• 11 Oct 2014 9:50 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    I can be as guilty as the next person in hailing specific concepts and practices as being important determinants of higher productivity.

    But we should stop searching for the 'secret' - the panacea - and concentrate on the basics.

    Productivity is about good organisation, good planning, effective design of facilities, systems and processes, effective motivation of staff and all those other things the management textbooks tell us about.

    So, the real 'secret' is about doing all those things well in pursuit of a clear and shared organisational mission.

    If someone comes offering you a simpler 'secret', they are selling you 'snake oil'.  There are few shortcuts in life. 

  • 03 Oct 2014 8:02 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    A personal 'productivity' tip sometimes referred to as 'Seinfeld's Chain' after Jerry Seinfeld, the US comedian is a useful reminder of the need to 'keep at it'.  The story is that, when he started writing, Seinfeld would mark each day he had spent his planned time actually writing by putting a big red cross through that day on a large wall calendar.  After a few days he would have a chain of crosses - and it required him to keep putting in the effort so as not to break the chain.  Even when he had 'better offers' or when he felt ill, the motivation to keep the chain going was very strong.

    The same approach can be used for anything which requires regular effort and activity - exercise, program coding, learning to play a musical instrument, etc.  it is not one long practice session that makes improvement - it is regular, incremental performance gains resulting from regular action.

    The productivity professionals amongst you will recognise that this is the fundamental concept behind kaizen - regular, small improvements leading to a major impact on performance over time.

    But it also applies at a more general level.  We all know we should ask 'Why?' regularly.

    'Why do we do it like that?'

    'Why do we do it at all?'  

    'Why is it done here?'

    'Why is it done like that?'

    If we keep asking, we keep coming up with suggestions for change - and improvement.

    So, tomorrow make sure you observe some work and ask questions about it ... and come up with some (perhaps very) small suggestion for improvement.

    Then mark your 'Why X' on a calendar and START the chain.

    Repeat daily until you have a chain of at least 5 Xs.

    Now look at your calendar.  1 working week - 5 improvements.  If you don't break the chain, that will be 250 in the year  ... and a potential transformation of productivity and performance.

  • 27 Sep 2014 10:08 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Employees work - and work hard  - for various reasons.

    Obviously there are contractual reasons - they take the money and have to 'put in the hours'.

    But above and beyond what they are contracted to, most employees put in 'discretionary effort' - over and above the minimum, perhaps because they like what they do, perhaps because they like the company, perhaps because they value being a member of the team they belong to.

    Our job, clearly, is to maximise this discretionary effort.  We have to address the motivational factors that 'persuade' them to offer more; we have to give them the skills they need; we have to inform them about why things are important, involve them in key decision-making and respect their views.

    Discretionary effort is almost free - we would be stupid not to try and release it.

  • 20 Sep 2014 5:36 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Last week I talked about gamification - and whether it could be used to help improve productivity. 

    If you weren't thinking about it then, I hope you are now - Ambient research suggests that game-based learning will grow from $1.5 billion in 2012 to $2.3 billion in 2017. This is important. I am regularly in touch with productivity centres around the globe who want to educate youngsters about productivity issues - whilst they are still young enough to be positively influenced. This is part of many national productivity campaigns.

    Adding gaming elements to such education might work.

    Let's remind ourselves about what gamification means - and what it doesn't.
    Asking the learner a series of questions, along with multiple options, is NOT game-based learning.

    Game-based learning is the application of gaming elements to a non-gaming context - such as learning or training ... and by gaming elements, we mean such things as:


    - the elements that 'hook' gamers and keep them coming back for more. Build these elements into your learning and you might just 'hook' learners into your learning and their progression ... and you might stand a chance of creating a generation informed about productivity before they enter the workplace.

  • 13 Sep 2014 11:30 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    We've heard quite a lot about 'gamification' recently - especially in the context of online learning.

    I read the term many times before I sought to understand it ... so I thought some of you might be in the same boat and would appreciate an 'executive summary'.

    If I'm right (after several minutes of research), gamification refers to taking processes (such as learning) and applying games-related functions like repetition, competition, rewards and recognition to make them more engaging to the participants.

    Many industries have had some of these elements for a number of years, but gamification seems to mean taking these things to a new levels and integrating them more thoroughly. Organisations like TripAdvisor which give you credit for reviews you write (and regularly remind you of the number of readers, especially those who 'liked' one of your reviews) are 'gamifying' their websites.

    In productivity terms, it ties up nicely with a number of the tenets of the lean philosophy.  For example, visual management can provide information as the basis of competition between work groups, departments and so on - and as the basis for rewards and recognition programmes.  So, whether you are ready ot go full steam ahead with gamification, it might be worth considering how you can use the functions referred to above to better engage your customers or your employees.

  • 06 Sep 2014 10:25 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Recently a colleague was bemoaning the fact that he had taken a bad decision.

    When I questioned him about the decision, and about the outcomes, I formed the view that he had taken a 'correct' (or sensible) decision given the information he had available at the time.

    As an example, consider the decision to make a bid in a game of bridge or make a move in a game of chess.  You make your move based on the experience you have of likely outcomes from the state of the game (or the cards you have been dealt) as it lies when you take the decision.  What happens subsequently will then depend on a number of additional factors - including the relative ability of you and your opponent(s).  You may lose the game.  However, if the same decision has to be made in the future, the likelihood is that you will make it in the same way - unless and until the number of times it turns out to be 'wrong' becomes statistically significant.

    The same is true in business.  You must not confuse the outcome of a decision with the wisdom of the decision you took.  You must continue to take decisions based on the information you have available (though you might want to find out more if you can) and the experience you have of similar situations.  Then whatever happens, happens.  The outcome might not be favourable because of prevailing conditions - or due to plain chance.  But the decision was still the correct one.

  • 30 Aug 2014 9:53 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    "For about 10 years now wage increases in Germany have not kept up with the development of productivity, by a long stretch" said European Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor in an interview with German newspaper Welt am Sonntag recently.

    This, of course, makes Germany highly competitive compared to other European states.

    Is this a problem?

    Is this unfair?

    If you are German, it might not seem like a problem (unless you think that those who have helped create the improved productivity should share in the benefits it brings). 

    If you are a European, perhaps it matters more fundamentally - a trading imbalance (and a competitive advantage for one state over others) harms the European economy.

    Presumably it is difficult to 'blame' Germany for its good performance and its 'prudence'.  We might urge them to take off the brakes and spend a little more .... but, much more importantly, we have to urge other European states to address their own productivity - and 'fight back'. 

  • 22 Aug 2014 8:01 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    When we make changes to (try to) improve productivity, we subsequently measure results and assess impact.  (Or we should if we want to evaluate our own performance and impact.)

    However, in many complex situations, we cannot be clear that what we have done has resulted in the changes we observe.  What would have happened if we had not intervened?  This is the 'counterfactual'.  How do we measure it - so we know the true impact of our changes?  Well, often, of course, we can't.  But sometimes we can extrapolate from observations we made earlier - and make an informed (and hopefully intelligent) 'guess' at what might have happened.

    Sometimes, we might have a 'parallel' situation elsewhere we can continue to observe (rather like a 'control group').

    The important point is to realise that in complex situations,we have to be careful about assuming (or claiming) that all change has resulted from our actions. Otherwise we can over- or under-estimate the impact we have ... and subsequent decisions might be based on this imperfect - and incorrect - knowledge.

  • 14 Aug 2014 9:22 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    In my recent discussions with PAPA (the Pan African Productivity Association), the topic of the Ebola virus came up.  Just as Africa seems to have recovered from the great HIV/Aids crisis (having largely got the 'epidemic' under control), the continent is hit by another great health problem - likely to have severe implications for those economies where the virus is rampant.

    The developed world is only just starting to see this as a global concern rather than as a 'local' African problem - and we might now start to see real resources going into research into both containment and cure.

    Situations where we lack control are real drains on productivity.  We have to do what we can to help Africa take control of this situation or the whole continent - and then the rest of us - will suffer.

  • 08 Aug 2014 2:19 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Well, I’m here in Mauritius and I’ve been having an interesting time.

    I spent a few days with the Board of PAPA (the Pan African Productivity Association) discussing the productivity status and opportunities in Africa.  Many of the productivity centres and champions are working under a range of funding, cultural and political constraints but there was consensus about some of the big challenges and around some of the necessary infrastructure elements that need to be put in place to underpin productivity development.  

    This is something we should all watch with interest  - Africa’s productivity is important to us all in terms of helping the world solve the 3 great problems of food security, energy availability and universal access to fresh, clean water.

    I was then fortunate enough to attend a session led by the great Robert Kaplan, one of the creators of the Balanced Scorecard concept and model.  Amongst other things, it was interesting to see the development of the model from measurement scorecard to strategic planning catalyst. Robert gave several examples of companies that have deployed Balanced Scorecard and used it to transform their understanding of the business and shape its future.  Importantly he cited the use of the Scorecard to support strategy execution and evaluation as key to longer-term success.  My biggest, single ‘takeaway’ message was that ”Strategy is important, but execution is what delivers.”

    Tomorrow, I am flying home - to more mundane (but no less important) issues, concerns, projects and activities.

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