The PRISM lens

The recent revelations that Western Governments (particularly the US and UK?) are involved in widespread monitoring of digital communications challenges what many think of as the’ right’ to privacy.

Many of us are moderately happy to give up data to Google and Facebook in return for free services.

What do we get from the government in return for our lack of privacy? They would argue we get security.

However, with Google and Facebook, we can read their privacy policies and take a rational decision to be bound by them or opt out. With the government we get no such option.

Why am I writing this in a blog about productivity? Because some firms might be put off doing business in countries that ‘snoop’ excessively. There might be long-term issues for online trading. We have uncovered something which will have unintended consequences. Only time will tell what those consequences are. But ‘down the line’ we might all suffer from those consequences.

Keep the faith

The EU is one of the world’s largest trading blocs – yet too often we view it as a collection of nation states, in competition with each other rather than collaborating with each other to create a truly competitive European economy.

Europe generally has very liberal and progressive attitudes to social partnership, to health and well-being at work, to workplace innovation. Sometimes these are seen as being a drag on competitiveness because they ‘cost money’.

However, well-cared for, safe, empowered employees aree more likely to be ‘good’ employees, capable of effective participation in continuous improvement programmes.

Europe should be proud of its social innovations and, indeed, should build on them to create innovative, flexible, responsive organisations that can exceed the ‘value’ created by low wage, low participation economies.

Yet at this time we are seeing a fall in the popularity of social democratic political parties. In ‘tough’ times, the weak seem to want to act tough – to break down the social structures that could be the building blocks of a new European competitiveness.

In tough times, it often pays to keep your nerve and maintain your values. Let’s hope ‘Europe’ can do so.

Big Issues…. little action

We know there are some big questions to ask (and answer) to solve some of the current world problems – poverty, food security, energy capacity and so on. It seems however, that we have known about these problems for quite s while. The energy issue is being addressed by companies who have a vested (financial) interest.

We all have an interest in the other issues – but on-one seems to have enough of a financial interest to drive action.

Time is getting short. if I act, will you?

Too late for Europe?

The financial crisis of the last few years led to the eurozone crisis. Recently, there have been signs that the EU – and the Eurozone itself – is making progress in terms of solving some of the underlying problems. Certainly in those countries that have received ‘bailouts’ the conditions of the financial aid have forced them to address macroeconomic issues that have ben holding back productivity development.

The problem is hat Europe is addressing its problems just as public confidence in the European ideal is at an all-time low. Those undergoing ‘austerity’ programmes see the EU a being to blame. Those financing the bailouts see Europe as an expensive planning of a small number of politicians. others are concerned about the lack of accountability for European budgets and spending.

The dream has soured just as the offices of Europe are starting to shape a sustainable economy.

Perhaps the changes are too little, too late. Perhaps the productivity gaps between the Northern and Southern European nations are too wide to close before the whole edifice comes tumbling down.

What should I improve?

Do you know which factors of your business are important?

What, if it changed, would have the biggest impact? A 5% reduction in your material costs, your energy bill,your wage bill, or …?

If you know which are important, you know where to focus attention and improvement activity.
If you don’t, then who is managing your organisation?

Do less

Many people think that raising productivity means doing more things … but sometimes, it means doing fewer things more effectively. Some even think the more things they have to do, the more important they are.

However, at a personal level, if people concentrated and focused more they might avoid endless ‘email tennis’ and cut the size of their Todo list.

The same is true of your organisation. Make sure it is doing those things which your customers want done. Find out what it is you can stop doing.

So if you feel you are very busy, with lots of varied tasks, try prioritising and delegating. Make sure your agenda consists of those things that make you money. leave lesser things to others. By all means keep a ‘watching brief’ but if you try to do everything yourself, you will fail to do some of those important things properly and thoroughly.

We can take the truth

Recently, US Vice President Joe Biden claimed that U.S. workers “are three times as productive as any worker in the world.”

Of course he was currying favour but it does no good in the longer-term to pretend other than the truth.

The US is a highly productive nation – but much of that is down to its intellectual assets and its capital performance… labour performance is not bad but it is not outstanding.

So, please Joe .. .tell us the truth. We can take it … we might even vote for you … but we won’t if you treat us like kids who have to be told what you think we want to hear.

Ask the right questions

The world population will rise to 9 billion by 2040 (from the current 7 billion). This has massive implications for all sorts of human activity and human well-being … perhaps first and foremost being the questions about how we feed and water that population.

There are all sorts of answers we need if the world is not to go into some kind of ‘meltdown’ … but before we start to answer the questions, we need to be sure that we have asked the right questions … and ALL the right questions.

We need a full discussion amongst the various sets of stakeholders (and who is not a stakeholder in this area) to set the agenda. Only then should we move towards solutions.

Can planning become unproductive?

We all know that planning is essential … it allows us to create structure and efficiency. We plan at various levels – from detailed production or marketing plans for our company to personal ToDo lists.

However, the other day I felt my own ToDo list was so long that it was starting to make me unproductive – because I knew I had to get to items on the bottom of the list but the urgent ones on top stopped me from doing so. It started to irritate me … and then to annoy. My planning was getting in the way.

Then I got to thinking whether it is the same for more formal planning – the kind of planning we do at departmental or organisational level. Can these get so complex and complicated that they start to become unproductive? If so, what is the answer. Does this only happen when we are under-resourced … or is it a fault in execution? Should we rely more on intuition? … or improve our planning?

Judge – but not necessarily yet

The UK looks to be doing a little better than most people thought. Rather than contracting – and leading the UK into a further recession – growth has been positive, based on improved service sector activity.

Is this a good sign? Well, its probably better than the alternative … but reading too much into short term results is dangerous.

Wait and see is probably the best advice. If things continue to go well for the next few months (at least two quarters), we can breathe a sigh of relief. In the meantime, we just pause.

So the figures do matter – but not always the figure (singular) – unless it tells us a real ‘story’. This is true of all performance indicators – they point somewhere but until we see a few consecutive results, the direction is not always clear.