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  • 20 Jun 2014 7:54 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Many countries have productivity centres to advise their government of productivity and related issues.

    But do they do any good?

    Is productivity something that can be shaped and steered by government?

    I would say 'YES' from my experience in the UK - but not always in ways that might be expected.

    Twenty or thirty years ago, the UK's productivity levels were disastrously low - UK goods were uncompetitive, of poor quality and over priced.

    Now, however, UK industry is much better, the economy is growing - and UK goods have a much better reputation.

    What happened?

    Margaret Thatcher happened!

    Like her or loathe her (and there are plenty in both camps), she transformed UK industry - by curbing the power of the unions and de-regulating the economy.

    Most national productivity strategies seek to regulate  ... when they should be de-regulating!

  • 14 Jun 2014 9:49 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Most of the time we get things right.... at least if we have the skills to accomplish what we set out to do.

    Occasionally, though, we slip on a banana skin - and we get something wrong.

    A defect in Lean terms (one of the 7 wastes).

    It is almost impossible to avoid all defects - though, of course, we try very hard.

    What matters is how we deal with our mistakes - how we learn from them.

    So, when you spot a mistake - don't assign 'blame', assign 'responsibility'  - for learning the lessons and making improvements.

  • 07 Jun 2014 9:25 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    I have been in the productivity' business' for longer than I care to remember.

    Sometimes, I feel that the longer I am in the business, the less I know - or the less I feel confident to declare.

    I started off as a 'work study engineer' - great training, but I soon realised that studying work was only a partial approach. To often, low productivity stems from 'non-work' system inefficiencies that surround the actual work.

    So, I started to look at business processes and business systems.

    Then I realised that often it wasn't the system that was broken but the culture of the organisation that de-motivated and disengaged the people.

    So, where do I now feel that the answer lies?

    I think I have worked my way 'up' the organisational structure and feel that change (for the better) has to start at the top with a 'planning and execution system' that stems directly from the organisational mission.  This must define and support 'excellence' and must translate into systems, processes and procedures - and skilled roles and tasks - which build in individual and team responsibility for that excellence, together with performance measures that ensure we remain 'on track' with our plans and targets.

    Can I define and design such an organisation and support system?  Emphatically no!  BUT I can facilitate its design and execution by business owners and leaders who share the vision of a skilled, trained, engaged workforce who know and understand their own roles within the overall organisational system.

    We need to 'flip' the traditional representation of an organisation structure and see the role of managers and leaders as creating and sharing a vision of excellence and then identifying and removing the barriers that prevent 'front line workers' from creating that excellence.

  • 31 May 2014 10:14 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    As a productivity professional, I am used to counting every penny/cent spent and justifying the expenditure by the benefits it brings - its (perhaps tiny) contribution to the aims of the organisation.

    Sometimes, however, firms decide to spend money on things which have no direct utility - corporate art, charitable giving, etc.  Can such expenditure be justified?  ... in productivity terms.

    Organisations are often large, complex, beasts - with many divisions and components. What makes them successful is their ability to co-ordinate all the parts and work together as a complete entity, working to common goals - and the organisational mission.  This ability often depends on leadership - and the way this creates a sense of shared values ... and shared mission.

    Often, non-utility expenditure is concerned with expressions of values.  It shows stakeholders the things the company regards as important. As such it helps create cohesion around the message and the mission.

    As long as the amount of money spend on such things is not 'out of proportion' to utilitarian expenditure, and, as long as it is not expenditure for a privileged few - artwork in the executive penthouse, for example - it can make a positive contribution.

  • 24 May 2014 11:05 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Consultants usually specialise in …. productivity, quality, organisational development, innovation, or some other ‘improvement’ topic.

    This suggests that the business world is full of tools and techniques that must be selected carefully according to the kind of situation – and kind of problem – being considered.

    However my experience is that most of the tools and techniques – whether quality tools, productivity tools or whatever – are simply means of exploring the situation – and uncovering hidden ‘truths’.

    Any consultant worth his/her salt should be capable of addressing a quality problem or an innovation project – using whatever tools they feel most comfortable with.  We pretend to be knowledgeable and ‘clever’ – and of course we are … but often our major asset is having time and having an external, disinterested viewpoint.

  • 17 May 2014 8:57 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    I was recently looking at some documents I had created a few years ago.  My first thought on reading them was that they were out-of-date, but on re-reading them, I realised the format and appearance was out-of-date but almost all the content was still relevant.

    Sometimes we get confused by, or seduced by, the medium and forget to concentrate on the essential message.  Being up-to-date and looking modern and professional is important - but of no use if the underlying message is not right.

    Oddly enough, things rarely change as fast as they are often though to - or claimed to.  Even in the IT  world, most of the 'principles' of computing have not changed in 20 years.  The hardware and software changes but fundamentally, computing is much as it was in the early days of the PC when it moved from the computing department to the individual.

    So, review and update - but also reflect on the past and learn the lessons. Change - but because you have assessed the situation and the environment and have determined an appropriate course of action - not because change looks 'attractive'.

  • 12 May 2014 11:17 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    I’ve recently returned from Greece where I was privileged to visit the site of the oracle at Delphi – a major centre of  world communication in the 5th century BC.  The size and scale of what was the Temple of Apollo is staggering – this was both a communications and commercial centre of real magnitude.

    It is good to be reminded of past civilisations and their power and influence – and also good, of course, to be reminded that such civilisations often collapse or fail.  ‘Success’ is a fragile commodity – and the world changes around successful organisations – and nations.   Those who fail to ‘read the runes’ and fail to adapt to the changing environment are doomed to fail.

  • 12 May 2014 11:11 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    I'm sure that even if you haven't read Thomas Piketty's book, Capital in the Twenty First Century, you will have seen the controversy surrounding his suggestion that we need to substantially raise taxation of the wealthy to force a 'better' redistribution of wealth (or more properly, of capital).

    Picketty takes special aim at those with capital who don't have to work for it.

    Whatever your views (and this is something about which people feel strongly rather than reason logically), Thomas Picketty has forced a debate on the world and that can only be good.  Those who believe in the free market have to defend the 'status quo'; those (like Picketty) who want to see change have to justify the actions they want to take,

    The rest of us can sit on the sidelines, observe and listen.  But this is an important issue.  I urge you to read the book - just so you can take a more informed position in the debate; I also urge you to read the criticisms of Piketty's viewpoint and seek the 'balance' that might steer us through this debate.

    We (almost) all want 'a fairer world'.  The question is ...Does Piketty have an approach that might takes us towards one?

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