Articles

Change before you have to!

In UK productivity, Uncategorized on July 1, 2010 by Tim Aikens

Over the next few blogs I thought I would look at some pithy philosophical words and their application to productivity.  The first – the title of this blog, comes from Jack Welch the ex CEO of GE. It has huge wisdom and application in many areas, not least of which is productivity.  In many businesses, getting set up to do things in a certain way costs a lot of time and money. If you are in a capital-intensive industry like car manufacturing or oil production, the capital investment will often set out the way value is created. It also sets up a barrier  to change. The business won’t want to change because it is very expensive.  The drive to change may only become strong enough when it is already too late!

The business world and public sector abounds with examples of organisations that failed to change until it was too late.  Everyone needs a little forward thinking to look at when to change.  There is another saying – ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.  This is fine if the environment is constant, but in this world of ours things change quickly.  So what is my point here?  Its simply this. Any organisation that is functioning well at a good level of productivity has to move forward even if today there is no need.  In other words the best organisations will always be thinking about tomorrow’s productivity gains and where they are going to come from.

There are many but nowhere near enough organisations that think like this.  The airline industry is always thinking about fuel economy and the productivity (load factor) or their aircraft. Many parts of manufacturing industry are really productivity oriented.  But for many others, when they start to slip in the productivity stakes their answer is to outsource, offshore and generally give others the responsibility for improving productivity.  In itself, this is not necessarily a disaster.  The problem is that the easy way out – say offshoring, will work until offshore labour costs match the UK and then you are back to the productivity challenge. By then people have forgotten how to ‘ think productivity’. It becomes much harder to look for and make beneficial change.

So what’s the answer?  Firstly have a productivity mindset. It may drive some people crazy but you have to think productivity all the time.  Secondly, look into the future.  Will the way we do things be good enough in three or five years’  time (almost certainly not)?  Thirdly, allow you mind to dream – what if we could turn round mortgage applications in one working day or even one hour, what if we could process a criminal arrest in 15 minutes instead of four hours.  It is when people start to think like this and then push for change that good things happen. If you wait until your  back is against the economic wall it is probably too late, and certainly your scope for change will be much reduced!

So start thinking now. What can be beneficially changed now, before you really need to raise productivity!

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