When nations establish productivity campaigns and initiatives, one feature is often financial support for companies (snd perhaps universities and support agencies).
Firms are encouraged to apply for grant funding for additional resources or for specific support (for advice and consultancy, for example).
Some firms are obviously successful – and some are not.
The problem with such an approach is twofold.
Firstly, it encourages firms to become good at applying for grants – rather than being good at their core competencies. Firms learn how to play this new game.
Secondly, it can help ‘shore up’ poorly performing firms – which does little for longer-term national productivity.
So, my recommendation is – don’t do it .By all means (I would encourage you to) have a productivity campaign – but don’t make grant funding central to it.
Sometimes you hear or see something which really surprises you – and makes you think hard about your existing frame of reference. Take this which I heard on the radio the other day…
A scientist who takes his inspiration for new inventions/innovations from the animal world (sorry, I can’t recall his name) suggested that the received wisdom about the wheel being the greatest ever invention was fundamentally flawed. The result he suggested of this flaw is that we have spent fortunes paving the world. If we hadn’t invented the wheel but had spent our time developing transport that could cope with uneven ground (as animals can), we would have saved all that investment – and had much more flexible transport systems.
What other received wisdom has similar ‘flaws? How can we unlearn and undevelop in ways that will create higher productivity?
I saw a piece recently suggesting that India has to choose between its traditional focus on spirituality and morality – and on modern profit-focused business methods.
What say I? I say ‘Rubbish!”
There is no dichotomy here. The two are perfectly in harmony. Indeed I would argue that morality (but perhaps less so, spirituality) is essential. Building a mission and vision on a core set of values with a strong moral focus is a good way to engage employees – and have them make a strong, positive contribution
So there is no choice. We can – and indeed should - have both! This is why WCPS promotes a focus on SEE (social, environmental and economic) productivity.
We expect our staff to work hard and to do their best. But what is ‘best’. I would contend it is something to do with always being aware of the company’s mission, vision and values ands always acting in furtherance of the mission and vision whilst acting in accordance with company values … and wherever and whenever possible doing so pro-actively off their own initiative.
This, of course, begs the question – do our employees know, and understand the company’s mission and vision – and are they aware of the core values we expect? If my ‘definition, is right, and they do not know these things, they cannot be expected to do their best. If they don’t, it is our fault, not theirs
The UK’s productivity performance – as reported by the Office for National Statistics and used in international performance tables- has been woeful recently. I know I have argued in the past that the measurement scheme seems inherently flawed but that is irrelevant to today’s argument.
There seems a consensus emerging that the figures are so bad – and have been for so long – that the problem is insoluble. Certainly no-one seems to have come up with a plan to address the situation.
I know there is no magic bullet – no quick and easy fix …. but we can tackle the issue by making sure we take a holistic approach in which government does what it can (with infrastructure and skills), organisations do what they can (with long-term investment, improvement programmes and skills), unions do what they can (with constructive partnerships and skills) and education/training does what it can (with targeted knowledge and skills).
You can probably see a theme emerging here. We need a high skill, multi-skill workforce. We don’t currently have one. We perhaps need a lesser focus on knowledge (more easily provided in a high-tech, AI world) and a greater one on competence and flexibility. If we invest in a high skill workforce, everyone benefits – the individuals with the skills, companies who need the skilled workforce – and the nation with higher productivity.
Perhaps after all, there is a magic bullet!
Some universities and colleges in the US are now being funded according to a productivity-based formula. Does this make sense?
What is the productivity of a university? how is it measured? Number of degrees per $1,000 of investment?
Get it wrong – and universities will play the measurement game – making the figures move in the direction which benefits them financially even if this is not the most appropriate measure.
This is not to suggests that productivity is not important – after all universities are spending public money – and should be held accountable for it.
But if we get the measure wrong – we get the wrong result. Universities might benefit – but society won’t. So we need a good, healthy debate on what the measure – or measures – should be.
A recent discussion paper from the African Union suggests that the fact that Asia has achieved the highest economic growth rates in the world in the last half century may not be unrelated to the existence of many vibrant National Productivity Organizations (NPOs) in the Asia-Pacific region and the activities of the Asian Productivity Organization (APO), the only intergovernmental regional organization that is actively promoting the cause of productivity.
Can the AU (and PAPA – the PanAfrican Productivity Association) match the impact of APO?
Well, they are going to try. Let’s wish them well. The world needs a productive Africa!
BUT are the existing NPOs in Africa ‘vibrant’? Sadly, I fear not. But a new, collective initiative might re-energise them – especially if they have government and AU support.
At a recent Institute of Management Services event in the UK, I was lucky to share a platform with Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas – -a an expert in corporate transformation.
His views (thankfully) overlapped with, and complemented, mine.
My ‘executive takeaway’ of his presentation is that:
In high performing organisations, rarely are key business processes carried out exactly as specified and trained. They rely on people who are above average and above mere compliance.
We need to explore new models and build flexible, adaptable, networked organisations – combinations of people and technology.
Think about those statements for a minutes or two – and then think how you can enact them.
Productivity doesn’t just happen – it has to be designed in to the business, supporting the overall strategic vision and plan and underpinned by the establishment of key metrics.
So, you need a plan. What are you going to change? What are you going to investigate? What do toy NEED to change? Where are your problems? Where are your opportunities for improvement? Where might technology help? How might you develop your staff to help them improve your business? What do your competitors do better than you?
Answering these – and similar – questions should help you stat the planning process.
You don’t need a revolution – but you do need to think about where you might make a number of small improvements that could make a difference – impacting on what you do or how you do it – and impacting on your ‘bottom line’.
So, as from next week – or even today – question, think, plan and act.
In 1940, one farmer supplied about 11 people with food for the year. Changes over time -especially in technology – mean that today the average farmer in the United States supplies 155 people with food for the year.
How many industries can match that kind of productivity growth?
But history is not important.
A more important question is …Where will the next phase of growth come from?
Has technology still got potential for us? Have new pesticides? Or doe we need new practices, new systems of crop growth.
We certainly need new ideas if we are to feed the growing global population.