• 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.

  • 10 Jul 2020 10:58 AM | John Heap (Administrator)

    We have heard lockdowns and other measures used to try and contain/control the Coronavirus pandemic referred to as ‘social experiments’.  We do not yet know the longer-term results of these experiments on the physical and mental well-being of the experimental subjects (us!).

    Similarly, governments have tried a variety of macroeconomic experiments to try and preserve national economies. Again, we do not know the longer-term consequences of such experiments.  Undoubtedly some will prove to have been more effective than others.

    Of course, these two sets of experiments interact.  The well-being of the population is affected by the state of the economy - especially in terms of the confidence with which people face the future, face new challenges and face entrepreneurial  decisions.

    So, whatever governments think they are doing with their strategies for coming out of lockdown and revitalising their economies, the future is very much unknown.  All experiments are prone to failure.  Here in the UK, obviously I hope the UK government has taken wise decisions (decisions that look wise with hindsight in a year’s time preferably).  But I am not  holding my breath or investing all-in in a recovery.

    Some governments’ experiments and solutions will pay off; others will not.  As I have indicated before, you have to choose your own routes to long-term success, hoping the government has provided an infrastructure and ecosystem that gives you potential.

    Good luck!  

    The only thing worse than doing the ‘wrong’ thing (something which turns out to be wrong sometime in the future) is to do nothing (and hope things improve). Almost always in these kinds of crises, action beats inaction.

  • 02 Jul 2020 9:25 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Many firms have realised during the pandemic, and the lockdown that went with it, that city centre real estate may be a very expensive means of providing facilities for staff. 

    The general consensus is that workers have been quite productive whilst working from home, so minute by minute supervision is unnecessary 

    However there are factors that make remote working less effective.  There is, perhaps naturally, a lack of informal cooperation that ’oils the wheels’ of effectiveness. Formal cooperation and communication can take advantage of Zoom, Teams ands other platforms …. but the informal component tends to be missed.  Yet, the informal component of cooperation and communication is what people value - its why they like going to work. It is also how they get simple (but effective) peer support and training.  It is also what helps innovation via the cross-pollenisation of thoughts and ideas.

    So, as you start to move towards whatever the new normal will be, you should think about whether, and how, you should bring people together to improve communication and cooperation.

    How do you engage workers on a daily and continuing basis? How do you get your company values and culture to permeate across physical barriers?

    You might not get all the answers right … but you will get many of them wrong if you don’t even think about it.  

    Of course, with luck you can get back to where you were before the pandemic.  But wouldn’t you be better in a more advantageous position, with  more engaged, more cooperative,  more creative workers.

  • 25 Jun 2020 10:39 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Many of us think we are very good at what we do for a living. Some are even arrogant enough to think they are ‘the best’.  Companies sometimes act as if they have a ‘divine right’ to their market share, or market superiority.

    However, the worst offenders must be politicians.  They know they are right and act accordingly.  This can seem patronising or arrogant to the rest of us - even when we share the same, broad political views.  Politicians often take decisions  without apparently thinking things through - rarely seeming to consider the unintended consequences of their decision and subsequent actions.  When some of those consequences become apparent and suggest more thought is necessary, the politicians plough on, taking further actions  and creating more of a mess.  

    Remember, when you’re in a hole, stop digging.

    In the current pandemic, the UK government decided that some form of contact tracing would be helpful - allowing contact to be made with those that had been in contact with others recently diagnosed with COVID-19. A number of other countries had already implemented technology - via smartphones - to assist with this ... and Google and Apple had already collaborated on the core technology for such an app, leaving governments to add the user interface and tailor the top level to meet their own needs.

    Did the NHS (National Health Service) or the British government go with Google/Apple technology?  No, they did not.  they were arrogant enough to think they could do it on their own, and presumably do it better .... even though the record of major computer system implementation in the NHS is one of failure, overspend and scandal.  

    Why would you not adopt what is in effect a global standard? ... especially one which had been developed (thanks, presumably to Apple) with privacy in mind.

    But no. The UK government and NHS went ahead, trialled their app on the Isle of Wight, found it didn't work  and  then announced a delay in implementation before going ahead with a people-based  (and expensive) track and trace approach.

    Sometimes politicians just have to accept their limitations and seek help from those better equipped to deliver.   Your company is just the same.  Accept what you can't do - and work with others to fill those gaps.

  • 18 Jun 2020 7:08 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    The last few months have confirmed what many of us already knew.  That monitoring the behaviour and performance of employees can help improve that performance.  However, when many, if not all, of those employees are working remotely, such monitoring becomes difficult.

    However, the other, more important lesson learned from lockdown is that monitoring employee performance is less successful than creating high performance via a positive and supportive culture which creates engaged and self-motivated employees, eager to make their contribution irrespective of the type or level of monitoring.

    Again, continuing to fully engage employees is not always easy.

    Obviously, engagement starts with communication, so the various communication tools that have come into common usage can be very helpful … but only if you:

    • communicate in the right way
    • communicate the right things.

    Employees need information to do their jobs effectively. So shared file systems can also be important - ensuring employees can tap into organisational databases and reference files.

    It can be  useful to allow communication about non-work-related topics - the equivalent of moving the water-cooler or other social focal point online - but there should be  a separate channel for this ... and clear protocols about what can, and cannot, be included on ‘official’ channels.

    We are talking about culture here, so it is important to continually reinforce the organisation’s core values - by what is said and what actions follow.

    Effective communication is always dependent on the will to communicate. If you really want to communicate, you will find ways to make the communication effective. And if the messages you send show trust and a commitment to shared values, your employees should be engaged and reassured.

  • 11 Jun 2020 10:44 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Many of us have become used to working remotely during the COVID 19 pandemic.Some of us have become used to managing others remotely - though there are still issues to resolve.  Of course, some processes are more difficult than others and, for some, we need specialist software support.

    But ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. If we can’t do things face-to-face, we have to find ways of doing them remotely.

    Can we hire people. Yes, we can. The administration of the hiring process can obviously be carried out remotely - and  we can use our remote meeting technologies to conduct online interviews - though this needs careful planning and preparation.

    We can monitor performance - though here we have to avoid a simple emphasis on ‘duration of activity’ and find ways to monitor and assess outcomes or achievements.

    We can communicate - work instructions, rules and regulations, and even elements of the organisation’s values and culture. 

    We can carry out training - using online learning, video demonstrations and so on. 

    So, it seems as though the question is not ‘What can we do remotely?’ But rather ‘What can we not do remotely?’.   Humans are innovators; they like a challenge.  

    We have a range of technologies at our disposal. Let’s think creatively; let’s get things done.

    Some of the things we have started will continue when the pandemic is over. Let’s have a positive legacy from the awful situation! 

  • 04 Jun 2020 8:01 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    I got my quarterly summary of the performance of my various financial investments recently. As expected, results were not good. So many companies have not been able to trade at all, others have been seriously affected by lockdown and quarantine arrangements.

    But, of course, some companies have been able to take advantage of their ‘special situation’.  Supermarkets have had some problems but have remained open, able to take advantage of the fact that people cannot go out to cafes and restaurants and thus were forced to buy and cook their own food. Supermarkets were even able to sell less essential items, giving them a temporary market advantage over their locked-down competitors.

    A small number of companies in other sectors had similar strokes of luck - enabling three to take advantage - albeit temporarily - of a temporary market advantage.

    Probably the biggest winners were those who had an established online business - but, of course, they also needed to have the ability to raise capacity quickly.

    Ancillary service companies - delivery/courier services, for example, have seen a real boost to their business.


    Did you manage to invest in such companies early in the lockdown - recognising and exploiting the potential?  I did not.

    It does, however, remind us that in most situations, however dire, there remain opportunities. Not always to take financial advantage - but to take some advantage of the opportunity to focus - on writing - for example - while there are fewer distractions around.  

    Those who succeed are often simply those who recognise opportunities early - and act on that recognition.

    But, what the above suggested, is there is no substitute for good luck.  Successful companies recognise their luck and swiftly line up behind it and push it to the winning post!

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