• 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.

  • 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.

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