• 10 Jun 2021 6:40 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    If you are always moaning about the number of meetings you have to attend, then almost certainly you do have too many meetings.  The pandemic - and the forced switch to Zoom and Teams and the like for meetings - has opened up meetings to all.


    Just because all can attend, it doesn’t mean that all should attend.As many as possible should avoid the meeting and be doing some productive work. They can be informed  about the meeting later … well, the key decisions and actions anyway. 


    So next time you hold or organise a meeting, take as much time over the attendance list as you do over the agenda.  Why are people being invited? What will they add? What contribution can they make? Do they need to be consulted … or just informed about outcomes?


    Can you stop their suffering and leave them off the invitation list? 


  • 03 Jun 2021 7:47 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    The UK’s rail franchise system (where private companies bid for the right to tun rail services on the national infrastructure)  was introduced to improve competition and efficiency.  


    However, the bids - and the assessment of them - were highly over-optimistic. They looked to offer value-for-money for the government/taxpayer and a good return for the franchisee …. but in reality, these benefits rarely accrued.


    The reality was poor quality service and low profits.


    This phenomenon is all too common in government contracting -where someone has a good idea but no-one has the information or expertise to establish an effective measurement and monitoring regime.


    However the real problem lies in setting goals.  The aims of an effective rail transport system should perhaps more sensibly be set as safety, reliability and punctuality - whether that translates into profits might then depend on the subsidies government is prepared to provide. 


    Government should learn more about setting SMART  (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals - and thinking through the unintended consequences of policy decisions.


    (Incidentally, you might notice that my expansion of SMART differs from the most common set of words used. That suggests A stands for Attainable, but I much prefer Assignable. You must know who is responsible for achieving the goals - who has been assigned responsibility.  I think if goals are Specific, Messurable, Assignable, Relevant and Time-bound they are Attainable.)



  • 27 May 2021 3:30 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Many companies are looking to improve manufacturing productivity by improving the efficiency of their various machines and other manufacturing facilities - by, in turn, improving their data driven management … monitoring the performance of those facilities in real-time. 


    Connecting and analysing all that data is a big challenge.  


    What we need are standards and protocols which allow us to share and connect our data which can then be imported into analytical systems to provide useful insights.


    Of course, companies could build custom code to do the job but the IoT scene is changing quickly and maintaining customer code over  time is going to  be difficult.


    We need integrated platforms based around established protocols for inter-connectedness - platforms that can evolve over time to keep pace with technological change.


    Manufacturing equipment makers, enterprise software developers - please help! 


  • 20 May 2021 10:18 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Agricultural productivity is one of the globe’s (and the twentieth century’s) great success stories. Over that century from 1900 to 1999 the number of people employed in agriculture dropped dramatically, yet yields rose just as dramatically.


    This was just as well since the global population also rose significantly and all those extra mouths to feed required a lot more food to be grown and produced.


    The trend seemed unstoppable. Of course, productivity growth had to slow since the number of people could not continue to drop massively since there were so few people employed in the sector but advances in pesticides, seed formulation, weather forecasting - and agricultural technology - were sure to keep productivity rising, weren’t they?


    Well, no actually.  Those optimists that forecast continued productivity growth forgot to factor in the effects of global warming and climate change. The sector has been struggling to stand still.


    The effects have also been disproportionately felt in poorer, developing countries - where population growth is highest.  We richer countries have to work harder, and share our knowledge more effectively if we are to avoid pan-famine following pandemic. 


  • 13 May 2021 2:49 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    There is quite a bit of debate about whether working from home is good or bad for productivity.

    Are working-from-home employees as efficient as those in the office?  


    The jury is still out.... but perhaps we are asking the wrong question.


    We need employees to be innovative and creative as well as, or even rather than, efficient.


    Since many phases of the innovation process require the sharing of innovative and collaborative thinking, innovation is only likely to happen if close relationships and effective communication processes are maintained for those workers not in the office.


    There can be advantages for home working - like less distraction and reduced energy lost to commuting.  But the main loss is that of the casual conversation, the experimental thinking and informal co-operation that close contact brings.


    Technology can replicate some of this - but not all of it and not for all people.  It is too early to say but creativity may take a hit.  Certainly firms need to be on the ball, monitoring the situation and checking that innovation levels are being maintained. 


    If not, they had better open the office to all.


  • 06 May 2021 5:17 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Many employees seem to want to ‘hide in the shadows’ - to get on with their work without disturbing their supervisor/manager.  Many supervisors/managers seem equally happy with this approach, feeling that employees who ‘raise their heads above the parapet’ are likely to do so for negative reasons - because they have made a mistake or forgotten to do something. 


    Of course this often means that employees are also not visible because of exceptionally good performance.


    Managers should try to make all employees visible - by checking regularly on them, not in a punitive way, but simply to check that they fully know their role and responsibilities, have the knowledge, skills, tools and equipment  required to carry out that role effectively, and are fully engaged and motivated.


    Supervisors should look at performance data - throughput levels, quality levels, etc - but should also talk to employees while observing them in the workplace at the source of good or bad performance.


    Employees who are invisible may be dragging down your productivity. If employees are visible, you can make a judgement about their performance and manage it accordingly.


  • 29 Apr 2021 11:14 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Anyone with a hyperactive child knows how wearing it can be to have to cope with the demands such a child can make on a regular and continuing basis.

    Well, email and continual zoom meetings have been like that for many remote workers.  Everyone gets copied into emails or invited to zoom meetings which are of only peripheral interest or relevance.


    If they decide not to engage with an email thread or a meeting, they get FOMO (Fear of missing out) and anxious.  Their stress levels rise. Their productivity drops.  


    If they do engage, they waste time on irrelevant correspondence and inappropriate meetings. Their productivity drops.


    Yet, many firms have let this happen for over 12 months.  


    Few firms have issued guidelines about copying people into emails or inviting people to online meetings - even when they have seen email threads and zoom meetings which clearly have too many people in them. 


    If not careful, this will continue as people return to the workplace. Productivity will be sucked out of the organisation into these communication tasks.


    Treat the return to the workplace as an opportunity to issue (or re-issue) guidance and tame the beast.


    Control people’s FOMO and you control their anxiety. You make them more productive. And it costs you nothing. 


    Start now!


  • 22 Apr 2021 7:37 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Before the pandemic, evidence suggested that many employees were not really engaged with their work/workplace/employing organisation.  The results of a lack of engagement are absenteeism, poor quality of work and a lack of concern for customer service.

    So, what has happened during the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, engagement has not increased. It is difficult to maintain  engagement over distance …. but too manny firms have ignored this problem and made no real attempts to engage their employees with positive action .


    As employees drift back to their places of work, some of this lack of engagement may automatically disappear … but it is a dangerous strategy to simply make this assumption. 


    Re-establishment of positive engagement should start with the communications about returning to the workplace.  These, themselves, should be positive, thanking employees for their contribution if they have been working from home, or for their patience if they have been furloughed.  Previous relationships should  be re-established so employees feel comfortable and careful re-training provided in case employees have lost skills or confidence.


    This also applies to supervisors and managers who must be made aware of the importance of a ’smooth’ return to work and to established working practices.



  • 15 Apr 2021 5:26 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Most small businesses fail before they grow into big businesses. One of the commonest reasons is that they run out of working capital. In turn this is because the business leaders often do not understand the relationships between different aspects of their business. They fail to fully connect sales, production and finance.  


    At times they concentrate on sales, without bothering to ensure they have the capacity to meet enhanced sales contracts.  Or they concentrate on production without having those enhanced sales contracts - and end up with lots of unsold stock.


    Even when they consider sales and production together, they might fail to fully understand the implications for financing - in both the short and long term.


    Yet these leaders of small businesses are ‘smart’ businessmen - they have fought tenaciously to establish and grow their business.  They have probably hired someone with financial acumen and installed one of the standard accounting packages.  They have created the conditions for financial control - just forgotten to exercise it.


    Their performance management is probably similar.  They might measure performance  - output, quality, etc but fail to make all the necessary linkages or take the hard decisions that sometime need to be taken. If, for example, they tolerate poor performance (or even fail to recognise it), their workers will recognise this and may act accordingly - becoming de-motivated or exploiting what they perceive as management weakness.


    In both areas, managers need to ‘join the’ dots- to make the various links between measurement and control; to establish measures which uncover poor performance and highlight problems’; to establish  communication processes which ensure everyone knows what their role is and how their performance is perceived; to establish rewards for good performance and sanctions for poor performance.


    Then they might actually create the environment in which they can prevent small problems becoming big problems and enhance the possibility that their small business might grow into a large business.


  • 08 Apr 2021 5:34 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Did you have any New Year resolutions?  If so, are they still intact?  Do you have ‘staying power?


    If you do, it is perhaps because you build some kind of reminder into everyday events when your resolution is needed.  Perhaps a reminder note on the fridge or in the car. Perhaps you go further and build a ‘system’ to continually remind you’ve - like a daily/repeating  calendar entry.


    Most of us need some kind of support system to keep us focused and make sure we don’t simply forget.  Any reminder should be at the right time and should be appropriate.  For example, any reminder about our diet might include our present weight or waistline measurement to more directly motivate us.


    The same is true of such resolutions in a work environment.  If we want to establish a kaizen or continuous improvement regime, we need to know we can maintain effort and direction over the longer-term. We can use calendar entries, daily inspirational quotes from the web, make it a standing item on all meeting agendas or whatever.   We also need everyone to understand bits importance so our ‘reminder regime’  must include communication.


    We must be resolute!


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