Work with the new reality

Most developed countries have experienced lower rates of productivity development since the great recession – and nobody seems to know why.

However, it does seem as though these low growth rates might be with us for some time.

For any one country, this means that the key is to simply have a higher growth rate than your near competitors – and stop worrying about the absolute figure.

Low productivity growth can still create a successful economy – and actually helps employment levels.

So, accept the new reality – and work within it.


Do you need a long view?

Most of us want to help our organisations be productive – but we also want to be kind to the environment .  Can these aims be reconciled?

Well, yes! – but sometimes it depends on the timeframe you are looking at.

Take agriculture as an example.

Using pesticides and fertilisers can increase yield (increasing productivity) – but over a long period may have a detrimental effect on the soil leading to lower yields in that longer-term.

So, if you have a problem about conflicting aims, try to look at the big picture and look at it over an extended period before tasking your decision as to what to prioritise.

Achieve balance, Improve performance

Work-life balance is important.  If ‘work’ takes over, you end up stressed and ineffective.  If ‘life’ rakes over, you fail to achieve,

So, how do we achieve ‘balance’?

Well, here’s a simple tip.

When you create your ToDo list and prioritise tasks, make sure you create entries for both sides – the work and the life – and treat them with equal seriousness.  Assess importance and urgency of both – and think carefully about success criteria.   If you don’t achieve the ‘life’ goals, consider yourself to have failed.

In effect, you are creating a work-life balanced scorecard. And, as you improve your balance, you will find your work achievements rise.

Minimum Wage is bad for productivity

In the UK, as in quite a few other countries, there is a minimum wage set by government.  In  the UK, this has recently risen fuelled by the introduction of what is called the National Living Wage.

(We will ignore, for now, any discussion on whether this means it was impossible to live on the previous minimum wage.)

The use of these legal impositions on wage rates suggests a low wage economy – and in many sectors – social care, retail, as two examples, this is true.

The problem with low wage economies is that they mitigate against increased productivuty.

Real productivity gains often arise from the substitution of labour by capital – taking away inefficient manual work or assisting it with technology.  In a low wage economy, there is little incentive for firms to make such investments. Why take the risk?

This is one reason why countries like the UK are finding it so hard to climb out of the great economic depression.

Be Physical

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is making good progress and we have seen computers doing very well at strategy games like Chess and Go.

AI is ideal for situations where a large quantity of data has to be processed as the basis of a ‘logical’ decision.  This applies in strategy games, and in commercial activities such as stock and commodity trading.

So computers can play chess.  But they can’t easily pick up the chess pieces.  They are much less adept physically than ‘mentally’.

This means that as the next generation of schoolkids start to look for jobs, a number of what are currently high paid jobs might be being performed by computers.

Those kids should look to become plumbers, gardeners or carpenters – working physically and flexibly.

Will this result in a redistribution of wealth from knowledge workers to manual workers? That remains to be seen. But the manual workers might have work – and feel engaged and rewarded by that work.

Not Good Enough

The UK Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) suggests the productivity picture might finally be starting to change.

The EEF recently unveiled some mixed findings. On the positive front, its report – Productivity: the state of the manufacturing nation – revealed that over six in ten UK manufacturers (64%) achieved productivity growth in the past two years, while 57% expect to make further gains in the next two. It also points out that manufacturing’s productivity growth outpaced the service sector and the UK economy as a whole in the two decades to 2014, suggesting that, while the manufacturing sector might not have the size and critical mass it once had, it is an altogether leaner animal than in days gone by.

However, the key message from the EEF would appear to be that manufacturers cannot rest on their laurels – indeed, almost half of manufacturers (49%) questioned by said the UK manufacturing’s productivity lags behind competitor nations.

So, reasonable progress but the report card suggests “Could do better”

Brave New World?

How will the Internet of Things (IoT) impact on productivity – of different sectors

We know that lots of (mainly technology) companies are betting big on IoT  - but is this investment wise?

For consumers, developments like smart thermostats, smart lighting and so on are interesting – but how compulsive a purchase are they?  The ability to control my lights from my hone is pointless if I am not at home and unnecessary if I am.

Of course, I’m probably missing the point, failing to see the ‘vision’  Perhaps IoT is not a consumer-led change … perhaps it is industry that will reap the benefits.

I need to go now – and think about the brave new world.  Perhaps you do too. All of the investment going on will drive change – but not necessarily in planned directions.  The winners will be those that first spot the twists, turns and diversions on the road ahead.


Failure is not an option.

The USA recently held National Agriculture Day.

A key concern expressed by many of those participating this year was the need for greater investments in the very foundation of American agriculture: the research, development and extension services required to maintain the high productivity and environmental sustainability of American farmers and ranchers and to provide sufficient nutritious food, fibre and biofuel for a growing world.

Challenges include the multiyear drought in California and many Western states; threats from disease affecting livestock, poultry and citrus crops; nutrition and obesity-related health issues; and a troubling shortage of young farmers and veterinarians choosing agriculture as a profession.

But we cannot afford to fail – the global population will rise by 2.3 billion by 2050.  We have to feed all those people!

My secret of success?

What are the secrets to productivity development at the national level?

Well, after many years experience in a range of countries, I would have to say “Don’t ask me”.

There is no panacea, no golden bullet.

If I had to offer any advice, it would be to ;

  • Get the macroeconomy right – reduce regulation, open up markets
  • Invest in infrastructure (especially communications – roads, ports, airports – and telecommunications)
  • Invest in skills  (basic, vocational and technical).
  • Be lucky!

Does it make you happy?

A number of agencies, and even countries, have attempted to create measures of ‘happiness’ – as an alternative to using GDP to value the work undertaken by people.

This needs further work – but shows some promise. Lots of activity is currently not ‘caught’ in official GDP figures.  The work of volunteers, for example … or the work of people that goes into ‘free’ services.  When you use ‘free’ apps on your smartphone of tablet, your work might be ,more productive – and this might contribute to a ‘better’ GDP figure …. but often it won’t.

The whole point of productivity is to make people more ‘wealthy’ – but we need to measure wealth in ways that reflects the priorities of citizens and workers.  If people value leisure time over consumer goods, we might prioritise reduced working hours over increased GDP – and we might prefer to measure something like ‘well-being’ (or even ‘happiness’) over simple economic activity.