Productivity really matters – fact

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2010 by Tim Aikens

Since the start of the industrial revolution economists have been banging on about how important productivity growth is for the health of a nation’s economy and by extension therefore for the health of any and every enterprise.  Apart from a small number of very specialised and high value adding trades – such as hand-made jewelry or high-priced art a la Damien Hurst, I struggle to think of any long-term (60 years plus) business that is still doing things the same old way and generating the same level of output per head as it did sixty years ago.  If you don’t grow productivity you don’t survive.  So for many people, the current BA strike is difficult to understand from a productivity perspective.  There is BA trying to get more from its staff in a very difficult economic climate, already losing money and still living with some of the public sector legacy of 30 odd years ago.  Putting the emotional aspects of the debate and the adversarial approach seemingly taken by both BA and unions to one side, how do you persuade a group of staff that productivity growth is the route to long-term survival?

Well, of course if the answer was that easy, I would not be here writing my blog!  I would be charging an awful lot of money for my services.  But after 30 some years of trying to persuade organisations from the grass routes up, here are my top ten tips that the successful engagements seem to have in common.

  • Make sure there is a clear, quantified  business case. This also needs to be simple and easy to understand.
  • Get the top team aligned behind ‘the vision’ or whatever you want to call the future.  A management team that is not together is easily found out and is often the first crack in the armour!
  • Leaders need to communicate both vision and business case. This has to happen in person, not by email, intranet or notice board. It also needs to happen in reasonable sized groups so people have a chance to ask questions and feel more than just ‘a number’
  • Recognise that the staff are a mine of great ideas that need to be dug out.  Engender a culture that encourages new ideas and trying new things. Then move on to the next point below.
  • Give everyone a chance to get involved and make the effort to show that this is possible. Much of the change will affect lower levels of the organisation.  They know their jobs better than anyone else, give them a chance to help create their own working future.
  • Seek out those people who are both ready to change and able to change first. Use them to gain momentum and spread the word.
  • Make sure that every idea has its own business case.  Each idea should show the productivity gain and the financial impact on the business.
  • Don’t work to some complex set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Keep them simple and few in number.
  • Have a long-term focus. Any programme must take at least a medium term view and not simply be a ‘quick fix’.
  • Sounds obvious, but see things through. Make sure that new processes are applied, productivity gains are measured and action taken if they are insufficient!

All of the above look like what my old structures professor would call a ‘blinding flash of the bloody obvious’!  Sadly all too many of the ideas above are missed or only given lip service. Try them out on your next project to improve productivity!


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