Crest of a wave?

McKinsey is suggesting that the recent sluggish productivity performance in the developed world might be coming to an end.  We might soon see productivity rises like we did before the economic downturn – of the order of 2% per year.

Are they right?

Only time will tell.  The time is right – but are the conditions right?  Has all that quantitative easing improved the productivity infrastructure and prepared businesses for an upturn?  Have we been developing skills? Are there technological breakthroughs in the pipeline?

(The answers are maybe, maybe and maybe – but, as we know from history, cycles occur for no good reason – ups and downs …. so perhaps the time is right and enough has been done to ride a wave.  So much of economics is down to confidence anyway that if McKinsey can convince enough people they are right, it will probably become a self-fulfilling prophecy. )

So good for McKinsey.  I’m with them.  Let’s all talk higher productivity – and then deliver what measures we can in our own sphere to make it happen.

See you in the boom times.

Change employment practices – to retain talent.

The world of employment has been changing for some time – especially in developed nations.  More people work part-time, change jobs frequently and have multiple jobs and ‘portfolio’ careers.

What are the implications for productivity?

One obvious point is that it becomes more important to get people ‘up to speed’ very quickly – what is often these days termed the ‘onboarding process’.  It is imperative that organisations take this process seriously and do all they can to engage employees early and often, giving them the knowledge and skills they need to fill any gaps – but also to motivate them to add maximum value.

Another implication is that retaining knowledge and talent is important – so if the job market is changing, perhaps organisations need to change their practices to reflect this. One approach is to offer employees a ‘tour of duty’ rather than a job – agree with them the outcomes they are to produce over a given project/timescale.  When the tour of duty is complete, they either move on -or agree another tour.  This retains their talent but still gives them the benefits of a portfolio career -  variety of work and experience, and a degree of freedom.

It is possible to move with the times – and win …. but only when you recognise the ‘spirit of the times’  and act accordingly.

Chicken or Egg?

Do motivated employees create good work and higher productivity?  Yes!

But this is a ‘What came first? Chicken or egg?’ scenario.

I would argue that giving employees good work motivates them and leads to higher productivity.

An effective business leader creates good jobs – and engages employees with regard to their role in the organisation.  The engaged employee now works for an organisation that seems to value them – and they respond by engaging more fully with their role.

The organisation (via higher productivity) and the employee (via greater job satisfaction) both win.

Why don’t we do it?

Recently I was writing some course material on improving innovation and I suggested there that to make people more innovative, you need them engaged and you need to give them freedom to explore.

Then I came across Gallup’s new State of the Global Workplace report which suggests that only 15% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs.

If both of these are correct, then it is not surprising that the world is struggling to improve innovation and productivity.

Developing our people (human capital?) is the single most important thing we can do. Yet, many do not do it.

Please explain!

Is well-being good for business?

n the UK, much attention has been focused recently on mental health issues – with a dawning of understanding of the sheer scale – and the growing impact – of various mental health conditions … including the impact on workplace productivity.

Now research by Curaiink Healthcare suggest that properly constructed and focused  Employee Assistance Programmes can result in meaningful and lasting behaviour change that decreases absenteeism, increases productivity and improves healthcare outcomes for employees who present with depression and alcohol abuse.

Many of us have known for some time that well-being is an important productivity factor and that programmes that improve employee well-being are an investment rather than a cost.   Evidence which corroborates this view is welcome.

Peru leads the way

As Peru prepares to celebrate the 2021 bicentenary of its independence, the government has set itself one major goal: to make Peru a full member of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The aim is to adopt public policies that meet established OECD standards and provide Peru with an important opportunity to strengthen its institutions and consolidate the country’s development.  But in order to do so, there remain important industrial gaps that will have need be bridged, especially in terms of productivity.

The most important part of this is the fact that Peru has set a goal and an aim that should motivate the country to perform.

If more countries adopted an aim based on productivity development, we might see some dramatic changes to global productivity – and to the global economy.

Are the workers to blame?

There has been a debate in Trinidad yesterday about whether workers (and especially their poor attendance) is to blame for low productivity. Trades unions say ‘No’.

I agree with the unions.

In my experience, poor productivity within an organisation is almost always a ‘system or culture failure’. Either work is badly organised or the culture of the organisation mitigates against high engagement and high performance by workers.

Managers also, of course, hold the levers for change.  If they cannot improve productivity, they are not managing effectively.


I often say that I have built my career on asking stupid questions. Improving productivity is all about asking questions.  Why do we do it like that?  Who is responsible for this?  Why do it that way? Where should this be done?  Why do we do this at all?

However, I have come to realise that asking questions is not the answer.  The real secret is listening to the answers you are given and sorting out the valid answers from the questionable.  In lean terms it is also necessary to ‘go to Gemba’ – find out for yourself what is happening.  Observe as well as listen.
None of this is difficult.  But is is amazing how many people don’t do it.  They listen to what the manager tells them – and accept it without checking with the guys (snd girls) who actually do it ‘on the ground’.
So listen, ask questions and observe reality. Then you might understand.  If you understand, you have the chance to improve.

Where next for India?

India’s economic performance over the last 15 years has been exceptional – matched only by China.

But history is not what matters – how is India going to maintain, or even increase – growth over the next 10-15 years.

Well, it currently performs well in quite a few areas – but not in innovation. its  R&D spend is low – it does not have great technology transfer from academia, and though it has a highly educated workforce, its record on skills development is also poor.

India needs fewer MBAs and more technicians.  The problem is that everyone wants an MBA – and everyone’s Mom & Dad wants their child to have an MBA.  India thus needs a shift in education and training policy – but this has to be matched with a shift in culture – so that high level technical skills are valued and coveted.

Work goes where the skills are

Supercar manufacturer McClaren is to create almost 200 jobs in South Yorkshire, UK manufacturing chassis which are currently made in Europe and sent to the UK to form the basis of the assembly process.  Why did McClaren choose South Yorkshire?  Because South Yorkshire (and Sheffield in particular) has a history of investing in Advanced Manufacturing techniques and skills.

My colleague Tom Tuttle, a board member of the World Confederation of Productivity Science, in his recent book looked at the reasons why some areas in America were more successful in securing inward investment than others – and one key point to emerge was that manufacturers take factories (and jobs) to where the skills are.

So Sheffield snd South Yorkshire are getting a return on their investment and securing a manufacturing future for the region.

It is good to see their long-term commitment bearing fruit.