Frontier Companies

Frontier companies are those who operate at the technology frontier – early and effective adopters.  Unfortunately in the UK, there are few such companies and far too many laggards who adopt technology late and often reluctantly.

We need to convince these laggards to evaluate technology as an opportunity, not perceive it as a threat.  At the moment we seem to be simply waiting for the technology-literate generation Z to grow into positions of responsibility and authority.

Industry leaders and advisers have a responsibility to lead their sector down the technology road.  The rest of us need to walk that road, keep an open mind and look for all the benefits – in terms of improved customer response as well as in terms of cost.

Rhymes at times

Sometimes it seems  difficult to get the productivity message over to people – the young aren’t interested and it seem to be way down the priority list of many business people and politicians.

So, perhaps we have to try communicating in different ways – ways that ‘chime’ with intended audiences, using language thy relate to – and even using language that grabs their attention.

I saw an example of this recently with an agricultural productivity event being advertised under the banner of ‘plows and cows’ (US spelling, of course).

I noticed this event immediately – it had my attention.  Of course, the event still has to be effective – but getting people’s attention is the first stage in giving them useful information.

There might be a danger in being seen to ‘dumb down’ but I think getting people focused on productivity should be our key aim.

Don’t Worry – Just Manage

One of my great ‘life lessons’ came about from reading a quotation which I think is attributed to the Dalai Lama.

“If you are in control of a situation, there is no need to worry.  If you are not in control, there is no point worrying.  So, why worry?”

Similarly in business, there are things you can control (or manage) and things outside of your control (external factors).  You need to be aware of the external factors (how the environment is changing, what your competitors are doing, and so on) but you should concentrate your activity on those things you can manage.

Send them home.

Do your employees turn up at 9am and leave at 5pm, having completed their day’s work.  Was it satisfying for you to watch them beavering away?  Were they productive?  How much more productive might they have ben working from home or from their local coffee shop? 

Employees often find certain tasks difficult to complete in the office – report writing, coding and anything else that demands a high level of concentration and a low level of distraction.

Yet, few employees take the logical step of closing or shrinking their office space and allowing employees to work where they feel most comfortable.  Few even experiment – and measure performance/productivity differences. 

But surely its worth a try?

Get them onboard – and engaged

When you hire new people how do you induct them into the organisation?  Too often this consists of introductions, ‘policy sessions’, issuing of email ids and passwords …. and little else.  Your new people are informed – but bored. 

Yet, in many organisations there is one activity in which you could engage new staff that would tell them more about the business – and its success factors – than all your hectoring and rehetoric.  This might be customer service, handing customer complaints, picking and packing orders  … or something else.  You want your new staff to understand what it is that your customers value above all – and how that can be delivered.  So find the activity – or set of activities – that does this  and make all your new employees work on this activity, reflect on it and synthesise for themselves a list of customer success factors.

Assistance not replacement

Automation brings rewards to companies that invest.  The auto industry has installed many thousands of robots over the last 10 years – numbers of employed people have fallen, quality has risen, productivity is up. 

Great for the companies -and their shareholders: not so good for those now unemployed workers whose jobs have gone to the robots. 

Of course in some industries and sectors , using robots is not quite so easy – automation requires highly repetitive, highly standardised, highly consistent work.  Robots are fast, regular and relentless – but nowhere near as flexible and adaptable as humans.

However, we are now seeing the rise of a new generation of ‘co-bots’, machines that work with humans to take out some of the effort and drudgery of tasks while allowing humans to exercise their flexibility and control.

And one section of the workforce is gaining more than the rest – women.  Where work requires precision and strength, women can provide the precision while the cobot provides the strength.  Productivity rises, work improves.

We need to work with the ‘bots’.



Let’s work


Japan is offering employment subsidies to organisations that improve their productivity.  So ‘winning’ companies get a double boost. 

Is this a sensible role for government – to reward the successful?

One reason for their action is to prevent companies from using job cuts to fuel growth.

What does matter is that the aims of any government intervention are clear – and seen to be fair.

And, as a general rule, government should not ‘shore up’ the unsuccessful and uncompetitive.

So, perhaps this is a valuable experiment.  Certainly I will be interested to see the results.

Japan currently ranks 22nd out of 34 OECD countries for its productivity.  Perhaps this initiative can move it up the list.

End of the human race? Who wins?

The relentless rise of technology and the willingness of men to experiment means we are likely to see a merging of mankind and technology over the next couple of hundred years – producing real cyborgs.  These will be highly efficient and productive workers.

Eventually, the human race as we know it will disappear – unless we stop this trend.

We have the technology to create the future.  Do we have an appropriate ideology to match?  Are enough people (other than science fiction writers) thinking about the issues, the dilemmas, the controversies, the principles that will help us govern and mange this change.

I don’t think so.  It will probably just happen – in ways we don’t want. And it will be our fault!

Is business dress important?

More firms are allowing workers to come to the office in less formal attire.  Does this have an impact on productivity?

There is little research on the issue.  The arguments seem to boil down to:

allowing people to dress casually makes them more comfortable, more relaxed and more content – and this has a positive effect on their performance 

encouraging people to dress formally means they wear a ‘business uniform’ which puts them in the right frame of mind – and this has a positive effect on their performance. 

Perhaps we should just offer people the right to choose…. within certain limits of course.

it seems to be an irreversible trend, anyway – perhaps we are better just accepting the fact – until and unless we get some evidence to make us think again.

Vicious Circle

Nations are (quite rightly) urged to improve educational standards and attainments to help boost national productivity.  An educated – and skilled – workforce is a key underpinning of higher productivity.

This is actually a vicious circle (or cycle).  Low education standards results in lower productivity – and lower productivity results in less money to invest in education. And the cycle continues.

Nations have to find some way to break out of the cycle. And wealthier countries who provide aid to developing countries should focus a great deal of their efforts on education and skills.

Its the ‘teach a man to fish’ paradigm.