What a way to run Christmas?

Saturday 12th December has been dubbed “Out of Stock Saturday” by logistics analysts Clear Returns, as it will be the day when the largest number of UK retailers’ stock will be tied up in the returns loop and unavailable to buy.  They know this as it happens every year. 

So does Christmas! 

Yet peak, seasonal demand seems to surprise many firms each year.

It seems as though the art of sales forecasting and seasonal adjustment of those forecasts is a lost art. 

Perhaps I need to change the focus of some of the training I do …. to solve a problem that everyone seems to know will occur, but no-one seems to prepare for.

Help those who help themselves

The title of this post is one of those things our parents taught us when we were kids. It was suggested that we should prioritise our support towards those who were already attempting their own recovery from a problem.

Well, if you still subscribe to that philosophy, I urge you to contribute to the current appeal to help Ethiopia deal with its current severe drought.

Over the last few years, Ethiopia has made great progress with its underlying productivity and economic situation – becoming one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.  They have tried very hard – and largely succeeded – in building a modern economy.  

They deserve our help.  Please give it.

We all need help

Do you read the wise words of the business gurus, the management thought leaders?

No, me neither.

Of course these guys (for they usually are guys) must have done something right to get to where they are – to achieve their fame/notoriety.

But that doesn’t mean they can necessarily create simple, pithy messages of use to you and me.

Perhaps they can when filtered through a professional writer or editor – but possibly not using their own literary skills.

Similarly, there are times when we all need help translating our raw knowledge or skills into useful end products.  The best thing we can all do is to build a team around us that has skills that complement – not duplicate – our own.

SME productivity growth

The third Albion Growth Report, designed to shed light on the factors that both create and impede growth among over 1,000 UK SMEs, highlights significant regional differences in tackling the productivity gap: 54 per cent of business owners in the South West said they will increase productivity over the next two years followed by 52 per cent of those in Yorkshire, London and South East. The least confident regions are the North West, East Midlands and West Midlands with only 46 per cent expecting further improvements.

According to the Report, the most common measures taken by firms to boost productivity have been better processes, (30 per cent), technology (24 per cent ), training (18 per cent) and flexible working hours (12 per cent).

When asked how the Government can help SMEs to increase productivity, 42 per cent said that investment in fixed line broadband would deliver the biggest benefits, followed by roads (31 per cent) and affordable housing (25 per cent).

Its not rocket science, is it?  So, why don’t more firms invest in such factors?  And who doesn’t the government do what these SMES ask?  And, of course, this does’t apply just to the UK.  Those factors look fairly geographically-independent to me.

Big Data saves the world??

The World Productivity Congress is proving to be very interesting.

Just before the event I read an article by Robert Gordon about the state of US productivity, the gist of which was that the major innovations of the period 1870-1970 fuelled productivity growth but now we have ‘used them up’ and productivity is stagnating, compounded by the fact that we are incurring extra costs coping with the negative (environmental) effects of those innovation.

At this event we hear lots of papers extolling the virtues of Big Data in terms of creating Smart Cities, new forms of healthcare, competitive advantage – and so on.

Will this be reflected in the economic and productivity figures of the next few years – or decades?

We have to hope so – or our children and grandchildren are in for a long period of slow growth or stagnation.

Listening … and learning

I am in Halifax (Nova Scotia) for the World Productivity Congress (being held in partnership with the Big Data Conference). This gives me 2 (well, at least 2) opportunities.

Firstly, I can meet up with old friends and contacts and find out about developments in the field of productivity across the globe.  This is always interesting and useful.

Secondly, I get to hear about developments in Big Data and reflect upon how they impact on productivity.

I have my own ideas, of course, but essentially I am here to learn.

After all, if we stop learning we might as well give up.

Core strategy or nice to have?

The World Confederation of Productivity Science promotes the concept of SEE – Social, Environmental & Economic Productivities – suggesting that long-term business sustainability and success  comes from  addressing all three.  Some have claimed that this is another ‘take’ on the concept of corporate social responsibility but the WCPS ‘ view is that CSR is an add-on to a business, often for promotional reasons, whereas SEE is part of basic business fabric and must be treated as such.  There is a business case for addressing SEE – not a PR case.

The Volkswagen case has reinforced this belief.  Volkswagen was regarded as a leader in CSR – but it clearly wasn’t part of core business strategy or core values.They didn’t look a† environmental issues as a fundamental core of strategy – just something it was nice to brag about. And they completely forgot about that ‘commitment’ when tough business decisions needed to be taken.

This is the only productivity blog you need!

I was browsing some ‘productivity blogs’ earlier this week – I use the inverted commas because many of them use the word ‘hack – or lifehacks – only using the word ‘productivity in the strapline or description.

One of them offered to remind me when to breathe to maintain my zen-like state – but I’ve been breathing quite successfully for many years so declined the advice.  If you read all of these blogs and tried to follow their advice, you would waste a lot of time… so read this blog and learn about real-world, real-life productivity as it affects organisations, nations and societies. 

I don’t say you won’t waste time – but it should be more interesting and more rewarding.

Double benefts

Japan has a new government initiative to boost the adoption of intelligent machines and robots – as part of a drive to improve industrial productivity. 

However, this has other benefits as well.

Mechanised workplaces are generally more suitable for female workers and for workers with disabilities – so improving automation supports greater workforce diversity .. and that provides another route to greater productivity.

If Music Be …

Companies have long used music to set rhythm for production lines – and to boost morale of employees. 

Now a new study by the University of Illinois confirms that people do respond – positively in productivity terms – to music

They suggest however that instrumentals are best – words can  interfere with language “tasks” which are part of the work.

Similarly,  music is more effective if it has a constant, easy beat and a light melody.

A report in the journal Neuroscience of Behavior and Physiology states that the Russian Academy of Sciences found that a person’s ability to recognize visual images, letters and numbers, is much faster when either rock or classical music is playing in the background.

So – play on!