I’ve been to several countries in the last few months.
All of them need higher productivity BUT …
1. each of them has to define just what higher productivity means in their particular context
2. each of them has to prioritise where they most need higher productivity
3. each of them has to decide how they might make the improvements they have prioritised
So, a national productivity campaign would look quite different in each of these places. Of course there would be similarities … and overlaps … but any campaign must be ‘flavoured’ by the responses to the three points above and by the history and culture of the particular country.
This is also the reason that consultants with pre-packaged productivity solutions often offer sub-optimal advice!
If you read lots of press releases … as I do (yes, I know I should ‘get a life’), you soon realise that just about everything is claimed to improve productivity.
Most often such ‘stories’ relate to what is termed ‘personal productivity’ … the kind of ‘productivity’ that is aided by powernapping, reminder software, crystals, copper bracelets, iPads, honey … you get the picture.
These claims are accompanied by details of a survey or study … which almost always is based on a self-selecting constituency. Again, you know the kind of thing. “60% of people say eating chocolate mid-morning helps productivity” says the President of the Chocolate-Eating Guild after a survey of members.
So, if you do see a claim about productivity, check out the credentials of any study … and, even then, keep your tongue in your cheek and your money in your pocket.
Too often, managers assess worker performance – especially in knowledge jobs – on how long they work … not on what they achieve.
Of course workers react to such measurement schemes and will extend their hours … taking longer than necessary to complete work if that is what it takes to fill the hours expected of them.
So make sure you measure what your staff do – and achieve - rather than how long they are ‘present’.
I went to a presentation recently on Israel’s approach to innovation … and to Research & Development in particular.
What struck me was the ‘joining of the dots’ … the fact that Israel seems to have broken down the silo mentality of government to coordinate activity across a range of departments. They have done this by appointing a ‘Chief Scientist’ who has authority and responsibility .. and who can work across these departments.
Other countries have campaigns, policies and strategies … but few of them seem to have thought the issues through to the point where they can deliver on the vision.
This is not a plea to copy israel’s approach to R&D … but – whatever the issue – to think through issues, the structures needed for implementation and the need for a ‘leader’ to give focus and to drive through the good intentions.
Most countries go through a development cycle from Agriculture to Manufacturing and then on to Services.
However many services are labour intensive … and therefore dramatic productivity gains are difficult
Productivity in manufacturing industry can be transformed using technology and automation.
Does,this mean that those countries that have moved through manufacturing to services (UK?) are at a disadvantage in the productivity race?
The Guardian (UK newspaper) this week raised the question of how the UK has managed to create jobs whilst GDP is falling.
It suggests that the answer must be that the productivity of the workforce is falling … so we need more of them.
However, employment figures often lead or lag on economic performance.
An equally valid reason is that firms have confidence in the future and are hiring now to create future output.
Only time will tell which explanation is right.
Behind many productivity problems is a learning problem. It is astonishing how often employees are poorly trained … and in many cases, completely untrained, to do the job they are supposed to do.
We then blame ‘poor performance’ … and of course it is poor performance … on behalf of the management team who should have provided the training … and refreshed the skills when necessary.
In 2007, the state of Iowa in the USA hired Mike Rohlf, a black belt in Six Sigma, to apply ‘Lean’ to the various processes and procedures of state government.
Mike is still there … appropriately as a ‘one man band’ (very lean). For each project, Mike works with volunteers from different areas within the agency in question, as well as ‘correctives’ – non-biased independents from an unrelated department.
They map what goes on … and set about trying to improve on it. The state has carried out 180 such projects and is convinced of its success … though this is difficult to measure because of the ‘softer’, qualitative improvements (like better service) that come alongside any cost savings.
One example – last year’s overhaul of the vocational rehabilitation office that assists with Social Security reimbursements is on pace to net about 20 percent more federal reimbursement money, or roughly $100,000 annually.
As ever, changes are often very simple … in this case, moving from a paper to an electronic claims process.
Productivity improvement can be both ‘big’ and small’ … and ,as we all know, small is often beautiful.
A recent report from IDC Manufacturing Insights suggests that the IT spend in Indian manufacturing organisations will double by 2016.
Will this give them a rise in productivity?
Almost certainly. Not necessarily as a direct result …. but anyone making big investments in IT is likely to be looking at other aspects of the business. Focusing on a business – for any reason – tends to show up what is wrong.
Of course Indian manufacturers could just expect IT to do their job for them. If they do, they will be very disappointed with the results.
I’m writing this in Pakistan … whilst taking a look at some aspects of Pakistan’s horticultural sector.
If you take a look at ‘the figures’ they suggest that this sector is quite ‘inefficient’, yet when I walk round farms, farmers and their labourers are working very hard.
Of course – I hear you shout – these observations are not incompatible. We should not confuse hard work with effectiveness.
Often people have to work (over) hard because what they do is badly organised. But don’t blame the people .. blame ‘the system’ (and, especially, the lack of training).