, then, throw the task manager away.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

How are you relations?

What is the most important thing to be done in a business?

Is it creating the vision?
Is it setting strategy?
Is it managing people?
Is it building a supply chain?

Well, all of these are important - but perhaps the biggest single thing to be done is to build relationships - with all stakeholders - other managers, investors, employees, customers, and people in the local communities affected by the organisation’s activities. All of these have an interest in what the company does - and how it does it; some have the ability to influence the outcomes.  We need to share information with them, understand their concerns, recognise the contributions they have to make and listen to them when making decisions - especially those decisions that affect them.  We should treat them as a valuable resource - able to improve the decisions we take and increase our chances of success. We need to recognise when conflict may occur - and take steps to avoid or minimise it.  If we build positive relationships, we do indeed maximise the chances of success - and we build trust and confidence.

If you are unsure of the quality of the relationships you have with your stakeholders, or not confident in your ability to build positive relationships, then you owe it to yourself - and your business - to seek out support, training or other forms of help that can transform your ability to build those positive snd supportive relationships.

It might be the most important thing you ever do!

Saturday, 11 May 2019

What (no, how) do you think?

We are often asked to reflect on 'what we think'.  But, rarely, on how we think.

Many of us are charged with making improvements, with innovation, with important planning and decision-making.  How we think - and how well we think - is therefore important.

Yet most of us don't know.  We think how we think - how we have always thought.  We haven't had thinking lessons.  We developed our thinking processes based on our education - but, even there, there were no lessons on thinking.

So, we may think illogically, with bias, with pre-conceived (perhaps out-of-date) notions and on the basis of insufficient or imperfect information.  If we have the occasional 'flash of brilliance', we congratulate ourselves - forgetting that the rest - the majority - of our thinking is far less than perfect.

So, perhaps it is time to do some basic research (reading) about critical and creative thinking - and start to think about how you think, why you think like you do - which leads to why you behave like you do. It might change what you do (because you've changed why you do it).

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Treat your employees well,.

"Our people are our greatest assert:".  So say most companies.  Yet few of them behave as if they really believe it.

They fail to involve, empower - even train and develop - their employees and then are surprised when those employees fail to maximise their contribution - if they stay at all ... they are much more likely to seek an employer who will look after them.

So, treating your employees well makes all kinds of sense  - especially financial.  The costs of poor performance coupled with the costs of high labour turnover might break your business. they will certainly make you less competitive.

So, take the time to think about how you might improve the participation and performance of your employees.  It makes sense!

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Virtual Reality, Real Impact

I have been involved with training individuals and groups for many years.  I think i know something about what works - and what doesn't.

My main lesson is that 'doing' works - getting trainers to undertake activity to reinforce any knowledge they might have gained.  The closer the activity is to a real-life work situation for which the trainees are being prepared, the better.

This is why I am really looking forward to the impact that VR and AI are going to have on training.

When we can put trainees in a near-to-real-life situation and observe how they get on , the more we can tune our training, mentoring, coaching and skills development processes to deliver maximum on-the-job impact.  VR is about to enter the mainstream - getting cheap enough to deploy practical -sized  training groups.  It will then take a while for we trainers to learn how to exploit it ... but the results could be amazing.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Efficiency is not enough

Efficiency is not enough.

I have spent much of my life urging companies to become more efficient - and helping them to do do.

But, of course, I know that some do not go far enough.

Becoming more efficient should not be an end in itself.

Becoming efficient creates capacity - it gives an organisation the headroom to start thinking about doing different things, adding more value, innovating.

So, regard your journey to greater efficiency as a stepping stone. 

Refine your business to create that capacity to transform it in the longer term.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

New recruits

Recruitment is perhaps the most important function you ever undertake.

If you don't recruit talented, skilled, flexible staff, you can't expect your staff to exhibit talent, skill and flexibility.

But you also have to create an organisation in which that talent, skills and flexibility can thrive and grow.

You have to impose your will ,your way of thinking, your values ... but leave 'room' for your staff to demonstrate their own values, their own commitment, their own drive.

Then, think about what you are trying to achieve, communicate this strongly (and often) to  the team, set them goals and targets - and hold them accountable for their performance in achieving those goals and targets.

Your job is to identify barriers to high performance - and remove them; to engage and motivate the staff, to reward good performance - and deal appropriately with underperformance. Not forgetting the importance of recruiting the right staff in the first place, of course.

All of this is not easy ... but it is necessary.  

Saturday, 6 April 2019

When you're not there?

If you run an organisation (or part of an organisation) and run it well, how do you manage to keep it running well when you are not there.  This can certainly be a problem for small, startups and growing organisations that do not have an established management structure.

First of all, let's hope you have recruited well - employing trustworthy, conscientious staff.

Secondly, let's hope you have trained your staff well - in the basics and in the less common tasks that can emerge as difficulties.

Thirdly, let's hope that your staff show initiative and have problem-solving skills, so they can deal with the unexpected (back to a combination of recruitment and training - and an atmosphere in which they feel they have the freedom to exercise their discretion).

And finally, let's hope you have created an organisation  that has a culture based on shared, core values - which can be used to shape decisions and actions.

So as you can see, how the business runs in your absence depends entirely on you - and the way you have built the organisation, its structure and its culture.  if you are not sure all of these are in place, you'd better start thinking and acting now to ensure these basic building blocks of a high productivity organisation are in place.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Quality or producvtibvity

Should we focus our improvement efforts on improving the quality of what we do ... or in improving the productivity?

It doesn't matter.

Productivity and Quality are inextricably linked. Improving quality adds value to goods or services which adds to the top line of the productivity ratio. 
Improving quality through systematic analysis and investigation of both product and process also throws up productivity improvements. 
Improving quality and productivity both require fresh thinking and innovation. 

An organisation that commits to quality, of necessity, commits to productivity.  One might even consider that one (a focus on improving quality) means improving the quality of what we do.  The other (a focus on improving productivity) means improving the quality of how we do things.

So, go ahead.  Do one or do both. You will end up improving your productivity.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Know the competition

Do you know how well your competitors are doing - not in terms of their results but operationally? They might have better results but be a worse performer because they are bigger than you. They may be at a disadvantage in terms of their location, access to labour, materials or energy ... yet still have similar or better results. 

What we see in public figures is the 'tip of the iceberg'. We need to take a look underwater to properly judge their performance.

There may be a benchmarking club, or an employers' federation that can show us at least a little more of the iceberg.

It's definitely worth finding out what we can. . If we know, for example, that a competitor's distribution costs are lower than ours, it can motivate us to address ours systematically and seriously, 

Knowledge is rarely value less. Take every opportunity to find out more about your competitors - even networking with them and listening to anecdotal evidence can be helpful.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Like an athlete

When running a race, an athlete has to be in peak condition, with no injuries. They also have to be aware of the capabilities of their opponents and set their tactics accordingly (especially for long distance races).

Well, business competition is rather similar. 

A business organisation has to be in peak condition with no significant performance drawbacks. They then must be aware of what their competitors are doing and set out their strategy and tactics accordingly.

So, if the two situations have similarities can one learn from the other? Can the business organisation learn from how the athlete prepares for his/her racing?

The answer is ‘Yes’.

The athlete trains often, to a pre-determined training regime, takes care with diet, makes sure they warm up before activity and cools down after activity.

Now I’ve set the scene .. it’s up to you how you translate those tasks into actions your business could take to ‘train’ for improved competitiveness.

Let’s get ready to win some medals!

Saturday, 9 March 2019

How does it fit?

Remember ergonomics?  Not many people seem to.

I often see products that look like the designer has no idea of the shape and size of a typical person.  They may have been designed for an average human being of the 1940s ...  but not thew 21st century.

Think seats on public transport, on aeroplanes, in cars.  You have to squeeze yourself into an impossibly small space - especially if the next seat is already occupied.

And control systems and and 'user interfaces' which are too often user-hostile rather than user-friendly.

And don't get me started on instruction manuals - translated from the original Japanese or Chinese into modern gobbledegook.

People change gradually from one size to another - or one frame of mind to another. There should be plenty of time for designers to 'catch up'.  This would involve a little more thought - but in addressing control systems, user comfort, user understanding, ease of use and so on could significantly improve productivity.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

People or Profits

Some organisations treat  people badly as they pursue profit at all costs.
Yet this is short-termism of the worst sort.

As you travel around and visit various companies, you will invariably see a poster or plaque in reception claiming 'Our people are our Greatest Asset' or "We are Investors in People:".

Yet few of those companies act as if they believe what they say in reception.

People are an organisations's greatest asset - but only if the organisation can release their potential, their contribution, their innovation, their ideas.

This doesn't just happen - it happens when the organisation creates a high potential culture, appropriate procedures, and most of all - development opportunities for the staff to keep adding to their skills and knowledge.

People are not 'human resources' but they can be a valuable source of innovation.

'People' ands 'profit' are not in any way mutually exclusive - they are inextricably linked. Organisartions that fail to recognise - and act on - this are doomed to poor industrial relations and low contribution levels from their staff.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Bring on the revolution

The Industrial Revolution was the greatest ever change to UK society, transforming the lives of millions of people. Yet, at the time, many people suffered from appalling work under dreadful conditions.

Now the UK is faced with Brexit and ...

We vget all sorts of predictions but these are almost always based on prejudice, not on facts.

To b e fair, no-one knows what will really happen.

My own view is that the UK is resilient and innovative enough to cope in the longer-term but I accept there may be short-term problems.

It might, however, be just what we need.  A shot in the arm ... or a kick up the pants. A stimulus to greater innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.

What will be, will be. If w approach it as a challenge, we might succeed.  If we accept it as a threat, we could be in trouble. We have to make the best of it!

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Do one thing, say another.

Politicians often bemoan the UK's poor productivity.  Yet, at the same time, over the last decade they seem to have systematically destroyed much of the further education sector with a policy of 'a thousand cuts'.  The same is true of 6th form education. 

There is quite a bit of evidence to show that a well- educated, properly-trained workforce is one of the principal keys to higher productivity.

So., the politicians are the probable cause of the UK's declining productivity ... and are unlikely to be the saviours.... especially since the whole of UK politics is being sucked into the Brexit maelstrom.

So often what politicians say is undermined by what they do!

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Are you in the right job?

We expect modern managers to be numerate and analytical. We educate and train them to be so.

Yet when we look at entrepreneurs we see something else.  We see creativity and passion. 

Which of these are the best qualities to have?

Of course, I have given you a false dilemma. The answer is that really successful business leaders have both analytical and creative skills: they also have passion. They care about what they do; they care deeply about what they achieve. They will make errors and misjudgements but their inner belief, their passion will drive them on to rectify their mistakes, to improve their judgement and their results.

Think about what you do. If you don't care about what you do, you are unlikely to succeed. If you don't have the passion, you are in the wrong job - or the wrong organisation.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

What do we want from education?

I read a comment the other day suggesting that increased private  investment in (private) education would improve its productivity.

I think this is debatable.

As in many other areas, it depends on how you define and measure productivity. We all know that productivity is quite different than production or output: fundamentally it involves the incorporation of resources consumed ... mirroring the judgement we all face daily on assessing 'value' for goods and services we consume.

More investment would certainly raise the numbers of students coming out of private education .... but, as we have just said, that is not a measure of productivity..... nor, importantly, of that very elusive factor 'quality'.  

Take India as an example. Lots of private colleges and universities output thousands of students each year. Yet, there is some doubt about whether many of them are fit for the workplace. They know lots of stuff ... but they can't do very much. Their employability skills are lacking.

Even in admittedly strong areas like engineering, India's education is limited. Their engineering graduates are excellent at solving 'standard' engineering problems .., but when faced with a problem that requires ingenuity and innovation, they lack the problem-solving and creativity skills to take the next step.

So, let's define what we mean by 'productivity' in relation to education, let's determine our aims, objectives and aspirations ... and then try to assess whether more investment from the private sector can help us deliver.

It possibly can .... but if we don't know what we want to happen, we can't bring it about.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Forget the blips

Toyota has had its fair share of problems recently - and has certainly been knocked off the plinth it has been on for some time... held up as a beacon of efficiency and productivity,

So, what does this do for the reputation of the Toyota production system - must we now all try to forget those few Japanese words we learned - like kata, kaizen, gemba and so on.

No, it does not!  Conditions may not currently be favourable for Toyota  but the principles that underly the Toyota Production System are still valid - as are the tools and techniques. There are still countless firms benefitting from the lessons learned - and continuing to thrive in unstable, highly competitive markets.

The future will one day teach us why Toyota has had its 'blips' - whether this is due to them forgetting their own principles and practices, or whether there is some other unknown factor.

I suspect that before too long, they will be back on their plinth. In the meantime, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater ... keep the faith, aim for 'lean', maintain your focus.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Leading from the .....

You will have often heard a phrase like ... Success is a marathon, not a sprint ... indicating that the activity in hand must be addressed with focus and concentration over the longer- term.

Well, Productivity is certainly a marathon.

You need a good start, then a keen ongoing focus and finally a strong finish.

Tools and techniques are very useful but attitude and execution are what really matter. Productivity improvement is best achieved within a supportive culture that expects, receives and values contributions from across and throughout the organisation.

Productivity leadership is not about having the best ideas but about creating that culture in which all ideas for improvement are considered, evaluated and rewarded.

Switching off destroys the culture; the focus must be continual. Leaders must continually relate to, and report on, Productivity ... reinforcing the culture, maintaining the focus and demonstrating their commitment.

Effective leaders lead from the front and the back ... and all points in between.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Bw good to your employees - and your planet

Many organisations make some attempt to treat employees well - with recognition and reward systems, flexible approaches to leave, healthcare and so on.  The trouble with such 'benefits' is that they quickly get absorbed into 'the expected' rather than being regarded as an 'extra'.

If you want something to have a longer-term effect on employee well-being - and even more importantly, on employee productivity  - then you need to select' benefits' that have a more direct effect on employee performance.

For example, why not institute a transport system to get employees to work - saving them the hassle and stress of doing it for themselves.  You can make it part of your environmental strategy since any form of shared transport is almost certain to be less resource intensive than lots of cars arriving with one individual. 

But more importantly, your employees should arrive fresher, less-stressed and ready to go.  They should be more productive, more content, more engaged with the organisation.

So you can treat your employees well, help  the planet and raise productivity.  Win-win-win. What's not to like?

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Am I droning on?

Certainly in the UK, drones have had a bad press recently - with the disruption caused at London's Gatwick airport.

However, the sensible ones among us (and I do - perhaps rather arrogantly - include myself in that category) know that throughout history, technologies have been used for good and bad purposes.

Drones are also used to improve agricultural productivity by giving farmers a view of their fields and crops they could not afford to get in other ways.  They are used in  law enforcement and in the military, by sports broadcasters, and so on.

So, don't blame the drones: they are just pieces of technology.  Blame their operators.

But remember, if the 'bad' users (or their impact on society) outnumber the 'good', technology cannot be uninvented. Once it is 'out there', it stays out there - even if made illegal.

So, society must get used to drones - and their misuse. Be prepared to deal with mischievous or criminal drone use - it is not going to go away.

And, of course, continue to apply the technology to society's advantage. Make the beneficial impact outweigh the harmful.

Go, drones!