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.


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!

The next productivity push?

What will lead you to higher productivity in 2015?

New products, new technologies, new structures?

For most organisations, the answer is none of these.  Those that succeed in improving their productivity will do so by doing what they do now a little more effectively and/or efficiently.  Big gains come from lots of small, incremental gains.  Revolutions in productivity are rare.

So, start your structured, disciplined, comprehensive review of your operations today – and look for those areas where you can shave a bit off cycle times, waiting times, and waste.

Too many voices?

I read recently that Coca-Cola has withdrawn its voicemail system from its Atlanta headquarters in an effort to improve productivity.  Callers now get a simple message suggesting they should use another means of contact.

Voicemail was originally introduced as an ‘added value’ service for callers – saving them the need to call again – but is now seen as an ‘overhead’ that sucks time and effort out of the organisation.  it is worse than email in some ways since taking down details from a voice message can take multiple listenings.

Presumable there are other services we have introduces as time-savers or value enhancers that will, in time, be regarded as unnecessary or positively harmful.

email? text messaging 

Or have Coca-Cola got it wrong.  Will all those callers who are forced to ring again or use some other means of contacting Coca-Cola personnel simply vote with their feet, become annoyed, not bother to pursue their contact.  I will be interested in any follow-up comments/actions once ‘the dust settles’.

Wake Up!

Most people are more effective workers in the morning – when fresh.  As the day goes on, most of us tire.  The problem is that we don’t always recognise this – and we take decisions, do important work, hold important meetings when we are not at our best.

Does this work for teams and organisations.  Should we choose the activities we undertake in the morning and what we leave till the other end of the day.

Do new stuff – initiatives, development work, innovation – in the morning.  Do routine stuff, the chores at the day’s end.

Try it – let me know if it helps!


Approaching the end of another year is a time for reflection – personal reflection and, if you are brave enough, organisational reflection.  What have you – and your organisation – learned this year that will make you better next year.

It might be something about your products, your processes, your customers, your competitors … or your own approach to managing your own area.

It may not revolutionise what you do – or how you do it … but there must be something.

If not, what have you been thinking about all year?