What do you want?

I saw a piece on the web the other day that suggested that sensible, progressive governments should offer incentives to organisations to improve their productivity.

But organisations surely want to improve their productivity because it reduces their costs, improves their performance and competitiveness and improves their profits.

If this is not enough of an incentive, I worry about the kinds of people running modern businesses.

They may not know HOW to improve their productivity but they should know WHY they need to.

So government support should be in that ‘HOW’ domain – offering guidance and support … but more importantly, improving the infrastructure that supports higher productivity and creates potential for performance growth.

Are we really so bad?

The UK continues to languish behind the rest of the G7 in terms of its quoted productivity performance – yet my personal experience is that performance of the UK labour force has risen remarkably over the last few years.  This suggests that either I am mistaken (certainly a possibility as mine is only anecdotal evidence) or the official figures are in some way ‘wrong’. 

Official figures measure GDP per worker or per hour worked – but what happens to outsourced work.  Are those hours worked counted? Is that contribution to GDP counted? Do other countries count figures in the same way? Has anyone carried out any recent research into the compilation of these comparative figures?  How does a shift from manufacturing to services affect the figures? 

I think a review/overhaul might be in order?

Look inward – and be ready

The world is getting into another economic mess as it reacts to slowing growth in China.

However, countries in the West should look to their own performance.

I know China’s slowdown means there is less demand for Western goods and services … but this means that now is a good time to concentrate on building the infrastructure needed to underpin higher productivity.

When the upturn comes – as it will – we need to be ready … with a supply of competitive and innovative goods and services.

… and who executes

I talked last week about the need to think about key issues well in advance of them coming to pass. (The example I used was driverless cars saying we, collectively, should be thinking now about the algorithms used to determine the action the car’s systems should take in the event of a potential accident – to save the driver, a pedestrian, another vehicle or….)

But, of course, in other scenarios, thinking is not enough.  Lots of companies, for example, have had great strategies crafted by lots of successful strategic thinking – but they have then failed to execute effectively.

So good thinking must be followed by good execution.  You need a team around you who can do both.  So, look at your team and decide who are the thinkers, who are the executors.  Do you have enough of both – and can you act as the link between them.  Someone has to!

Who is thinking for us?

We are in the age of driverless cars. Experts predict that a commercial, driverless car is less than a decade away.

But in the event of a potential accident, who does the car save – the driver, a pedestrian about to be hit, the occupants of another vehicle?

The algorithms built into the car’s systems will determine the answer … but who has devised those algorithms .. and based on whose thinking.

These are issues that should be concerning us now .. not in 5 years time when we are in the car not driving it.

Leave Home

Many of us work, at least for some of the time, from, home.

Yet, many of us find it hard to be fully productive.

For people whose work involves a lot of home working, it might be worth considering a shared workspace that offers both support facilities and social interaction.

Of course it will cost you, but it offers more structure to your working day and to your work practises.

Remember your values

This  is the first blog post of the new year.  It should perhaps therefore have a strong message of positivity for that new year. 

But that new year, for you, will be what you make it.  reading my blog posts might be of some little interest to you – but it is not going to change how you behave – or what you do.

So, I leave you to find your own positive way forward.  My only piece of advice is to always remember who you are, and what your true values are. If what you do fits with those values, you won’t go far wrong!  This works at a personal level – and at an organisational level.

English language – is it good for us?

We, in the UK and US, are lucky to have English as our mother tongue.  It has become the de facto language of trade and commerce.

So, we have a ‘head start’ in trade negotiations.

However it also means that people inn the UK and US are not motivated to learn other languages.  We simply assume that everyone else will learn English.

This means that we also do not pick up on cultural differences that language learning helps to educate about.  This can make English speakers culturally insensitive – not recognising the nuances of culture, language – and body language – that people convey in trade (and other) discussions. 

So our great asset is something of a liability – cutting us off from the learning that others get as a bonus with their language learning.

We need to work hard to make up this deficit.

Does technology improve productivity?

Does technology help or hinder productivity & performance?  

There are two basic schools of thought on this issues – though, as ever, these are not straightforward

The first is that the introduction of technology can transform processes for the better, improving both quality and productivity.  Of course, this school of thought is largely promulgated by suppliers of the technology, keen to sell a positive message about their products.  The evidence is not so clear. We all know organisations that have ‘automated’ their processes using technology – but then found that they have automated their inefficient or unreliable processes, so that their key outcome is that they can now make mistakes and errors faster.

The second major school of thought, however, is that the introduction of many modern technologies – such as email and other forms of messaging – simply results in high levels of distraction for employees.

The truth is, of course, either somewhere in the middle – or, more likely, a combination of the two schools – some technology-based projects result in positive productivity gains; some do not.  It depends on how such projects are implemented – and whether the introduction of the technology is a part of an overall strategy, clearly linked to the overall vision of the organisation and its strategic objectives.

Back from the city

All developing countries go through a stage of urbanisation – as people leave the countryside and flock to the cities in pursuit of a share of the wealth that cities create.

This generally results in higher national productivity.

However, those same countries need to address productivity in, and of, the countryside.

In a typical agriculture supply chain, there is plenty of scope for value to be lost – right from planting through to cropping, processing and distribution.  The best producing countries maximise value at all stages in the process.

This has the advantage of retaining labour in the countryside – and helping balance the economy,