Reflections

Approaching the end of another year is a time for reflection – personal reflection and, if you are brave enough, organisational reflection.  What have you – and your organisation – learned this year that will make you better next year.

It might be something about your products, your processes, your customers, your competitors … or your own approach to managing your own area.

It may not revolutionise what you do – or how you do it … but there must be something.

If not, what have you been thinking about all year?

What happens next?

Labour productivity is all over the place for many Western nations.  It rises, it slows, it plateaus.  It is hard to predict as these countries struggle to climb out of recession.  Productivity fuels economic growth – but then employment and wages catch up and productivity levels off. 

Many organisations are spending all their attention on just ‘staying alive’ – they believe that productivity can wait … or that it will take care of itself.

It won’t.  We all know the problems that can accrue if you spend your time on the urgent things and forget to address the important ones.

More organisations need to be thinking NOW about their future performance.

Local clustering

Clusters have been proved to a useful development tool – bringing together companies – and people – from similar industries/activities – to share knowledge and  experience, and to collaborate. 

A similar effect can be created locally by bringing together employees from within the company to discuss problems, issues, projects, developments – sharing perspectives from designers, engineers, administrators, and so on.

Such ‘bringing together’ could be formal – company project days, for example – or could simply be the result of shared relaxation/refreshment space.

Think about how you can get your employees to interact with one another – if only 10% of that interaction is directly work-related, you will reap the benefits.

Personally ….

This blog is concerned with regional, national and organisational productivity. Rarely do we ‘stray into’ personal productivity – largely because I think it is more or less irrelevant in terms of raising those other productivities – they are based on the effectiveness and productivity of processes and systems – not individual people,.

However, I read recently that an air passenger – on a  plane with a new WiFi service – had been landed a hefty bill (over $1500) for what he thought was fairly modest usage.  It set me thinking about ‘strategies’ to use that travel time to good effect.

Of course there are the ‘air warriors’ who reach for their laptop 5 minutes after takeoff and clatter away for the rest of the flight. 

Not me!  I use the time for …. thinking, …. even daydreaming.  I find such quality, free time very rare – but it is a precious resource and shouldn’t be wasted on menial e-tasks such as email, spreadsheeting or the like.

So think before you take your laptop out – then put it away and continue thinking.  It will pay dividends 

If this still sounds too much like ‘work’, try … resting.  That also pays dividends.

 

Please distract me

I recently had a day off – by ‘off’ I mean no fixed appointments.

I decided to work from home – but I found I got little done.

I found the peace and quiet, the lack of telephone noise, the absence of colleague chatter quite disconcerting. 

Is it because I need those things to remind me I am ‘at work’?  Or do they, in some more meaningful way, change the ‘atmosphere’.

Is it like teenagers who prefer to ‘study’ to the sound of loud music.  Do such obvious ‘distractions’ blot out real distractions and help us focus?

What do we mean by …

I was in Italy recently … and I used public transport quite a bit – trains and buses.  All the journeys I made were on time, and to schedule.

Of course, public transport is subsidised in most European countries – by governments as part of the national infrastructure.   This set me thinking about the nature of ‘productivity’ at this national, overarching level. 

For example, the national railway could be ‘inefficient’ but could contribute to productivity in other sectors (by moving goods and people efficiently to/from factories and workplaces).

Similarly, at organisational level, we must not take decisions that are sub-optimal – that look to be ‘right’ in a smaller context, but might be ‘wrong’ when looking at a ‘bigger picture’.

Do things differently

At the end of your next day at work ask yourself … “If we carry on working like this on these tasks, how will we be different – and better – in 5 years time?” 

If you cannot answer that, you need to do some things differently – or some additional things. Otherwise nothing is driving change. 

Organisations that stay the same get overtaken.  The best organisations have a continual programme of review, change and improvement – making incremental (and occasionally large) improvements to processes, systems and tasks – and to the skills of their people.

Productivity or Quality?

I have been in discussions many times with businessmen and advisers about whether firms should concentrate on their productivity or their quality – which has the biggest impact on success.

Of course the quick answer is “Both” – they are not mutually exclusive!

But I remember listening to my colleague (and former president of WCPS) Tor Dahl who used to suggest that productivity initiatives release energy and innovation (they unfreeze the organisation); quality initiatives standardise systems and processes to ‘lock in’ quality (and they freeze the organisation).  Another way of putting it is that quality initiatives help cement the gains realised by a productivity initiative.

So, we do need them both – but not necessarily sat the same time.  There seems to be a natural sequence of productivity-quality-productivity-quality.

Does the productivity of education matter?

We occasionally see reports or thoughts on the productivity of education – but it is a tricky situation to get to grips with … partly because it is so hard to define outputs – and especially effective outputs. 

Does it matter?  Isn’t education something we just have to provide?

Well, it matters.  Just take a look at the investment in education of any advanced country.  Millions or billions of dollars.  If we could improve the productivity of that investment, we could release some of that funding for other purposes – social development, cultural development, better healthcare –  or whatever.

So, next time you see a debate, join in – add your views to the structured discussion necessary to advance thinking on how we address this tricky – but important – issue.

Vertical Links?

There are lots of sites and blogs on the web which purport to be about productivity.  Many of these are about what might be termed ‘personal productivity’ – time management, self-motivation, etc. 

This set me thinking.

Is there a natural connection between national productivity, organisational productivity and personal productivity?

My own view – based solely on my experience, but not on any formal, structured research – is that national productivity could broadly be regarded as the aggregate of organisational productivity, but that organisational productivity has little to do with any aggregate of personal productivity. Organisational productivity is much more a function of the effectiveness of processes, systems and procedures – over which individuals have little control.

So, by all means encourage your employees to manage their time and their own workflow within the limits they do control – but don’t expect that to have a significant impact on the performance of your organisation.