Keep your focus

Toyota has had its fair share of problems recently – and has certainly been knocked off the plinth it has been on for some time… held up as a beacon of efficiency and productivity,

So, what does this do for the reputation of the Toyota production system – must we now all try to forget those few Japanese words we learned – like kata, kaizen, gemba and so on.

No, it does not!  Conditions may not currently be favourable for Toyota  but the principles that underly the Toyota Production System are still valid – as are the tools and techniques. There are still countless firms benefitting from the lessons learned – and continuing to thrive in unstable, highly competitive markets.

The future will one day teach us why Toyota has had its ‘blips’ – whether this is due to them forgetting their own principles and practices, or whether there is some other unknown factor.

I suspect that before too long, they will be back on their plinth. In the meantime, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater … keep the faith, aim for ‘lean’, maintain your focus.

Leading from the front or ….

You will have often heard a phrase like … Success is a marathon, not a sprint … indicating that the activity in hand must be addressed with focus and concentration over the longer- term.

Well, Productivity is certainly a marathon.

You need a good start, then a keen ongoing focus and finally a strong finish.

Tools and techniques are very useful but attitude and execution are what really matter. Productivity improvement is best achieved within a supportive culture that expects, receives and values contributions from across and throughout the organisation.

Productivity leadership is not about having the best ideas but about creating that culture in which all ideas for improvement are considered, evaluated and rewarded.

Switching off destroys the culture; the focus must be continual. Leaders must continually relate to, and report on, Productivity … reinforcing the culture, maintaining the focus and demonstrating their commitment.

Effective leaders lead from the front and the back … and all points in between.



Look for the triple wins

Many organisations make some attempt to treat employees well – with recognition and reward systems, flexible approaches to leave, healthcare and so on.  The trouble with such ‘benefits’ is that they quickly get absorbed into ‘the expected’ rather than being regarded as an ‘extra’.

If you want something to have a longer-term effect on employee well-being – and even more importantly, on employee productivity  – then you need to select’ benefits’ that have a more direct effect on employee performance.

For example, why not institute a transport system to get employees to work – saving them the hassle and stress of doing it for themselves.  You can make it part of your environmental strategy since any form of shared transport is almost certain to be less resource intensive than lots of cars arriving with one individual.

But more importantly, your employees should arrive fresher, less-stressed and ready to go.  They should be more productive, more content, more engaged with the organisation.

So you can treat your employees well, help  the planet and raise productivity.  Win-win-win. What’s not to like?

Go drones!

Certainly in the UK, drones have had a bad press recently – with the disruption caused at London’s Gatwick airport.

However, the sensible ones among us (and I do – perhaps rather arrogantly – include myself in that category) know that throughout history, technologies have been used for good and bad purposes.

Drones are also used to improve agricultural productivity by giving farmers a view of their fields and crops they could not afford to get in other ways.  They are used in law enforcement and in the military, by sports broadcasters, and so on.

So, don’t blame the drones: they are just pieces of technology.  Blame their operators

But remember, if the ‘bad’ users (or their impact on society) outnumber the ‘good’, technology cannot be uninvented. Once it is ‘out there’, it stays out there – even if made illegal.

So, society must get used to drones – and their misuse. Be prepared to deal with mischievous or criminal drone use – it is not going to go away.

And, of course, continue to apply the technology to society’s advantage. Make the beneficial impact outweigh the harmful.

Go, drones!

The lucky generation?

My father, who unfortunately died early at the age of only 54, was, like me, a technophile.

I often say on seeing or using some new piece of technology .. “My dad would have been amazed by this”.

Of course it’s not only technology that has changed since he was around. The would is a different place in many ways and he would have been surprised at many of them.

I was reflecting on this the other day and thought about what might have surprised him the most. Certainly the internet/web he would have loved … but in the end I settled on Ted talks; the fact that so much knowledge/learning is available at your fingertips – and for free – with some of the World’ greatest minds available in your living room – is truly astonishing.

We are such a lucky generation!

Cut the Tail

The top one per cent of UK firms grew on average by eight per cent each year between 2004 and 2014, while the lower 99 per cent experienced annual productivity growth of less than one per cent over the same period. This is the long tail of UK business productivity which has to be shortened if national productivity is to rise significantly.

But how do we cut this tail.

Well, many of these ‘tail companies’ are small businesses.

The UK government, like most governments, often expresses its commitment to, and support for, small businesses. But they throw these businesses small ‘bones’ of support or comfort occasionally; they rarely construct, much less execute, a coherent  and sustained programme of support.

Small businesses rarely ask for much – a favourable tax regime, an absence of bureaucracy and access to finance are their most common requests. Government responds with more regulation and legislation – because that is the business of government.

Governments often seems to want to stifle productivity development. Over the last decade, many have been supporting ‘ailing businesses’, creating ‘zombie’ firms that should have gone to the wall.

All they need to do is to create an environment in which well-run firms can thrive and prosper. Then they need to get out of the way and let those firms get on with it.  Some won’t make it – but that is the law of the (business) jungle.  It will see the tail reduce.

Job done!

One thing at once, please

We are all under pressure to multitask – to deal with emails, messages and reminders whilst also doing our ‘real job’

Even when not under this avalanche of inputs, many of us choose to listen to music as we work. We eat lunch at our desks as we work.

Students update their facebook pages (and more) whilst they listen to lectures

All this means our productivity is increasing, right?


For most of us it means our performance dips.

A recent research study shows students who multitasked on their laptops during lectures scored consistently lower in tests (by about 17%) than their non-multitasking peers.

We seem to have difficulty balancing priorities among all the tasks – dealing with trivial rather than important issues because they require less concentration and thus fit well in a multitasking scenario.

But failing to concentrate on, and effectively deal with,  the important items  on your agenda is not a recipe for success.

Stop working

On a recent business class flight, the guy next to me got out his laptop and worked on if for most of the flight. I ate the meal,  a drink, snoozed a little and did a crossword.

Who was the most productive?

Well of course, he would claim he was. He got some work done.

But that is like people who confuse productivity with production. Doing more is not necessarily being more productive.

In my relaxed time onboard, I was not doing nothing.  I was contemplating, thinking and reflecting. I went into meetings later that week much better prepared and I am convinced the decisions I took that week were ‘better’.

We get so little time to consider and reflect, it is worth taking the time to stop and do so when you can. In the broader sense, you might get less done … but your productivity will increase.

TRIZ is worth a try

I only recently cam across TRIZ – a (Russia-originated) problem solving and creativity guide for ‘the rest of us’ – those who are not creative by nature.  Part of its ‘secret’ is that it is built ‘on the shoulders of giants’ – an analysis of past patents and patent applications from which it draws out ‘innovative principles’.

So, to solve a problem you simply (?) decide what type of problem it is, find which general category it falls into, see what people have done in the past – and identify the broad category of solution; apply this broad solution to your problem to create your solution, your new product or whatever.

This is a relatively analytical approach to creativity – whoever would have thought that was possible,

Such an approach may or may not suit you and your team – but I recommend you read up and try it. You have little to lose – and you might dramatically improve your creativity.

Not football

Every week there is commentary in  the US press about the productivity of football (NFL and/or college) teams or individual players.

This is not productivity – it is about performance  … but fails to use an output/input ratio … the very essence of productivity.

Player performance is important – but US sport (or sports reporters) uses far too many spurious  statistics – and language that upsets a relative purist – the winningest team and so on.

They cite previous performances ands results between two teams as if it might have some bearing on the current matchup.

I am sure fans find it interesting … I hope they do because a lot of resource goes into compiling these statistics … but do they can do harm.

I can image in a player on team X saying after a loss to team Y, “Well, its 27 years since we’ve beaten them – what do you expect?”  If you build a reputation, some players and teams will succumb to it.

Statistics are real – but can be used to motivate if applied and employed correctly.

Think before you apply measures – in football, and in business