Open for Business

This week is The Open Golf Championship – what Americans like to call the British Open but is is THE Open.

The Open obviously has the best golfers in the world – and as with most majors recently tends to be won by an American golfer. This leads you to believe that American golfers are the world’s best.

Yet, Europe regularly beats America in the Ryder Cup – a team event.

Successful teams need more than individual talent. Whether in sport or in business, building an effective team needs individuals to be put together so they are complementary – and on top it needs team spirit and motivation.

Whoever wins this Open, I would still bet on Europe for the Ryder Cup. The US college golf system makes US players competitive but not good team players.

A good joke??

I am quite used to seeing strange suggestions for improving personal productivity – often tied to an app someone is trying to sell me.  But the one I saw the other day ‘takes the biscuit’.

It is based on the fact that some people think they are more productive working from a coffee shop rather than working from home (fewer – or at least different – distractions).

(Of course whether they really are more productive is probably debatable to say the least.

A new app – Coffitivity – plays you the ambient sounds of a coffee shop for those occasions when you can’t actually get there. It comes with a range of coffee shop sounds and claims to boost your creativity.

I haven’t used it – so I won’t pass judgement … except to say this is the weirdest productivity app I have heard of so far … unless you know better, of course.

Does technology help?

Does technology improve productivity?

Silly question, isn’t it?

Well no. If you could monitor what your staff are ‘working’ on all the time, you would find that many book holidays, contact their medical practitioner, look for theatre schedules – and so on … all in your time.

They work more productively on task perhaps but the time they gain they treat as their own.

I am not suggesting you put sophisticated monitoring software on their PCs – they would only use their phones…  but that you recognise these unintended consequences of introducing technology.

The same is true of other technologies – what we expect to gain we often do … but we might lose other elements to the technology – and the net gain might be less than we expect. When you do the sums, factor in unintended negative consequences. If the sums still work, go ahead.  if the negative consequences don’t arise – you get a premium!

Perfect for Paperless?

Most of us believe that technology has a good track record in improving productivity.

But there have been many promised futures that did not come about.  Think ‘the paperless office’ for one.  This was first mooted back in the 1960s and every decade or so, someone promotes the concept again (normally scanner manufacturers).

Well, mindful of stepping onto a burning platform, I think – finally – the time might be nigh.  Scanners – yes! but more so -cheap storage … especially cloud storage, accessible from anywhere in the world – could be the real key.  Add in effective search mechanisms to find the documents in that cloud and we might have a winning formula.

Oh, and of course we have a generation of users brought up in the digital era – who are quite used to reading things off screens.

A perfect storm?

Do it Early!

I think it was Mark Twain who one said that eating a live frog early every morning means you know the worst is behind you and you can get on with your day with confidence.  (Literary quotes are often difficult to attribute … most of them have allegedly been said by Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw.)

In your business life, the equivalent practice is to start the day with an unpleasant task – something you want to put off but know you shouldn’t.  Get it out of the way (and the day) while you are still fresh and still have energy … you will tackle it better… and then the rest of the day is unsullied by this fearsome task.  You will work more productively without the threat of it hanging over you.

Whose fault?

We have seen lots of talk over the last few years by various governments about the need for more sustainable development – and less dependence on fossil fuels.

Yet, the rise in the use of fossil fuels goes on – along with the associated pollution and environmental damage.

If most businesses over-promised and under-delivered to the same degree, they would be out of business fairly quickly.

So it must be our fault. we would stop buying from poorly performing companies, yet we continue to support poorly performing governments.

Because, like governments, we talk a lot but do little in the end we vote for what saves the money in our pocket, not what saves the planet.

WhoPolicy-makers need to find a way of motivating us to do the right thing.

So it is their fault – they pontificate about environmental performance but should be concentrating on consumer behaviour.  Sort us out – and we’ll sort out the planet (if sufficiently motivated by appropriate rewards or penalties

Yes, but how?

All nations want to increase their productivity.  This makes them more competitive, brings rewards for citizens and allows society to develop.

The problem is that no-one is quite sure how it can be achieved.

There seem to be as many solutions (or strategies) as there are nations.

Is there a simple answer?

No!  It is right that each nation tackles the problem from their own context and their own starting point.

Beyond that there will be obvious similarities – build a macroeconomic environment that supports small businesses, build transport and technology infrastructure, educate and train the workforce, support innovation – all simple in principle but not quite a simple in practice, especially when scaled up to national level.

However, at least (and at last) we are seeing positive efforts to address the issue of productivity.

Let’s hope at least some of them work – for all our sakes.

Who SHOULD do it?

Several years ago, Peter Drucker noted that if most organisations increased their productivity by 10% it would double their profits.   At that time, 10% seemed achievable.  Now, firms are lucky to achieve 5% – and nations feel good if they move into positive figures.

What has changed?

Not a lot, actually – but firms seem to have lost the ‘secret’ to improving productivity.

By ‘secret’, of course I mean adopting a consistent, structured approach to planning and executing productivity improvement projects.  Where are the industrial engineers and work study engineers of yesteryear?  Gone!  Managers are expected to improve productivity as part of the day job.  But they are busy people – and they are too immersed in what is going on.  They cannot stand back and take a dispassionate view.  They cannot ask themselves the hard questions.

We need independent experts who have the skills and the time to take the hard view, to ask the questions, to think about solutions, to evaluate those solutions and to draw up implementation plans.  This cannot be done in spare time – it is too important.

Why aren’t they more innovative?

We hold innovative firms up to the light- as rare, glorious examples.

Most organisations have a number of creative people – whether or not in avowedly creative roles.

When these creative people come up with ides that could become innovations – the ideas tend to be evaluated too early and too harshly.  Evaluators look for ways in which the idea could fail rather than looking for ways in which the idea could succeed.

Some products will fail because they are not technically feasible – they don’t do what it was thought they would do.  Others will fail because they are financially not viable – they cost too much or will fail to generate sufficient additional revenue.

However, the biggest killer of innovation is a lack (rarely explicit) of organisational feasibility. It just doesn’t fit with what we do – or how we do things. We don’t have a department where it fits.

If you have good ideas, treat them kindly – look for ways to make them fit and make them work. Otherwise you are never going to innovate.

India’s difficult task

India is often cited as the next major economic powerhouse – perhaps even overtaking China.  This is based on India’s recent record in moving up the international GDP league.

However, look just below the surface and you will see that this impressive growth has largely been fuelled by widening employment participation.  India has been very good at creating jobs.  It has been significantly less successful in creating productivity.  India’s GDP per worker is very low. This is OK for growth in certain sectors but limits India’s ability to compete in some sectors – and in overall terms.

India knows it has to improve and increase skills – and is trying to find ways of doing just that.  But this is much trickier than simply employing more workers.  It is, however, essential to securing and sustaining long-term growth in productivity.