Saturday, 25 June 2022

Don't Take All Opportunities

Leaders, and especially entrepreneurs, are hard-wired to seize opportunities and follow leads.

This is only effective, however, when those leads and opportunities help you move forward in your existing strategy towards your agreed mission and vision.

Otherwise they are a distraction and they suck energy out of you and your organisation.

Always judge potential opportunities against your existing goals and priorities.  Otherwise productivity drops.  

Productivity is like a  reputation. Its hard to acquire but easy to lose!

Saturday, 18 June 2022

Plan for Peoductivity

Very few organisations improve productivity  by accident.  They may do so as a ’by-product’ of some other initiative (such as installing new technology or establishing a new workforce development programme) but productivity doesn’t just come along unbidden.

This means that you have to seek it out. You have to plan for it. You have to examine your business and work out what can be improved. You have to ask questions about what you do now - and how you do those things. 

A good, but simple, approach is just to walk the business occasionally looking for signs that things are wrong or could be improved.  Piles of waste or piles of work-in-progress might indicate you could benefit from process change.

Talk to the workers on the shop floor.  What don’t they like about what they do.  What do they think needs changing.

Then talk to the supervisors. Do they identify the same potential problems as the workers?

Go back to the office and check the data. Are there any trends in output levels, quality levels, labour costs, customer satisfaction levels?

When you find something that doesn’t seem quite right, start an investigation to understand the problem or potential improvement? What might happen if you change various factors of the situation? What unintended consequences might there be?

Then start to plan the changes you think will bring benefits.  Prepare for any changes you intend to make - especially to job roles and working methods. Support your workforce through the change.

Don’t wait for productivity to come about. Seek it out and plan for it!

Saturday, 11 June 2022

Be Patient

Many business leaders think technology can give them a productivity boost.  

They may well be right.  Addressed properly, changes in technology can transform processes and make them more efficient.

However,. the gains are  not easy to unlock - and they certainly take time.

There may even be a temporary drop in productivity while new technology or a new software system is being implemented.

Often firms under prepare for, or under-resource, the changeover.  They fail to ensure they have customised the technology or system to their specific needs. Then they fail to adequately monitor the changing situation, making sure they are aware of what is working properly and what is not, what parts of the organisation need help during thew changeover process, what needs to be redone, and so on. 

Managers have four simple tasks to carry out: Organising, Planning, Monitoring and Controlling..  Managers must take the time to get all of these right.

This might delay benefits for a little time - but those benefits will come if the project is properly managed.

As the heading to this post says …. Be patient  But while being patient, Manage Well!

Saturday, 4 June 2022

Love Monday Mornings?

 If you hate Monday mornings, you are probably in the wrong job … but so many of you, I know, cannot simply change your job at this time.

Perhaps one reason so many people hate Mondays is that they have to move from the freedom of being able to choose what to do to a situation where their day is mapped out for them.

Some people in senior jobs have the luxury of mapping out their own working days - though they are, of course, guided by priorities, emergencies and so on. 

The rest of us do what we are told.  But perhaps there is something we can do.  

We can think about our week and decide not what we are going to do, but what we are going to think about while doing the tasks set out for us (assuming our job does not preclude thought).

We can plan our next holiday.

We can try to write a song.

We can plan a blog post.

We can think about an apology to someone we’ve offended.

Give  yourself a bit of freedom - and plan/create something connected with one of your interests or current problems.

Mondays might then seem quite different.  You will probably find the work easier too and you might be significantly more productive.

Saturday, 28 May 2022

Only Three Options

 When I was learning about management and productivity, one important exercise was the in-tray exercise where the student is faced with a pile of documents from an in-tray and has to work through the pile dealing with them if possible or prioritising them for later handling if that is more appropriate.  Some could perhaps be delegated to others and a small number could be ignored (such snd those where the recipient  is simply copied in to a wider-circulated note).

This was, for me, a very useful exercise where I learnt that, wherever possible, a message should be handled only once.  When at the end of the exercise, if the pile left for later handling is nearly as big as the original pile, the student has failed in this aim (of handling each paper only once).

Now things are even worse for managers.  The existence of email, internal messaging systems and social media sites such vas LinkedIn make the pile of things to deal with much bigger than it used to be in ‘paper days’

But the principle remains.

Whether a message arrives on paper or electronically, you should aim to ‘touch it’ only once.

To keep it simple, remember that you only have to decide to do one of three things:

File it, discard it (ignore it) or take action.

Often this is a simple decision.  If it isn’t, make it so.

Saturday, 21 May 2022

Careful how you read the data

I read quite a lot of studies that suggest that remote working did not and does not, negatively impact productivity.

However, I am sceptical.

The studies are generally of 2 types.

The first set are studies that essentially consist of questionnaires asking employees if they have been less productive whilst working from home.  Not surprisingly, they say ‘No’.

The other set are ‘technical studies’ which purport to show that remote employees spend as much time on their computers, make as many keystrokes and so on.

Neither of these measure outputs or achievements …. surely the only thing that really matter.

So where you look at such studies, read them carefully to see what was measured.

Saturday, 14 May 2022

Too Much Coordination?

Many employees claim they spend too much time coordinating their activity with others instead of driving forward their primary activities.

Working from home has made this worse.  Employees are forever on Zoom or Teams calls, talking about that they have done or what they are scheduled to do..  This means they are not carrying out their primary task.

Coordination is essential, of course, but managers have to find ways of making it more effective and more efficient.  Meetings should be shorter and more focused, preferably using g pictorial representations of progress that can be easily assimilated. Similarly goals, and progress towards them should be easily communicated and assessed.  Wherever possible, coordination should be part of the primary task, rather than a second order activity superimposed on top. 

This requires modified, not new, management skills and managerial processes.  Managers themselves need preparing for this new paradigm - one where communication between individual and teams automatically ensures coordination.

Are you ready for this?

Saturday, 7 May 2022

Management 2.0?

in the past, you measured how hard people were working by such things as noting who was at their desk or who spoke up in meetings, and who had extended breaks or too many days off sick.

In these days of remote and hybrid working, you’ll have to find a new way. Those simple observations are  no longer possible;.

They were not effective measures anyway. Highly productive employees probably spend less time completing their tasks than sub-standard workers.

We need to measure achievements and accomplishments rather than hours worked.

This means we have to have clear objectives and targets and measure completion or progress towards them.

Make sure employees know what is expected of them this week or month.and let them know whether this is what you got from them.

Work should be a series of journeys where employees know their destination of each, and know when they’ve reached it, not a relentless hamster wheel of repetition with no end in sight.

Managers need to know their staff, their strengths and weaknesses. their level of motivation and commitment and the level of monitoring and intervention necessary.  This could be regarded as Management 2.0 but is just Management 1.0 done properly.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

Build Your Tams - but what do we measure?

Teamwork is essential in any organisation. Each team must have clear goals and targets and must be capable of working collaboratively to achieve them.

Until a couple of years ago,. team building and team development followed well-established patterns based on a thorough understanding  of team building and associated problems.

Then pandemic and the move to working from home changed much of this established thinking.  It is not clear how remote, technology-based teams develop, and whether their development needs are the same as physically co-located teams.

We need more research and a better understanding before we can be sure of how best to change our team development practises.

In the meantime, don’t simply assume that current practises will work.  They might. … but they might not.

Certainly the need for clear goals and targets is likely to remain.    The measurement of performance and contribution to those goals and targets may change but if this helps us develop measures that are more suitable for outputs and achievements rather than inputs, so much the better.

Saturday, 23 April 2022


We hear quite a lot these days about work-life balance.  But how do you know your own balance is wrong?

Well, burnout is man obvious sign. If you are exhausted, physically or mentally, you need to re-evaluate your priorities.

But it is not always so obvious.

Another possible sign is that your health is OK  but you’re just generally running slower than you used to.  This might be a symptom of age but it might also mean you need to build more rest into your schedule to make sure that when you are at work, you are fully engaged at high power.

This also, of course, applies to your employees. If performance is inexplicably falling off, it might be the work has changed, motivation has changed for some reason, or they are just tired.  Talk to them. Find out - and do something about it (or help them do something about it).

Saturday, 16 April 2022

What Should I do on Monday Morning?

For some time I was a member of the governing Council of a UK professional body.  We had regular meetings about the forward direction and strategy for the organisation, which at its peak had abut 25,000 members.  We Council members talked, pontificated, debated important issues.  As ever, on such bodies, everybody thought they should make some contribution to the debate or discussion, whether they had something relevant and important to say or not.  The discussions went on for quite a while until the chairman remembered his role and brought discussion to an end.

The executive officer, who was the paid professional who would be responsible for implementing whatever was decided by the Council, then often had to utter the words, “So what do I do on Monday morning?” reminding Council members that grand strategy has to be translated into tactical steps and detailed action plans.

It is a sentence I have never forgotten.  Try asking it after your next management meeting. Do you have a new target, a new responsibility, a new project?  If, as a result of the meeting, there is nothing different for you to do on Monday morning, what was the point of the meeting?

Similarly, if you have a meeting with your staff, make sure they know what they have to do on  Monday morning as a result of the meeting.

Saturday, 9 April 2022

Share Progress to Ensure Shared Progress

Some managers think they need to keep an eye on their staff, fearing that, if they don’t, those staff will nor give their maximum contribution. One of the problems with ‘keeping an eye on’ them is that the staff will know they are being watched and will lose motivation immediately, fearing they are not trusted to work to the best of their ability.

Of course, managers need to be in control but they need to be more careful about why and how they do It.

It  is the work that has to be controlled, not the workers.

This is best done by comparing achievement and work completed to the planned schedule of work.  This is why we measure work and establish targets.  If those targets are set with the cooperation of the workforce and subsequent progress and achievement is also shared. the workforce will naturally seek to meet the agreed targets.

Transparency of planning and visibility of progress is much more effective than direct oversight.

Saturday, 2 April 2022

Give Them A Chance

 I talked last week about giving people decent work to do if you want them to be self-motivated.

I stand by that but, of course, it’s not the complete solution.

Many businesses overload key members of the workforce so that they burn out and either leave or go off sick.

Thankfully, in the last few years we’ve have started to hear about concerns for employee wellbeing.

Workers need to have a workload that is within their skill set and their capacity.  Of course they might have tight deadlines and challenging tasks to complete but these should not be relentless and all-consuming.

Overloading employees leads to stress, burnout, and poor productivity.

So, wellbeing is not a ‘nice to have’.  It is an essential factor in underpinning high productivity. You have to focus on engagement and wellbeing.

So, give your employees decent work and then make sure they are fit and well enough to give of their best.

Saturday, 26 March 2022

Decent Work

I have said may times in this blog that expecting higher productivity through exhortation is unlikely to be successful.

Organisations or nations need systematic processes that address the causes of low productivity - and actions to reverse or eliminate those causes.

In addition, though, employees need decent work to do … they need clear tasks which they understand and where they also understand the role of their tasks in the greater scheme of things… i.e. they should understand their role in fulfilling customer needs.  Without this knowledge, they are unlikely to be self-motivating.

Of course they also need the skills to be able to carry out their role effectively.The organisation must make sure these skills are fully developed.

If the organisation can also give employees some understanding of the drivers of high productivity, or the causes of low productivity, so much the better.  They can then be engaged as part of the productivity effort, discussing how their role can be improved - and helping investigate potential changes to working systems, processes and working methods that offer the potential for higher productivity.

The organisation should also help them to set their own targets, secure in the knowledge that those targets are not sub-optimal, causing problems elsewhere.

This is starting to sound complicated but it is actually quite simple.

Give people decent work to do, give them the skills they need and involve them in potential improvements.  Make the changes with them, not to them.

Saturday, 19 March 2022

Driving Dangerously

Many governments Introduce productivity or efficiency drives. They aIm to reduce the size of the state not by cutting services but by cutting the cost of those services.

However, few, if any, of those drives have the intended results.


Well, those governments rarely introduce systematic productivity improvement processes, and even more rarely attempt the culture change needed to make any significant change.  There are no targets, no benchmarks.

An aim without a plan is simply a wish … and there are not enough fairies around to make all the wishes come true.

Productivity by exhortation is doomed to failure.

Saturday, 12 March 2022


Many businesses (too many) concentrate on efficiency at the expense of customer service.  We have all waited too long on a customer service call or had difficulty talking to a person we want to rectify a problem.

If we mess with our customers, they may not return.  And they will make negative comments to their friends - and to the wider world on social media.

You have to do the right things before doing them right.  Concentrate on quality AND efficiency.

Saturday, 5 March 2022

Platforms for digital communication and collaboration (everything from e-mail through Google Docs to Zoom and Teams) can be very useful.  

The problem is that when organisations use several of these, individuals can lose focus and productivity.

They find they can’t find messages or files because they can’t remember on which platform they originated.  They end up asking colleagues to resend messages or files, making those people also less productive.

Also, different platforms have different user interfaces, search methods and so on - making it difficult to remember how some parts of each application or platform work.

To achieve higher productivity, multiple platforms must be integrated into a comprehensive, cohesive, and frictionless digital workplace.

Saturday, 26 February 2022

What did you do today?

Those of us charged with improving productivity can sometime get anxious about our own, personal productivity.  Are we working hard enough? If so, why isn’t the productivity of the organisation higher?

These are the wrong questions to ask.  Beating ourselves up is no way to a better future.

We should ask:

What have I done today?

What have I achieved?

What have I set in motion that will pay productivity benefits in the future?

What have I done to further the organisation’s mission and vision?

Its not about ‘how hard?’ (did I work) but ‘how effectively?’.  This applies to the rest of organisation.

“How do I create more effective systems, processes, procedures, working methods, working practices? What have I done today to work towards that?”


Saturday, 19 February 2022

Training needs to catch up

 Productivity requires employees to be fully trained in all aspects of their work role, preferably  including being aware of the organisation’s declared mission snd overall strategy.

The problem for the organisation is that training can be expensive - especially in terms of taking an employee away from the workplace.

One standard answer is “If you think training is expensive, try ignorance and incompetence”.

But another problem is that too many organisations  have failed to keep up with cultural and technological changes.

Over the last 20 years we have created the ‘video generation’.  People expect to learn things on YouTube rather than in books.  They automatically choose a source with pictures - and preferably moving ones.

Training is still, however, largely done verbally rather than visually.  Going visual, to many trainers, means adding the occasional graphic to their PowerPoint presentation.

Not good enough.

We all have the technology in our phones to take high quality video with sound. Video editing software is available for computers, tablets and even phones. So why aren’t trainers using more video - for workplace  snd even home-based training.

They may not have the skills to create effective materials….. but if they can’t help themselves to develop the necessary skills, what on earth is their credibility as professional trainers?

Physician - heal thyself!

Saturday, 12 February 2022

A simple productivity tip

Many of us have computers at home. We may use them for work-rerated tasks (especially now more of us spend at least some working time at home) or for social/leisure purposes.

We tend to use a small set of applications on a regular basis - a word processor, a spreadsheet app, email, messaging, task management, a calendar, and so on.

We end up with lots of files on our computer (and perhaps additionally in  ‘the cloud’).

Finding those files when we need them can sometimes be tricky - but finding all the files we need for further work on a complex project can be particularly tricky.

The obvious solution - though oner that many people do not practise - is, rather than allowing applications to store folders in their default folder - to create folders relating to a particular task, topic or project.  This takes a little effort at the time  but saves so much time subsequently.  You can , if you wish, use sub-folders to separate files of different types or different sub-topics.

An alternative, if your computer supports it, is to ‘tag’ files with the name of the task, topic or project.

You can then identify and recall all files for your further work on, or updating of, a project.

i am sorry if many of you have found this tip too simple and obvious but I asm sure some readers will have found it useful.  I don’t think i should ever really apologise for simplicity.

Saturday, 5 February 2022

Simple Productivity Gains

If you are doing some DIY work at home, say building a new cupboard, you might perform badly when compared to a professional joiner building the same cupboard. He is likely to build a higher quality cupboard and to build it faster.   His productivity is obviously greater.

Why does he outperform you?

Probably for two main reasons. He is likely to have a better set of tools and equipment in his professional toolbag than you do in your home toolbox.

Secondly, he will have been better trained and will have honed his skills through his experience as s professional joiner.  

This is a general lesson.

In companies, employees will perform better if they have the right tools and equipment, and the right skills.

So, regularly review your technology deployment to make sure it is appropriate and ‘up to the job’, and that it is part of an effective processing system.

Then review your processes for skills diagnosis and development.  Do you have the skills you need to operate that technology effectively?  How are those skills likely to change over the next few years?  What must you do to ensure your employees acquire/develop those new or changed skills?

Skills empower employees to deliver better work and to take greater pride in their work.

So, this is a truly win-win situation. You get higher productivity; your employees get greater job satisfaction.

Saturday, 29 January 2022

Don't Always Focus

Focus! Focus! Focus!  That’s the advice we are given. If we focus, we can perform, we can achieve.

But as with all such exhortations, such simplistic advice, such trite sayings, there is another side to examine.

Those who don;t focus all the time, who don’t keep their mind fixed on the way ahead, on the goal, are the ones that will have the sideways thought, the idea of a new direction, the innovative idea, the recognition of new ways of doing things.

Innovation does not arise from rigid thinking, from doing what we’ve always done but working harder at it, concentrating more.  We need new inputs to create new insights, new stimuli to create new ideas.

So, by all means, consider the goal and the direction of travel. But for some periods at least, allow your mind to wander down new paths, to explore things so far unexplored.

A single focus can be limiting.

Saturday, 22 January 2022

There are Few, Quick Fixes

Lowering working  hours may give a quick boost but is not sustainable.

There have  been numerous reports lately of organisations cutting working  hours to increase  the engagement of employees, whilst paying the same salaries.  This is said to improve productivity.

I am somewhat skeptical of such reports - and of the projects that  generate them.

I am totally in favour of increasing  the engagement of employees but this has to be done in ways that are sustainable in the longer-term. We have to raise and then maintain engagement.  

This normally means changing the nature of the work and of working, and supervisory, relationships.

Just giving the same  money for fewer working hours may give a short-term boost but is not sustainable.  Remember the Hawthorne effect? (If you don’t, Google it.)

Of course, I could be proved wrong but I doubt it.

Think more carefully about what you expect people to do, how you engage with them and how you supervise and control them.

There are few productivity quick fixes.  

Saturday, 15 January 2022


Story-telling is becoming recognised as a very effective means of communication. People react better to an interesting narrative than to a boring set of facts or exhortations.

So, telling people your vision, and what you expect them to do to support it, is largely a waste of time.  

But tell them a story set in the future of your organisation, which includes their future, and your can interest, inspire and motivate them to help you create the vision outlined in, and by, the story. 

Saturday, 8 January 2022

Short-term thinking, short-term success

 If we give our staff a list of objectives to meet or tasks to complete, they will generally do so. After all, most come to work to do a good job and to please their employer.

If we give them lots of tasks to do, they will need to prioritise.  Their priorities will not necessarily be the same as ours.

There will be a tendency for them to complete all the quick, short duration tasks as this will make their completed lists look longer.  Unfortunately, this probably means they leave very important, longer-duration tasks at the back of the queue.  

If not careful, you will hamper long-term success for a few quick wins.

Prioritisation is too important to leave to them. You must share with them what you believe is really important and what, for example, may be urgent but trivial.

You need to MANAGE; you can’t leave it to them.