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  • 24 Sep 2020 7:37 PM | John Heap (Administrator)



    There have been lots of comments about how well the transformation to home working has gone - with many firms claiming that productivity has remained steady or even increased.  Employees seem to value the flexibility and the lack of commuting time. So - a real win-win situation?


    More recently the shine seems to be wearing off. Dig below the surface and there is increasing evidence that home working is taking a toll on employees emotionally, as interpersonal contact diminishes and this lack of contact builds anxiety about job insecurity. 


    There is also a reasonable probability that some of the productivity gains being claimed  by employers do not actually exist - with employers misjudging positive employee comments for positive contribution and performance.


    Research by 451 found that only 11% of employees felt more productive and more engaged with remote work than working from the office. Not surprisingly, these positive respondents tended to be more senior within a company, had prior experience with remote work, and were generally more tech-savvy, said Chris Marsh, a principal research analyst with 451, a division of S&P Global Market Intelligence.


    So, the good performance by a small number of important employees may have skewed overall views.


    This is typical of much change.  There is initial enthusiasm which gives a lift to performance but the novelty soon wears off and ‘the cracks in the surface’ start to emerge and widen.


    Some companies will have benefitted from the change - but this is much more likely for certain industries and tasks than others. Lack of regular intra-team and inter-team communication can be very damaging for some tasks and processes.


    So, look at the figures - and keep looking over time. Home working may work for your organisation - or for part of it.  But other parts may need to get back to the office.



  • 17 Sep 2020 8:18 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Productivity measurement takes many forms but increasingly it involves monitoring of employee attendance and performance.  So, data entry operators have long had their keystrokes per minute monitored, call centre operatives are used to being judged on the number of calls they handle ... and so on.


    Since these operators are being paid by the employer, this mostly seems reasonable... though one might argue that the measures used are naive or incomplete. We want call centre operators to resolve customer problems, for example, not ‘get rid of’ customers quickly.


    Does the present situation, where many of these operators are working from home, change the situation?  The operators are in a much more fluid and flexible work situation where the line between ‘presence’ and ‘absence’, and between ‘working' and ‘resting’ are much less clear.  Is it reasonable for an employer to closely monitor the employee in such a situation?  What about the right to privacy? Do we want a surveillance work culture?  Remember, this kind of situation is growing at the same time as people are crying foul over the monitoring of their behaviour by the technology big 4 - Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook.


    If employers want the benefits that accrue from more flexible, home working, they must accept the responsibility for maintaining very strong security over the data collected, and show that they respect the right of employees to self-manage their ‘work/home’ regime. Employees who feel respected and trusted are likely to be more productive, more satisfied and more incentivised.  Invasive monitoring and tracking tools will cause frustration snd annoyance - and result in lower performance.


    A win-win situation is possible!



  • 10 Sep 2020 8:12 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    83% of employers say that, even after today’s crisis has passed, they plan to put more flexible work policies in place, such as allowing more people to work from home or letting them adjust their schedules.


    That’s according to a recent survey of nearly 800 employers by Mercer, an HR and workplace benefits consulting firm.


    I have warned against such surveys before - those that show what the sponsor of the survey wants to hear.  I am not suggesting that those sponsors are faking the results .... just that they ask the right questions in the right way to get the results they require.


    But let’s address the claim.


    I cannot believe that all, or even the majority of, home workers produce the same level, and quality, of outputs/outcomes that they would have done in their normal office environment. Especially as at the strrt of the pandemic most firms did not have ‘working from home’ protocols, procedures, controls or measures.


    So, why do companies plan on more home and flexible working?


    I think the truth may be that the savings on office space costs may more than make up for the loss of labour productivity.


    I would like to see some robust and rigorous research look at this issue.... until then I’ll stick to my (admittedly personal) view.


    The productivity of the workforce has probably dropped ... but total productivity may have risen, when taking into account all cost factors.


  • 26 Aug 2020 7:21 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    When people talk about productivity, they usually mean labour productivity. When this is bad (i.e. declining), they may even blame ‘labour’ for their poor performance.


    Yet those of us who understand productivity, know this is rarely the case.  When labour productivity declines, it is much more often the result of a failing ‘system’ which negates the honest efforts of the workforce.  Similarly national productivity may decline because the larger economic system is failing.


    So, look beyond the simple productivity figures to understand what is happening ‘on the ground’. Read but then  analyse, interpret, challenge official figures.

  • 20 Aug 2020 7:54 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    There are lots of blogs and press releases that tell us another productivity ’secret’. The key to success is a healthy building, an employee wellness program, or .....


    If you read such an article/blog, make sure you check who issued it ... and the evidence provided. You are likely to find that the issuer is a provider of air conditioning or wellness programs or ..... and that the evidence is a survey of 200 companies.  


    Not surprising - and definitely not compelling.


  • 13 Aug 2020 5:22 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Many times, the distinction between effectiveness and efficiency crops up.

    “Which should we aim for?” ask executive teams.


    But this is not an either/or decision.


    Good businesses need both.


    They need to be doing the right things (effectiveness) and they need to be doing those things right (efficiency).


    One description of an effective business is that everyone is on the same bus, facing the same way and heading in the same direction.  Achieving this is a major function of leadership.   An important refinement is that great (not merely good) leaders as well as getting the right people on the bus, also get the wrong people off the bus (a much more difficult task - and the province of management, rather than leadership.  The management team also oversees the pursuit of efficiency.


    So, successful businesses need both good leaders and good managers - one out of two is not enough.


  • 06 Aug 2020 8:23 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    I was watching the PGA Championship (one of the major golf championships) on TV today when a thought struck me.


    Golf players learn the basics, and then with a combination of coaching and practice, they slowly develop and improve the way they play.  In golf, the margins of error are very fine - a 1 degree off-aim error when striking a drive off the tee can result in a very wayward shot - and a difficult second shot. The aim of all the coaching and practice is to instil consistency in the golf swing, so that, for example, every 6-iron shot is the same as every other 6-iron shot, unless it needs to be different due to prevailing conditions (the lie of the land, the wind and so on). A role of the coach is to observe the golfer in play and identify things that can be worked on with further practice to make small, steady improvements - reducing errors and improving consistency.


    All of this seems to me to be like a manufacturing process. The aim of tools and techniques such ad Lean and Six Sigma is to create a reproducible, consistent process that delivers consistent results.  Lean black belts are the coaches that oversee the design of the process. The operatives (and their supervisors) execute the process and get involved with their coach (say, in Kaizen activities) to identify small improvements that can reduce errors and improve consistency.


    So, what else might we learn from watching/analysing golf?


    Well, players are always reminded to:


    avoid slow play (in golf as in manufacturing processes, delay is to be avoided)

    replace divots and rake bunkers to avoid problems for following golfers (this ‘mirrors’ the 5S principle of maintaining a tidy, organised workplace)

    play to the rules and  in order of who is furthest from the hole (in both golf and manufacturing processes, standard operating procedures should be followed).

    be respectful to their playing partners (good teamwork involves mutual respect)  


    I am sure you can think of other comparisons.


    So, next time you are conducting an improvement investigation, imagine you are playing golf  - and, of course, aim for a sub-par round!


  • 31 Jul 2020 12:07 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    If you want to look at your energy efficiency, you might employ an energy consultant whose expert knowledge will hopefully short circuit any investigation or initiative.


    However, what that consultant/expert will do is to take a look at your operations and your processes and try to identify where your energy usage and costs are high, and where savings might be made.


    This is a bit like a ‘waste walk’ where you go round your plant/factory looking for signs of waste (preferably using ‘waste’ in its wider sense, as in the 7 wastes of Lean).


    A waste walk is simply a focused inspection of what the your factory do and how it do it - using direct observation of the work involved.


    An ‘energy walk’ can achieve similar results - the very focus on energy can reveal waste or savings opportunities - even without the help of an external expert.


    So, why not establish a schedule of such walks with a different focus each time. Observe and talk to operators and supervisors about their views on the focus factor.


    You might find you discover quite a lot about your organisation and its productivity - without spending money on consultants or advisers.


    What’s have you got to lose?


  • 24 Jul 2020 6:25 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    All these remote users working from home during the Covid crisis are putting a strain on company IT services and help desks as the workers try to cope with remote access to corporate systems with their home PCs.  A few companies saw lockdown coming and initiated a programme of specific training and equipment review.


    Too few companies. however, had this scenario within their  crisis and continuity planning framework.


    As ever, organisations are let down by their omissions, rather than their errors.


    It's what we don't think of rather than what we do that dictates how well we face emergencies.



  • 16 Jul 2020 10:29 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    In many developing countries, and especially in Africa, nations needs to pay attention to their agricultural productivity.  Rising populations mean that more food must be grown - and yet land is disappearing for bigger towns and citIES, mines, forestry and so on - meaning the percentage of land devoted to agriculture is reducing.


    If a government,. perhaps with help from its national productivity organisation, aid agencies, a university or the private sector, can show how targeted action can improve agricultural productivity…. they can demonstrate success and make the case for more targeted productivity initiatives in other sectors.


    Nothing succeeds more than demonstrating success.  Quick wins are essential in any longer-term change project. So, choose a sector (agriculture?), initiate a productivity campaign, demonstrate success (by measurement before and after) and watch others climb on board. 


    Within an organisation, too, simply replace sectors with processes - and the same model applies.  Show you can do it with one process  - and people want to share the success, extend the success and repeat the success.

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