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.
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!
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.
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. Organisartikons that fail to recognise – and act on – this are doomed to poor industrial relations and low contribution levels from their staff.
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 get 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 we 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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.