The Future Needs Your Thought

When we carry out future -gazing or horizon scanning, we can often see likely large-scale changes ahead. For example, self-driving vehicles are coming. We are not sure when but they are coming. What does this mean for those who currently have driving jobs?

Well, many of them will simply lose their jobs. However, take parcel delivery. Someone has to load the van – though not necessarily the ‘driver’. Someone has to carry the parcel to the customer. So the van probably needs some attendant – though this job might be lower-skilled and lower-paid then ‘driver’.

Take school bus drivers. It is unlikely that buses will carry groups of school kids without some form of adult supervision. So, a security guard or supervisor is needed,

In all future scenarios, the implications of a technological change have to be thought through; the societal and cultural implications must be considered. Change of any magnitude is rarely simple or obvious.

Don’t just think about the future. Consider it with some thought. It will affect how you act in response to the change and the degree to which you will be successful in addressing it.

Longer-term vision, please

We should be able to assume that most business leaders are aiming to improve the productivity and performance of their organisation.  Yet, not many of them seem to be successful in doing this. This suggests these leaders are doing the wrong things or not doing the right things correctly.

I think many of therm have an incomplete or erroneous view of what drives productivity – especially over the longer-term.

For example, many use cost-cutting to drive profits up …. but they cut those elements that drive productivity growth – like skilled workers.  Using low-skilled, cheap labour might raise profits in this quarter (and earn the leader a bonus) but it damages the fabric of the organisation and lowers its longer-term potential.

And, generally, low-skilled labour is less likely to engage in cultural shifts to support continuous improvement and employee-led problem solving.

Actually, in those statements lie another major problem – reward systems for senior executives. If their remit is long-term strategy, their rewards must be calculated on long-term performance, not short-term profits.

Shareholders need to make business leaders accountable for longer-term decisions and results.

The same, old routine

A lot of productivity writers and bloggers advocate a morning routine to set you up for the day.

The problem with routines is that they tend to result in routine thinking. If you want fresh, innovative thinking you need to break out of the straight jacket of your established routines and establish some new routes to success.

Of course, routines have their place but I advocate  an evening routine so that you get full reflection in the current day’s activities but you give your sub conscious time to use that reflection to roam elsewhere, take in other stimuli and perhaps come up with solutions to your problems or identify new opportunities.

Of course you have to arrive at a solution that works for you .., but just for a time move your planning and journaling routine to the evening and see if it makes a difference.

What have you got to lose?

 

The problem with routines is that they tend to result in routine thinking. If you want fresh, innovative thinking you need to break out of the straight jacket of your established routines and establish some new routes to success.

 

Of course, routines have their place but I advocate  an evening routine so that you get full reflection in the current day’s activities but you give your sub conscious time to use that reflection to roam elsewhere, take in other stimuli and perhaps come up with solutions to your problems or identify new opportunities.

 

Of course you have to arrive at a solution that works for you .., but just for a time move your planning and journaling routine to the evening and see if it makes a difference.

 

What have you got to lose?

Sometimes quick is better

When improving performance, we often urge companies to take a longer term view. Forget short term gains and concentrate on the gains to be made year in, year out over many years,

Yet, sometimes, companies should concentrate on the short term.

If a company is in trouble, it might not be able to wait for long term gains. It needs  impct now!

And In many improvement and change situations, quick wins are needed to show people that the programme of improvement or change does indeed have benefits and should be followed through.

So, as ever, context is everything. You have to review the situation, take notice of the views of key stakeholders and then plan accordingly – keeping an eye on both short term and long term gains.

No more comfort breaks

I was musing the other day about ‘off the wall’ inventions that might do good for the wrong reasons – or were designed to solve a problem that no-one knew existed.

My starting point was some old news (2019) that a UK firm had designed a toilet that was specifically designed to be uncomfortable – it has a 13 degree slope.  The point is to discourage people in certain environments (workplaces, restaurants, etc) from staying too long.

(The firm is already in talks with local councils and motorway service station operators.)

Can you think of other examples of such attempts to shape behaviour?

I thought of certain music played in bars and restaurants which has me running from the place – but that’s because I am not their target customer – I don’t believe in paying for overpriced drinks because the decor is ‘trendy’.

Keep your eyes and ears open and look for other examples. It might help you with insights into what your firm could do to improve performance – after all real innovation often breaks existing rules and conventions.

Lay the Foundations

There has been much talk recently in the UK (before, during and even after, the election) about improving rail links to, and in, the north of England.  HS2 (the high speed link to London) might get all the publicity (and almost all of the money) but the government is also promising to invest in local rail and even buses.

This is good news for UK productivity.

Manchester and Birmingham punch below their weight when compared to similar sized cities in Euro

At present, neither of them has particularly good transport infrastructure and certainly nothing resembling an integrated transport plan.

Of course, transport is not the only area that must be addressed (skills is certainly another important contender for ‘key’) but it can support other investment and other development.

So, I welcome the promises of investment – and I will watch the developments with interest … but I hope to see evidence of multi-mode integration planning  … and I hope to see the productivity fruits in 10 years and more.

We would like higher productivity now, but that is unrealistic.  It is important to put down the foundations now – and await the benefits that should come.

 

What is the right ratio?

I saw recently that Mark Zuckerberg had had millions wiped off his ‘fortune’ by a small dip in Facebook’s stock value.

Leaving aside the morality of the vast fortunes of these tech billionaires, I wonder whether  one can create a truly engaged workforce when the leader of the organisation ‘earns’ so much more than the rest of the ‘team’.

“We are all in this together’ cannot really apply – there may be work teams carrying out key processes but I think it unlikely that there is one cohesive organisational team.

People often talk about the difference (in attitudes and culture) between the private and public sectors …. but I think there is much more difference between small and large organisations. ‘Organisation’ causes changes in relationships … and this is exacerbated by huge differences in earnings levels.

Of course, perhaps my attitude is the result of envy – but I don’t think so, Perhaps it is a UK perspective – possibly.

I am not sure whether one could set a limit on the earnings multiple of the leader compared to the lowest paid but I believe it should be lower than it is in many firms.

What worries me on a practical level is the degree to which senior executive’s strive for short term performance to improve their annual bonus, perhaps at the cost of poorer longer-term performance.

 

Offensive Productivity

was browsing the web recently when a headline “Offensive Productivity” caught my eye. It was an article relating to an American sports team and was bemoaning the performance of the attacking members if the team (the offence).

 

Now, here in the UK, we don’t use productivity in relation to the performance of sports teams. (I’m not sure what the metrics would be).

 

So, why am I mentioning this?

 

It just reminded me of that old aphorism .. Britain and America are 2 countries divided by a common language …. but the real reminder is that some language – indeed some concepts – do not travel well across national – or cultural – borders,

 

I was browsing the web recently when a headline “Offensive Productivity” caught my eye. It was an article relating to an American sports team and was bemoaning the performance of the attacking members if the team (the offence).

Now, here in the UK, we don’t use productivity in relation to the performance of sports teams. (I’m not sure what the metrics would be).

So, why am I mentioning this?

It just reminded me of that old aphorism .. Britain and America are 2 countries divided by a common language …. but the real reminder is that some language – indeed some concepts – do not travel well across national – or cultural – borders,

Make your productivity – and other – pronouncements culturally neutral and certainly try to ensure you are avoiding ‘ offensive productivity’.

Of course, if you ever find our messages offensive, please give us the benefit of the doubt. Offence was not intended.

Don’t be a binary thinker

Politicians are binary creatures.

They view important issuers as black and white,.  They are right and everyone else is wrong.  They rarely listen to conflicting views because they KNOW those holding contrary views cannot be right.

Some business leaders act in a similar way.  They surround themselves with people of similar views or people who are prepared to espouse similar views (‘Yesmen’).  They won’t even listen to people who will be affected by their decisions or actions.

Both sets of individuals are unlikely to be right all of the time and doomed to failure (in the longer term) as their mistakes come home to roost.

Failing to listen is a major crime. If you don’t listen to your customers, your employees, your suppliers and other stakeholders you will not find out what is, or might be, going wrong in your business and what opportunities for improvement there are.

Diversity of opinion is healthy and constructive.  Of course leaders sometimes have to listen but not necessarily change their decisions or actions.  But failing to listen to what people have to say means they might miss important caveats, consequences or influencing factors.

Making unpopular but informed decisions can be the right thing to do.

Making unpopular and uninformed decisions is crazy.

It stifles engagement, innovation, contribution and productivity.

Design good processes

 

Do we want to design processes that are ‘good’?

Well, we first have to define ‘good’.

I would suggest that ‘good’ processes are consistent processes. If a process is consistent, we can observe it, measure it and understand it. Then we can improve it, secure in the knowledge it will perform better – consistently.

If a process is inconsistent or erratic we can do none of those things. We first have to  understand why it is inconsistent and that can be a major study in itself So it consumes resources at this stage before we can start improvement activity.

Our aim, therefore, is to design processes that behave predictably and consistently. We can then claim to have designed a good process.