Has the UK made the right decision?

Recent economic figures show that unemployment has fallen in the UK – there are more people employed than there have been for many years.

Yet, over this period of jobs growth, productivity has fallen.

The UK seems to have chosen jobs over productivity as the way out of the economic crisis.

This might be a sensible short-term approach … but there is a danger that the country ends up as a low cost, low skill economy.

if the rest of Europe starts to pull out of its current poor economic shape the UK might find itself uncompetitive.

It might be too late

We’ve all seen the kinds of things that tech companies do to engage and maintain staff – and to hopefully maintain high creativity levels.  Not all of us can  create high-tech offices with write on walls, supply sports facilities, free coffee or whatever it seems to take.

BUT …. we don’t need to.

What seems to matter is that employees think they are valued, and their contribution is important. They also like to think that their personal values chime with those of the organisation they work for.

These can be signalled in lots of small, inexpensive ways.  Firstly, of course, employees have to know what your values are – what shapes company policy and strategy.

And they are far too smart to take the platitudes you put on your website and in your press releases. Your values are shown in what you do – not what you say.

If your values include the recognition of contributions and the valuing of teamwork, you will already be finding ways to praise, to reward (not necessarily financially) and to recognise what your staff do.  You will create space in which they can be creative and innovative ….. and you will value (and be seen to value) the ideas they put forward.

If you are not doing these things, its too late for the write-on walls and the free coffee to help!

Are you wasting your time?

In a recent paper, the governor of the Central Bank of Barbados said that even though Barbados is relatively prosperous as a Caribbean nation, it will only move up the international ‘league table’ by improving its labour productivity.

He then suggested that this is difficult because only about 30% of the Barbadian workforce feels fully committed to their jobs.

I wondered how you productivity professionals out there felt about this … and whether you agree that that the systems, processes and procedures you put in place can be largely ineffective if workers are not ‘committed to their jobs’.

Less intervention, more success

In small businesses low productivity is rarely the fault of the workers – it is because the owner/manager has not set up production processes properly -or has failed to manage them effectively.

Too many owner/managers want to micro-manage … they see their job as ‘keeping on top of things’.

It is – of course… but they must set up systems of production – and then measure the performance (of the system, not the people) – so that they know whether it is  effective – and improving.  This should not need hourly – or even daily intervention, especially if they have a good production supervisor.

They need to give the supervisor responsibility, authority – and if necessary, training … and let them ‘keep on top of things’.  They should then check progress with the supervisor weekly or ask them for a regular report (brief and quantitative).

The aim is to make the system work – then the owner/manager can plan for improvement and growth.

Productivity or Innovation?

There has been discussion on the Productivity Futures LinkedIn group this week discussing whether productivity and innovation are natural enemies or bedfellows.

Of course I chimed in – well, I can’t resist – and my view is that real productivity development – revolutionary rather than evolutionary – is unlikely without innovation.  Innovation can transform productivity.

Tor Dahl reminded the group that productivity is about doing the right things in the right way 100% of the time.  Innovation can change what we do – and how we do it.  Systematic approaches to improvement – and the standardisation that goes with them – ensure we do the right things ALL the time.

Any of you who want to try to run your organisations without innovation please inform me – I want to stay clear of investing in you.

Spare Me The Surveys….

I have started this blog before with words such as …”I read a survey the other day…” 

Sometimes reading the results of these ‘business surveys’ can be interesting .. but too often it seems the results are so obviously in favour of the organisation who commissioned the research.

I read a survey the other day (see its a habit) that suggested that dirty and untidy offices harm productivity.  No surprise there, then …. if 5S is good for factories, its good for offices … but when you see that the report was commissioned by the Contract Cleaning Association, alarm bells start to ring.  Often you get little indication of how many people were surveyed or what the questions were … just the results or ‘conclusions’. 

Perhaps if I stopped reading these surveys, I would be more productive.

A Chemistry lesson

Teams are sometimes more productive than the sum of their parts – because the ‘chemistry’ among the team is ‘right’.

We’ve all seen such ‘chemistry’ at work – in working teams and in personal relationships.

But is it a lucky accident – or can we create it?

Team building is not about taking teams on outward-bound, adventure experiences …. or getting them together to discuss emotional issues.

It is about putting the right people together in the first place – understanding their abilities, strengths, weaknesses, preferences, sensibilities, and so on.  And about making sure they have the skills, the resources, the time and the support they need for the task in hand…. and making sure they share the overall vision for the outcomes of the task.

We build a team by understanding the task, understanding individuals … and then taking the time to think about ways in which different individuals will fit with each other – or can be made to fit with each other.

Its not rocket science – but it certainly isn’t a ‘given’ either.

Its not my fault!

Productivity is a ‘neutral’ measure – it doesn’t come with praise or blame attached.  To understand the reasons behind the figures we have to dig deeper, sometimes much deeper, than the headlines.

For example, we might read that the construction industry has had a poor quarter in terms of measured productivity – but a scratch of the surface might reveal that bad weather caused lots of projects to be delayed and/or mothballed.

Such ‘environmental factors’ are chance events …. or are they.  If we know that every winter the construction industry loses a large part of its productivity, wouldn’t we expect them to do something about it – rather than simply bemoan the fact.

Of course they can’t change the weather … but there are always things that can be done to ameliorate the effects.  Those things might not be cost effective … but a little imagination and ingenuity should identify strategies for coping with cold, wet, frost or whatever.

So, when people (and industries) say , “We’ve been unlucky”,  don’t take it at face value.  Challenge them to make their own luck in future.

Me-Time

We all need a bit of ‘me-time’ … when we forget about all the tasks we have on our To-Do list, forget all our work pressures, forget our commitments and concentrate on ourselves.  ‘Me-time’ needn’t be long; it is the quality that matters.

Well, of course the other thing that gives us real pleasure is ‘you-time’ given us by others; when people give us a present, their time, their company but above all, their consideration.

This applies in a work environment.  A ‘pat on the back’ or a quick “Well done” is our ‘you-time’… it lets us know our work is appreciated, that we are making a difference, making a contribution that is valued. 

For this to work – as a motivating phenomenon – you have to give people tasks for which they are well-prepared … with the right equipment, the right tools, the right knowledge and the right skills.  Then reward.  Praise must be seen to be due and deserved.  If it is, the ‘warm glow’ that people feel raises their performance a couple of notches over quite a long time period.

So, get the conditions right – and start to give your employees or your colleagues some valuable ‘you-time’.  It is an investment worth making.

Let’s focus!

I’ve been doing a lot of writing recently.  I’m lucky – I find that words just come out – easily – in torrents.  My problem is not writing; its marshalling my thoughts and turning the words into something readable and sensible.  When I read back what I’ve written, I invariably think it is too long – too discursive – failing to get to the nub of the matter, to realise the main points of the argument. 

Of course I know I should plan, shape and construct – treat writing like any other project.  I should do the ‘marshalling of thoughts’ before I put fingers to keyboard.  My aims should be clear, I should have thought about the intended audience, identified my aims – and therefore my key points .. and then concentrated on getting across those key messages.

Too many people plan projects how I write.  They know what the overall target is but they fail to plan the milestones, the waymarks that signal progress.  They ramble around in the general direction of the project aims, consuming resources that need not be deployed – and confusing those who are involved.

It is often easier to work without detailed planning … but it is a wasteful way of working.

So, let’s plan and then focus.  We know it makes sense!