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  • 03 Dec 2020 7:57 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Lots of workers (in manufacturing) are concerned about losing their jobs to robots, as the inexorable rise of automated machines and AI gathers pace.

    One common ‘defence’ is to suggest that robots only take over the drudgery - leaving the humans to take on more skilled, more knowledge-based tasks, and making the workplace safer.


    This is a valid argument - unless, of course, you are one of the ‘drudges’ and do not find yourself elevated to the richer, knowledge-based work held out in front of you when the changes were proposed.


    Those of you older than 40 in the UK will know that a whole generation has grown up in former mining communities will very few alternative job opportunities.


    Once, young unskilled males had the options of mining, manufacturing or military.  Now those options are limited to filling orders in a warehouse, flipping burgers or driving a delivery van  - and automation is set to tackle at least two of those in the coming years.


    The dream when I was growing up was that such automation and technological advancement would allow us all to work fewer hours and yet live better lives. In practice technology has made a very small number of people very rich, left many people working much longer hours (or multiple jobs) and left quite a lot of people with no job at all.


    We generate more wealth - but we distribute it les equally.


    This is a recipe for short-term gain but longer-term unrest.


    We need an industrial strategy that is tied to a social strategy - and we need a productivity strategy that addresses all of social, environmental and economic benefit.


  • 26 Nov 2020 7:38 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    It is amazing how a problem, and especially a disaster, can focus the mind ... focus efforts of individuals and teams ... focus organisations - and even focus nations.


    The current pandemic has been very much ‘pan’ - crossing countries and continents. It has seen remarkable global cooperation and collaboration in the search for an effective vaccine, with even the beleaguered WHO (beleaguered thanks to the ex-president of the USA) providing coordination and communication.


    The result is a number of potential vaccines being developed and tested in a remarkably short time. - and the first glimmers of hope that the pandemic might soon be under control.


    This is a great lesson in facilitating innovation.


    Remember those 'C's - cooperation, collaboration, coordination and communication. But mainly remember the immense focus placed on the problem - and therefore on potential solutions. 


    When seeking innovation, you must have these conditions in place, serving the efforts of a team or teams who are completely focused on an agreed problem. 


    Of course this should preferably be done before disaster strikes :)


  • 19 Nov 2020 8:13 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    The obvious answer is ‘Yes’ but is that the right answer?


    it depends on what you means by ‘worry about’.


    The CEO needs to worry about ‘big issues’ - those that directly affect achievement of strategic aims and the overall mission.


    Of course, productivity is important.  It is a useful measure of ‘future profit’, of competitiveness.  But is it a big issue?


    Yes - but not at the employee level.


    Even though the productivity of employees can be aggregated to the level of the organisation  it is not the determining factor of organisational productivity.  What matters is the productivity and effectiveness of the overall ‘system’, of the way various organisational components interact and interplay.


    So, productivity is definitely an issue for the CEO - but at the highest levels where it does indeed directly affect achievement of strategic aim and the overall mission. Senior and middle mangers should then address the productivity of the various organisational components - functions, processes, departments, teams - so that productivity is build from the ground (shop floor) up.


    The CEO then has no need to worry!


  • 12 Nov 2020 8:02 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Two trends have come together to transform attitudes to technology.


    Firstly, hardware (closely followed by software) has become so advanced that many tasks previously thought incapable of being computerised or digitised have now come within application areas


    Secondly, people have become used to using technology since they now use their mobile phones for a range of daily tasks.


    This means that:


    many companies can see opportunities to improve productivity by computerising or adding technology support to a range of processes;


    workers are not as frightened of using technology as they might have been even a decade ago.


    Of course this is a generalisation.  It is still incumbent on firms to ensure that all employees do, in fact, have the skills they need to work effectively with new technologies.  Firms should also work towards having compatible and complementary software with similar user interfaces and user experiences so that confusion is minimised.


    This is often best achieved by adopting a comprehensive, modular technology platform which can be tailored to the company’s needs but maintains a consistent approach across the platform and within all modules.



  • 05 Nov 2020 10:25 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    A crisis like the one the world is at the moment changes political, economic and business thinking. Long-term strategy understandably gives way to survival thinking.... “How can we get through this?”


    So, longer (but not that long) issues such as climate change become very much a ‘future nice-to-consider’ rather than an impending issue.


    Individual firms (and especially small firms) just have to do what they need to survive the next few months (perhaps, unfortunately, the next few years) and short-term cost savings are more important than considered and balanced thinking.


    However, governments have a responsibility to think in the longer-term.  They need to be thinking NOW about the measures they need to take to raise productivity and innovation after the pandemic to raise the revenue to pay off the loans they have taken to pay for their current palliative measures.

  • 30 Oct 2020 7:27 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Which governments succeeded and which have failed in meeting the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic?  Well - as ever - it depends on your definition of success.


    There are two main factors against which the future will judge governments: the first is public health and well-being; the second is economic performance.   The first will be judged over the next 1 or 2 years; the second over the next 10 or 20 years.


    We can, though, make some suggestions as to how some governments are doing according to their current policies and actions.  I can only comment in any detail on the UK situation but it does seem as though too many governments have been too reactive and have little in the way of strategy governing what they do. Of course, this pandemic is fairly fast-moving and governments must react to developments - but this should be within a strategy/policy framework based on pre-pandemic thinking and scenario planning.  (We knew that some form of pandemic was a possibility based on global experience of SARS, bird-flu, ebola, etc.) 


    In terms of economic planning, a downturn in economic activity is generally a time to turn to future planning - and especially manpower planning... reviewing future manpower needs and adjusting education and training accordingly as well as investing in infrastructure.  I have seen little evidence of this - where is the government drive for training and skills development?  The UK government invested hugely in a ‘furlough’ scheme whereby employee wages were paid by the government to avoid companies having to make those employees redundant.  However, the government could have made such support contingent on those employees undergoing some form of skills development.  This was an opportunity missed to help create the potential for future productivity gains - and to help those employees feel valued.


    The pandemic is likely to be with us for some time.  It is not too late to impose some critical and creative thinking and establish some forward strategy in support of a vision for a post-pandemic nation.   


    Lobby your government to think before they (re)act.


  • 22 Oct 2020 8:24 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Many, if not most, companies are looking to improve productivity these days.  They may design single, initiatives or projects to look at key issues or, if they are smart, have an ongoing ‘movement’ that systematically addresses all business processes.


    Too often, however, even the smarter companies concentrate on ‘up front’ processes and tasks - the direct-to-customer activity.  This is not necessarily bad - in fact it is an effective starting point.  Howevere, it is also necessaery to work ‘back’ through ancillary and support activities to ensure the commitment to improving productiivty extends throughout the organisation and all it does.


    Let’s take a simple example. 


    A conmpany might review its manufacturing process and work out ways in which performance can be improved - either in quality or throughput terms.


    They then need to work through supporting processes so that logistics activities, warehousing and so on are attuned to the new process. They also need to review staff onboarding, training and development processes to ensure staff are prepared to fully contribute to the new process.  Sounds sensible, doesn’t it?


    However, in productivity development, the devil is in the detail.  The organisation needs. to think through the full consequencs of all the process and support activity changes.  Are production planning processes fit for (new) purpose.  Are quality assurance and quality control processes still relevant?


    Further ... if we have changed onboarding, training and development processes, do we have the administrative processes and skills to make sure those activities are effective and efficient.


    The organisation must continue to work ‘backwards’ through support processes and support roles to ‘complete’ the picture and build a truly effective organisation with holistic and comprehensive, productive processes, roles and activities.



  • 15 Oct 2020 4:58 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Do you want your employees to work hard?  (Yes, we’re starting with the easy questions.)


    Well, actually you don’t. If those employees are doing the wrong things, or even doing the right things but in the wrong way, then hard work can, at best, be sub-optimal and ,at worst, counter-productive.


    What we want from our employees is achievment of agreed outcomes, where those outcomes are in support of the organisational mission and move it towards its vision, helping realise the strategic plan.


    This can be relatively easy for employees - if there is a current, active plan in support of a shared mission and vision.  So, we sre looling for outcomes, not outputs.


    This requires a change of mindset.  


    I talked a couple of posts ago about the importance of establishing critical success factors and supporting key performance indicators, and I talked last time abouit the dangers of hsving inappropriater measures of performance.  This post brings both those points into sharper focus.


    Ths mission and vision should lead us to the criticsal success factors - those things the organisation should do, and do well, to achieve its mission.  The KPIs follow on, letting us identify whether progress is being made in relation to those CSFs.


    So, you need to know not whether your employees are working hard but whether they are ‘moving the needle’ in relation to the KPIs which measure progress on CSFs which detemine success in achieving the mission.  


    And, preferably, your employees should know why you are measuring what you are measuring - and why it is important.


  • 09 Oct 2020 12:01 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    I am a firm believer in measurement of performance as part of a wider performance management regime.


    However, I am also aware of the dangers of inappropriate measurement.


    Measurement drives behaviour change. This means. however, that if the measures are ‘wrong’, you will drive behaviour in the wrong direction.


    People, understandably, will try to move measures in the direction that  puts them in a  favourable light. If this does not move the organisation closer to its mission, something is clearly wrong. Staff end up playing the measures game, rather than concentrating on real, successful performance improvement.


    A simple - but all too common - example is where staff are incentivised to maximise  output.  If they do this at the expense of quality,  they still win but the organisation will lose.


    So, review your performance measures and KPIs regularly - and check they are having the desired effect - in both the short and  longer-term.  


  • 01 Oct 2020 10:20 PM | John Heap (Administrator)




    Every business - and every manager in that  business - should know what are the critical success factors … what must the company do - and do well - if they are to be successful.  What are the factors that underpin the mission.  

    The aim is not to identify lots of these - but the essential (‘critical’) ones.


    One probably relates in some way to customer satisfaction or service; another (especially in smaller businesses) might relate to the control of work-in-progress and/or cashflow.


    Once these are identified, the business should identify some measure that will tell them how well (or badly) they  are doing in relation to each CSF.  These are the organisation’s key performance indicators (KPIs) - and there should be at least one that relates to each CSF.


    Finally, they need to identify actions that will make those indicators move in  the right direction, showing progress is being made in relation to the CSFs and towards the mission.


    We like to think of a form of ‘golden thread’ that runs through everything the organisation does - from establishing the mission, to identifying CSFs, to identifying appropriate KPIs - and establishing a set of action plans.


    The concept is very simple; execution  is harder - but failing to create the golden thread means some important factor may be overlooked.


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