It might be expensive

Small businesses often use ‘involuntary IT mangers’ (IITMs) …. non-technical, untrained staff who, by accident or through organisational prompting, take on the role of managing IT operations.According to a recent small business survey commissioned by Microsoft, this costs the US about $24 billion in lost productivity, largely because these staff are taken away from their ‘real’ jobs.

This just reminded me of the old adage… “If you think training is expensive, consider the costs of not training”.


‘Bring Your Own Device’ is the term given to the situation where companies allow staff to take in their own smartphone or tablet and have it connected to company networks and data sources.

What does this do for productivity?

Well, I dont think we have enough evidence yet to suggest this is a help or a hindrance.

Clearly there is quite a bit of work to do by the IT department to ensure all devices (or at least all major operaring systems) can work .. and that security can be maintained. However, much of that work overlaps with the work they would have to do to provide security on ‘company-owned’ devices.

For staff, it means they get to stick with a device – and a user interface – with which they are familiar…. but possibly means they get little training or support from the company.

Perhaps the question about productivity is not one we should be asking … the situation exists … it seems that staff do want to use their own devices … let’s just work out the best and safest way in which we can meet their needs.

Don’t blame Facebook

New data on the workplace by Evolv, a startup that monitors hundreds of metrics from Fortune 500 companies, suggests that social media should not be considered the the bane of employee productivity. Rather, the more social networks an employee uses, the more productive they are.

In the study it was found that employees who regularly used up to four social networks — such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or LinkedIn — made more sales or handled customer service calls faster than those who weren’t on any social networks. Those who used five social networks or more were slightly better at converting sales and handling customer service than employees on four or fewer networks, by 1.5% and 2.8% respectively, Mashablereported.

In addtition to improved productivity, employees in the social media camp also had a longer tenure. The employees who used four social networks stayed at the company longer, (an average 94 days of tenure with a company compared to 83 days for those who shunned social media). For those who used five social networks, their average tenure was slightly lower at 92 days.

Evolv goes on to suggest that the increases in productivity and tenure may simply be a reflection of the employee’s computer literacy and sociability, and therefore greater ability to provide better service and handle customers better.

Help from the East

Most developing countries are following the same development path – aping the West in terms of urbanisation, increased use of fossil fuels, technology and increased consumerism. This is understandable – after all the West has enjoyed the trappings of ‘the good life’ for many years and has done a good job of ‘selling the ideal’ to the East. However the West is bundling in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, pollution, climate change and a whole range of other negative factors.

Hopefully some of the Eastern countries – with their traditional approach to life which includes a major spiritual (rather than religious) component – might find a ‘third way’ which imposes some controls on unbridled consumerism and helps teach the West that there are routes to ‘development’ which do not ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’.

Keep the balance

I’m currently writing (or more accurately co-writing) a book on productivity improvement in the retail sector.

It seems that retailers have broadly ‘got it right’ … they work hard at productivity improvement … but they always maintain a balance with maintaining excellent customer service.

Of course those of us in the know about the the true focus of productivity improvement – and those steeped in the ‘lean’ tradition -know that productivity always has a focus on customer need and customer value.

If we are not creating customer value, we are not being productive!

Indian Skills

I’ve just spent some time in India. The educational system is india is large and varied – it includes state provision and much private provision. the system is ‘good’if you measure it in terms of knowledge transfered from tutors to learners – Indian students know lots of stuff and can regurgitate it in examinations However, India graduates are often considered unemployable – because they can’t ‘do stuff’ – they have few practical skills … or soft skills come to that.

India needs to provide these skills if its economy is to continue to grow. Of course employers will, as now, provide remedial training – but India needs its graduates to ‘hit the ground running’ and maximise the ways in which they can exploit their considerable knowledge by applying it in creative ways.

In the medium term, India needs to develop a vocational education and training system that provides industry with the skills it needs. It knows this and is currently finishing a process of establishing sector skills councils – adopting a model similar to the UK model.

Time will tell whether these SSCs can help change the focus – so that vocational skills are recognised and valued. This requires a cultural change as well as technical changes… and requires industry to pay for vocational skills so that young people can see the sense in adopting a skills-based approach to their personal development.

I wish India well – watch this space and in a few years i hope I have good news to report.

Can I have a drink of water?

The Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO) report reveals that not even one out of 49 countries of the Asia Pacific region can be considered ‘water secure’. South Asia and parts of Central and West Asia are faring the worst, with rivers under immense strain, it adds.

In the Asia Pacific region, the study highlights two stark realities – sharply rising inequality in access to water and sanitation, and the increasingly precarious state of rivers. It also presents measures that can be adopted to improve water security to mitigate growing pressure from booming populations, urbanisation, pollution, over-extraction of groundwater, climate change and other factors.

It added that there are already signs of growing water scarcity and environmental stress in large parts of important agricultural regions in Asia. Groundwater levels are falling in northern India, Pakistan and the northern plains of China, it points out.

80% of the rivers in the region are in poor health, as measured by the river health index. South Asian and Central and West Asian rivers have been assessed as being in the poorest health. Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka all have rivers that are in such poor health that environmental water security is threatened in these basins, the report warns.

Productive (continued)

I talked last week about employability skills. During the past week I have delivered a pilot program with Indian students developing employability skills using productivity as the ‘engine’ or focus. The students really enjoyed the program – in India they rarely get asked to ‘do’ something – and within a week had been in a factory and conducted an initial observation/analysis to identify the project they would do (as a team) over the next 3 weeks.  They will then carry out the project and produce a report which will go to the owner of the business and also be used as the basis of their assessment.

It has been fantastic to see the way they have responded to learning a new set of skills … they have worked until 10 at night (voluntarily) …. and surmounted all challenges.

Just think how much talent has been wasted by not giving these people and all their peers the skills they need to make a positive contribution to the organisations in which they work.

Productive graduates

I  have been doing some work in India recently and have been talking to employers about the process of employing recent graduates and post-graduates. What came across loud and clear and often were comments that such graduates are not ‘work-ready’ because they lack the knowledge and skills to become an effective member of an organisation on day1.  

Graduates knows (lots of) stuff … but they cannot do stuff.

This led the WCPS to collaborate on the latest book from the Institute of Productivity in the UK- Productivity and Employability skills – which helps develop some of the key organisation-related skills, but does so in the context of parallel and complimentary productivity improvement skills. Our belief is that we can help graduates ‘hit the ground running’ when they enter the world of work.

Because we are developing skills, the book is backed up by materials and exercises on the IoP website where they can develop skills and receive feedback.

If we can get into industry employable graduates who know something about the basic techniques of productivity improvement, then surely everyone wins.

Nice people

I have just got back from Turkey where I attended an event – a ‘Leadership Camp’ – organised by students for students – mainly students of industrial engineering. They had assembled an impressive set of speakers and sponsors and pulled off the whole event very well – complete with social programme.

Of course not only did they work hard to achieve their aims … they had real fun. And people who have fun usually work well … and they did.

They looked after me very well. So they are hard-working, talented,  committed and NICE people.