Saturday, 25 December 2021

Benchmark Performance to highlight Possible Gains

When undertaking productivity assignments in some countries, it is surprising to find out how far performance and productivity is from that of the best performing countries snd organisations.

This in spite of the data that is available on the web, in specialists journals and even in general news.

One of the benefits of benchmarking is it shows ‘the art of the possible’.

If you can show organisation A that organisation X, in the same sector and of the same size, is performing much better, it is impossible for organisation A to say ‘it can’t be done’.  You have shown them it can be done.

So governments should establish some from of international benchmarking to show what their industry should be aspiring to - and then organise benchmarking internally in priority sectors to show lower performing organisations what they should be targeting.

It’s not rocket science, is it?

Saturday, 18 December 2021

Two Important Questions

Do you know the real underlying causes of downtime and reasons for employee inactivity?  

Are you able to act on these causes in time to negate their effects?

If ‘yes’ to both, you have clearly got your solution and you are on the way to higher productivity.

If ‘No/‘Yes;, either you’re a liar or you’ve been very lucky.

If ‘Ye’/‘No’ you are half way there.  You have done the hard bit - understanding the problem.  Now you can work towards a solution.

If ‘No’ to both, you are in trouble. You need to uncover the real, root causes of downtime before you can fix the problem.  This is more than measurement. It takes subsequent analysis and thought.

But remember, it is very difficult to solve a problem that you don’t know about. 

Saturday, 11 December 2021

Laugh Your Way To Productivity

Managers who hear their employees laughing may be angry at the lack of discipline, at the lack of concentration, at the lack of serious effort.

Yet, laughter serves a variety of purposes in a work situation.

It is a good de-stresser, reducing anxiety , worry and tension.

It serves to bring people together, helping team bonding.

It helps create a relaxed atmosphere in which innovation is more likely to thrive.

It acts as a mindfulness agent, anchoring people in the present, in the moment.

Sp, find ways to make your staff laugh, not all day of course, but for odd moments when the laughter can do its job, cementing your team around the task in hand but relieving any pressure they feel.

Saturday, 4 December 2021

Dieting is for the Short Term

When we diet, we usually start with great enthusiasm and we probably have some initial success. We buy new foods and ingredients, try new recipes. We might go to gather gym more often band try out new exercises.

However, this enthusiasm soon fades and we start to ease up on the diet, the exercise regime starts to get boring and we don’t look forward to the new recipes and new foods.  What started off as being different and exciting is now the everyday, the commonplace.

We still want to reach our target weight (or size) but find it difficult to maintain the motivation and momentum. to keep the image of ‘the new me’ firmly in our sights.

Well, productivity is like that.  We often introduce new techniques, new approaches, new consultants and we get excited with the i results.  But then, like diet, maintaining the regime gets boring.

We need the vision of the new organisation to create an emotional response that can  fuel continuing effort.  The preferred future must be a strong vision snd must be communicated to, and shared by, all in the organisation.  This is what leadership is all about…. ensuring that everyone understands where the organisation is going and what it takes to get there. A shared vision based on shared values will help maintain momentum.

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Value Progress, not Perfection

Many of us beat ourselves up at the end of the day because we haven’t been able to complete our ToDo list - which just gets longer and longer.

However instead of bemoaning what we didn’t do, we should recognise and celebrate what we did.  What have been our achievements today? What good things have we done?  What bad things have we stopped happening?

There might be times and tasks where we need completion and perfection. - but they tend to be few and far between. For most, celebrate progress made.

Ask yourself, “What three things have I done today that I am proud of? 

If you change to positivity, you will feel better about yourself - and, ironically, will probably get more done!

Saturday, 20 November 2021

Returning to the Office is Stressful

Many organisations are bringing employees back to the office - perhaps not full-time but maybe on a hybrid working basis.  When they do this there are all sorts of logistical challenges.

Do we bring everyone back at the same time?

Do we require returners to have been vaccinated?

Do we need to maintain social distance?

Do we need s one-way routing around the site?

Do we need s testing regime for COVID?

Do we stagger breaks?

Do we have enough capacity in restrooms?

There are lots of questions to answer.

The problem is the many organisations concentrate exclusively on these questions without addressing the personal/emotional needs of employees.

How do we allay employee fears?

How do we rebuild relationships and teams?

How do get staff to accept ‘the new normal?

Leaders tend to concentrate on what is in their sphere of experience and their comfort zone.

Real gains are made when they think outside of of their own box and address the difficult issues.

Saturday, 13 November 2021

We Still Need Passion

Some organisations concentrate almost exclusively on the numbers, on pushing sales, on improving efficiency and productivity.

It is good to do this but sometimes those organisations forget the passion.  What drove the business at the start was the passion and belief of the entrepreneurs who started the business.. That passion needs to continue, to underly the consistency of mission and vision, to inspire and motivate staff.

Don’t throw out the passion when bringing in the logic.  The business needs good managers but it also needs strong leaders. 

Saturday, 6 November 2021

Who creates high productivity?

There is no one ‘secret’ to improving productivity.  It must be a team effort looking at big things like strategy and culture; and little things like execution and motivation.  None of these can be left out.  

The leaders of the organisation, set the mission, vision and strategy and are responsible for investment in key factors such as capital equipment, talent and skills.  They also create the underlying culture.  All of these create the potential for high productivity.

That potential is only realised when the workforce applies their talent snd skills to the execution of the action plans derived from the strategy.  It helps tremendously if they are self motivated because of the supportive culture and effective communication so that everyone knows their value to the organisation and their role in the overall system. 

So, don’t ask who is responsible for productivity improvement.  You are? Along with everyone else!

Saturday, 30 October 2021

Money is not enough

The UK government is pouring m ore money in to the National Health Service.

During the pandemic the NHS has been highly valued but terribly stretched and many of its normal day to day procedures have been cancelled or postponed all activity was focused on those with COVID.

However, pouring money into the NHS without a longer-term plan is not efficient or effective. Pouring  money into equipment, for example, has no point if the skilled personnel to operate that equipment have not been recruited or trained.  Similarly, however, hiring lots of new staff has no point if the beds and ancillary equipment do not exist.

Worse than this, pouring money in does not encourage higher productivity.  The NHS is a vast machine and s complex system. It must have many inefficiencies.  It needs an approach to re-evaluating structures, processes, procedures and skills to make it efficient and to create a vision for its future before the money goes in.

Now which politicians have the courage to propose that, and the determination to carry it through?

Saturday, 23 October 2021

Vision without strategy - no power!

Electric cars, buses, even planes. They are all coming.  Vehicles are  improving all the time.   As sensors become more efficient, range is extended - and range anxiety is the one factor that puts buyers off electric vehicles.  If, as a driver, you can’t make it to the next charging point, you’re in trouble.  But for a plane?  

Let's assume the problems of recharging can be solved.

But where is the electricity coming from to charge all the batteries.

Few countries seem to be taking a strategic view of their power generation … even those with ambitious targets for their rollout of electric vehicles.

It is government’s role to set the strategy AND create the infrastructure.  Future productivity and prosperity depend on it.  

A vision of a a carbon neutral economy is no good without the means of creating, and maintaining it.

Saturday, 16 October 2021

Has Homeworking Been a Success?

There have been many reports that the pandemic has proven the effectiveness and  productivity of home working.

However, a lot of these reports were based on surveys of employees who say they feel more productive when working from home.

I can see the advantages for employees of the flexibility that home working brings - the lack of a  commute, the ability to provide childcare, etc. 

However, the lack of real engagement with work colleagues is bound to harm creativity snd innovation - perhaps not in the short term, but in the longer term, the lack of cross pollenisation of ideas turns off the creativity tap.

So, organisations will do OK, and maybe even thrive for a while … but they should be aware that new ideas are less likely to emerge and develop on Zoom.

And, of course, just because employees feel productive, it doesn’t mean they are.

We need structured research involving proper productivity measures before we can confirm productivity gains or losses from home rolling.

Saturday, 9 October 2021

The Two-Minute Rule

 One useful principle to remember when dealing with incoming mail is to to try and handle everything only once.  Pick something up and deal with it so it needs no further action.  It is so obvious but all too often people sort incoming mail into different piles - according to category or priority.  Each one then has to be looked at again, even though the action needed might be both simple and short.

The 2 minute rule is broadly similar. If you have a short amount of time available in your day, select a task that can be accomplished within that time period. This also avoids the multi-tasking productivity penalty whereby a continual switching of focus between tasks means you get distracted, confused, tired and unproductive.

So don’t attempt to bite off a little bit of a large task; eat a whole one in your available 2 minutes (or whatever time is available).

You will feel a greater sense of accomplishment; and you will be more productive.

Saturday, 25 September 2021

AI may not be a productivity revolution

There have been quite a few claims over the last five years that artificial intelligence (AI) will result in huge gains in productivity.   These huge gains don’t, though, seem to be arriving any time soon.

When one looks back at the claims, many have been put out by AI start up companies keen to laud AI and their product in particular. 

Very few of them, however, have hard data of productivity measurements to back up their claims. 

I would expect a start up to have confidence in its product but after a year or two in the marketplace, I would expect confident claims to be replaced by case examples with measured, preferably verified, data.

Until we see such case examples, we have to take the claims with a pinch of salt. We can hope for a productivity revolution, but should expect productivity evolution.  

Saturday, 18 September 2021

The Importance of Analytics

We’ve talked quite a few times about measuring productivity - to highlight (relative) inefficiencies, to set benchmarks and targets for improvement - but mainly to understand just what is happening in a process.  We measure throughput, quality levels, error levels, downtime, waiting time - anything that affects overall productivity. 

Where possible, we try to use measures that already exist for some other purposes - to avoid the extra cost of a monitoring/measuring regime. 

Now, life is starting to get a little easier. Many modern processes have some form of analytics built in -  but it is surprising  how many firms do not take advantage, usually because they do not have an overall measurement plan into which the analytics can be incorporated.

So next time you invest in new plant or equipment, makes sure you know what analytics it can provide - and make sure key employees are trained in how to use - and interpret - these figures.  

If you make the data part of a wider plan to measure and monitor performance and productivity, so much the better.  Your data analysts just might become as important as your process engineers.

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Feeling Good is Not Enough

Many of us use multiple messaging and productivity platforms in our work - Zoom, Teams, Slack and so on. Quite a few also regularly drop into Twitter or Facebook.

Each time we read an interesting post or contribute to a discussion  we get a little feeling of satisfaction. We are participating and contributing. We feel good. 

However, we may not be achieving. Completing a task is not the same as producing an appropriate outcome. Completing the task becomes the goal instead of the means to achieving a goal.

So beware of simply feeling good, satisfied that you have done something.  Try to measure outcomes, not outputs.

Saturday, 4 September 2021

To do lists don't tell you much

Many people use ToDo lists and apps to keep track of their outstanding tasks.  

There are also lots of apps available, with different flavours of operation.

However, you need to remember that  a ToDo list (even one contained within a sophisticated app) is just that  - a list of tasks. It has no understanding of priority or urgency and certainly no knowledge of how a task should best be carried out.

So, you need to apply all of this extra, external knowledge to the tasks in the list if the list is to prove useful. Don’t expect to become more productive by simply adding tasks to your ToDo list.  Even AI can’t help here - it takes good old, human knowledge, experience and judgement to properly prioritise and organise. So, Think.  Plan. Shape your ToDo list to match that thinking and you should get good results.  But don’t thank the app; thank yourself for thinking through the issues and addressing the tasks according to established criteria.  And remember, the list is always flexible; it can be changed as circumstances change to affect priorities.

ToDo lists are good; but only when supported and backed up by a thinking human being.

Saturday, 28 August 2021

Look After Their Well-Being

I saw in a recent survey that people who thought their productivity had increased (or at least stayed the same) whilst working from home during the pandemic, also reported that their mental well-being had improved.

This could suggest that high productivity makes people feel better about themselves or conversely that poor mental health results in poor productivity.

The third possibility (and perhaps most likely) is that both are true.

This in turn suggests that companies that want high productivity from their WFH workforce should pay attention to, and put resources into, the psychological

well-being of their workers, especially into supporting those that are feeling isolated and need social contact to replace the ‘office vibe’.

When thinking about a return to office working, perhaps a structured, hybrid approach is best - choosing the work location according to the project/task being worked on.

So, not one, not the other, but an appropriate blend of remote and home working might best replace what we have now.

Saturday, 21 August 2021

Its not technology driving productivity

 Generally, there does seem to be a correlation between investment in technology and productivity improvement.

Case proved, then?

Well … not necessarily.

I learned many years ago that correlation is not necessarily causation.

From my experience, I would read things differently.

Firms often look at technology investments when:

  • they have analysed processes and identified ways of  streamlining systems, processes and procedures;
  • the labour market is very tight and they are having trouble finding employees with the right skills;
  • labour is expensive.

Only the first of these is really a direct win for technology - and perhaps that should be put down as a win for systematic process analysis and improvement.  The other two are direct results of a tight labour market.  

This is what really drives technology adoption AND productivity.

Saturday, 14 August 2021

Don't be overwhelmed

Many people feel overwhelmed at work.  The relentless tide of messages and emails seems to set an impossible agenda.

So, we need to improve our time management, right?


If you create more space by better organisation, ‘other stuff’ will be re-prioritised and re-arranged and you’ll soon be overwhelmed again.If you show your boss you can complete more then others, s/he’ll give you more to do.

The answer, therefore, is to focus

Make sure you know what is essential to the organisational or departmental mission.

Then determine what outcomes you need to deliver to contribute to that mission.

If you can achieve (most of) those outcomes, you’ll change from being overwhelmed to  being very busy but satisfied.  Your sense of achievement will take over.  You’ll probably do more as well.

Saturday, 7 August 2021

The Art of Productivity

For some people, art plays an important part in their lives. I’m not talking about ‘the arts’ - if I was, that first statement would probable apply to just about everybody - but to the visual arts.

What about art in business?

Well, art can obviously transform a working environment but it can also stimulate, excite and inspire staff - and, of course, it makes a statement about the organisation and its leadership.

Displays of creativity can inspire workers to unleash their own inner creativity, improving approaches to innovation. And how about having a ‘drawing wall’ where workers can add their own creative touches to the environment?

And if your office receives lots of visitors - especially customers and potential customers - works of art send them a message about you and your breadth of vision; your commitment to things others than profit.

I’m not saying that investing in art can transform your productivity  but I am saying that investing in art can change the way in which your staff, and your customers, think about you and the organisation.

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Schedule core working, not meetings

One of the keys to high productivity is to organise - and then to schedule - work according to its priority and urgency.  Too often, though, this potential productivity gets sidelined as other facto come into play - meetings get scheduled and key personnel get jacked out of operational processing. 

Now,  a new approach is helping restore the potential for high productivity.

Companies are beginning to designate core working hours’ during which ‘peripheral activities’ (such as meetings) cannot be scheduled.

The company then knows that within those core hours, every person and every process is ‘on’ snd working to full capacity.    

As companies are now moving away from home working back to the office, it is an ideal time to introduce this concept of core working hours and get everyone used to the concept -and the practice.

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Become a Conductor

 What separates the very best musicians from the also-rans is the long-term commitment to the goal, and to the practice required to achieve it.  Hours, days, weeks and years of relentless practice drive up performance, improvs timing and rhythm and change the person from someone who plays an instrument into a musician.  They become flexible, resilient, agile performers.

Now, apply this to your organisation, your processes, you’re staff. If you can get workers to understand what world-class performance is, give them the skills, drill them into operating sound, secure processes and support them properly, you may be able to create an orchestra that can play sweet music for you.

But they need a strong conductor who understands the score and understands them.  That is your role.

Without that coordinating role, they may pull in  different directions.

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Look at the Outcomes

When trying to improve productivity, many people start by looking at inputs - trying to reduce costs by saving materials, energy or manpower. 

There is nothing wrong with such an approach except that it is an incremental approach. Your are unlikely to save more than 10-15% of costs so productivity can only rise by that amount.

What you need is something more revolutionary - more innovative.  So, look at your outputs - and especially outcomes.

What are you trying to achieve? And how near do current outcomes come to targets and aspirations.  What can you do instead of what you do now?  What can you change to improve outputs?  How can outcomes be improved to look more like those defined in your strategy?

When outcomes and outputs are improved, you can then look at inputs - for they might need to change to help achieve revised outcomes.

Only, them should you think about reducing costs.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Detoxify your Productivity

If your organisation expects you to be ‘always on’, always working, always available by telephone or email, they are exhibiting signs of what is sometimes called  ‘toxic productivity’.  I hate that term for all sorts of reasons but mainly because it has nothing to do with productivity.

People who work 24 x 7 (or think they do) are unlikely to be very productive, especially in the longer-term. One can be highly directed and productive for a day or two - perhaps even for a week.  If you persist, however, your physical and mental health will suffer.  You will work harder and harder but not have effective outcomes - this is not being productive.

So, schedule relaxation into your working day. : take time out every day to relax and recover.  Listen to some music, write a journal, do some painting, play the guitar, learn French - or just do nothing.

In the middle of productive activity, take a few seconds to breathe deeply, relax your mind, practice some mindfulness.

Think about how important work is in your life - and how important other parts of your life are. Set limits on how much each part of your life impinges on those other important elements.

Your organisation may help with this balance - but many do not. 

You must! 

Not only will you be healthier, your productivity will improve,.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

Its only a Sugar Rush

When the pandemic hit and the world went into ‘lockdown’,  most companies moved into remote working, using technology to support employees working from home. There were all sorts of claims that productivity improved as a result.  I’m afraid that I was churlish enough to cast doubt on these claims at the time (in this blog) suggesting that the improved productivity was either a temporary phenomenon, imperfect measurement or wishful thinking.

Later evidence appears to suggest I was right. If there was any improved productivity, it’s did not last. Many companies are eagerly looking forward to having employees back in the office where they can mingle, interact and feed off one another.

So, lets be generous and say that those companies that reported an initial improvement in productivity on lockdown were right.  

What caused it?  

Well, there are a numbers of possibilities.  One is that it was simply something like a ‘sugar rush’ - the taste of freedom and flexibility excited workers who responded with hard work, longer hours and strong focus.  This initial sugar rush wore off (as one does) and productivity dropped - but managers found it difficult to report, so didn’t.

Another possibility is that it was a ‘Hawthorne effect’ - employees knew someone was taking an interest in their work and their performance and they responded accordingly.  As the perceived interest from managers waned, so did the performance.

None of this means that productivity of remote work cannot be high - only that it doesn’t happen by accident; it isn’t a ‘given’; it has to be planned and managed.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Steer Your Meetings to Success

If you start your on line meetings by simply asking a question such as..”You’ve all seen the plan. Any comments?”, your team members will probably look away from their cameras down at their desks (or kitchen tables.).  The energy drains from the meeting before it has really started.  

Team members do not know what is being asked of them. Are they supposed to comment from the perspective of their own role or department?

You need to give them a firmer prompt - a more directed question. Something more like “Can each of you tell me how ready your department is to deliver your part of the plan?”

Even successful individuals and teams are more successful when they receive a clear invitation to contribute snd a clear steer as to what that contribution should look like.

The ideal prompt meets three criteria: it gets people oriented or reoriented to the task and relevant context; it helps them add something new to their thinking; and, if possible, it sparks some passion and pride in the outcome.

Use successful prompts to shorten meetings but make them more successful.

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Accept poor performance at your peril

Measuring performance is essential for a number of reasons.  

Firstly, as the adage goes … if you can measure it, you can manage it.How do you predict job times if you don’t know the performance level at which your equipment and your people will work.

Secondly, if you don’t know performance levels, ho do you recognise and reward good performance? How do you recognise and eliminate poor performance?

The latter is vital.  If you accept poor performance and appear to condone it, you are establishing a culture in which your workforce thinks you don’t care if they don’t work at their best.

Once that happens, you can be in a vicious spiral of poor and poorer performance.  

Good luck with reversing that!

Saturday, 12 June 2021

Meeting, B***** Meetings

If you are always moaning about the number of meetings you have to attend, then almost certainly you do have too many meetings.  The pandemic - and the forced switch to Zoom and Teams and the like for meetings - has opened up meetings to all.

Just because all can attend, it doesn’t mean that all should attend.As many as possible should avoid the meeting and be doing some productive work. They can be informed  about the meeting later … well, the key decisions and actions anyway. 

So next time you hold or organise a meeting, take as much time over the attendance list as you do over the agenda.  Why are people being invited? What will they add? What contribution can they make? Do they need to be consulted … or just informed about outcomes?

Can we stop their suffering and leave them off the invitation list? 

Saturday, 5 June 2021

On The Right Track

The UK’s rail franchise system (where private companies bid for the right to tun rail services on the national infrastructure)  was introduced to improve competition and efficiency.  

However, the bids - and the assessment of them - were highly over-optimistic. They looked to offer value-for-money for the government/taxpayer and a good return for the franchisee …. but in reality, these benefits rarely accrued.

The reality was poor quality service and low profits.

This phenomenon is all too common in government contracting -where someone has a good idea but no-one has the information or expertise to establish an effective measurement and monitoring regime.

However the real problem lies in setting goals.  The aims of an effective rail transport system should perhaps more sensibly be set as safety, reliability and punctuality - whether that translates into profits might then depend on the subsidies government is prepared to provide. 

Government should learn more about setting SMART  (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals - and thinking through the unintended consequences of policy decisions.

(Incidentally, you might notice that my expansion of SMART differs from the most common set of words used. That suggests A stands for Attainable, but I much prefer Assignable. You must know who is responsible for achieving the goals - who has been assigned responsibility.  I think if goals are Specific, Messurable, Assignable, Relevant and Time-bound they are Attainable.)