Archive for the ‘Productivity and motivation’ Category


Price up – bring cost down!

In Productivity and motivation,Productivity culture,UK productivity,Uncategorized on April 28, 2011 by Tim Aikens

The oil industry is fascinating for a number of reasons.  The ‘Upstream’ or Exploration and Production part of the industry has little control over the price it receives for each barrel sold. Oil is a commodity and so its price is largely determined by supply and demand.  In 1998 it fell as low as $10 a barrel. It has risen to over $140 and is currently about $125.  How do you manage in such a volatile price regime and what does this mean in terms of productivity?

This is where it gets interesting.  Whether $10 or $125 the industry – or at least the smart oil companies are always interested in doing more for less.  In the tough times they need to reduce cost just to generate some cash and hopefully a bit of profit.  In the good times it is all about getting more oil out of the ground to make more money whilst the price is high – for who knows when it could slump again.  The focus is not quite the same in both situations – the first one is on cost cutting – the second on efficiency and effectiveness.  However, from my experience of working in oil companies under both price regimes, the approach is fairly similar.  If you try to cut cost, you will almost inevitably improve efficiency and if you are focused on improving efficiency you will end up reducing cost.

It is because of this price volatility that the oil industry has had to be flexible and willing to change.  As an industry they still have some way to go, but they are working at it.

What makes them stand out is the determination to keep improving efficiency or cutting cost regardless of the cost/ profit environment.  This is not to say that no other industry does this.  On the contrary most successful organisations will have this mindset.  The real message is that every organisation has to be relentless in bringing cost down and improving the way it does things.  Even when business is good and you are getting a good price for your out put, seek to bring down price.  This comes full circle to one of my earlier blogs about productivity culture. If your organisation does not have it – then go out and develop it!



Get More, Use Less – Go Green

In Productivity and motivation,Uncategorized on March 28, 2011 by Tim Aikens

How green is your business?  Is going green a boon or a burden?  A lot of received wisdom is that getting good environmental credentials costs money.  Being environmentally friendly is expensive.  But a little logic and research seems to say quite the opposite.  There are an increasing number of organisations out there who, as a result of an overt ‘Green’ strategy, are saving big money.  In addition they are boosting their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) credentials at the same time.

The logic appears almost trivial.  Energy costs money, adopt energy-saving devices or policies you will save money.  However, you only have to look at large office blocks, lights blazing at 2:00 a.m. to see that a lot of people have yet to grasp that particular piece of logic.  The same with major equipment.  Turn off copiers and printers and PCs and laptops and so on.  Of course, for many companies this might be seen as a small amount of money to save.  But it all adds up!  I believe that adopting a philosophy that starts to address the energy issue can soon create a culture all about getting more with less.

There is a lot more than lighting and equipment that can and should be addressed.  Take packaging for example. Whether supermarket meat or HD TVs, they all come with a lot of packaging that takes time to wrap and costs money.  There are good reasons for some packaging, but think of the benefit in labour, time, money and carbon if it were to be sensibly reduced.  Another example is warehousing.  Warehouses cost money (and carbon) to build, use up land and have to be maintained.  The more the world can move to a Just In Time (JIT) culture and philosophy, the more money can be saved through less warehousing.

Now here is an interesting thought.  The UK and most other Western countries are drowning under an ever increasing pile of compliance and bureaucracy.  All of this has to be dealt with. It comes at great cost and the added value of much of it is debatable.  It also has a huge environmental cost.  Think of the paper, energy, heat, time, and labour involved in dealing with compliance or bureaucracy.  Governments need to be pushed really hard to justify their compliance legislation and bureaucracy if for no other reason than the cost to the planet!

One of the fundamentals of any process re-engineering in any business is to reduce idle time or non value adding time.  Taking a green approach to this can force change that will not only reduce non value adding time, it will result in significant financial and carbon gain, because of energy that is no longer wasted – for one thing.

So the message is clear.  When seeking to do more with less, make sure you also seek to improve your ‘green credentials’ at the same time.  Not only will this probably increase the financial benefit, but you will save carbon and be seen by your customers to be doing the right thing!


Necessity is the mother of invention

In Productivity and motivation on March 14, 2011 by Tim Aikens

Or so goes the saying.  It can also be the mother of a leap in performance and productivity.  Everyone has seen the disaster that struck Japan last week and my sympathies go out to the people of Japan.  Fortunately the Japanese army and a number of international support teams are now working to alleviate distress and start the long road to recovery.  The people in these teams are remarkable.  They achieve amazing results. often with little equipment and frustrated by the devastation all around them.  Yet they perform wonders, often in a short space of time.  These organisations and their people have interesting attributes that ‘normal’ organisations might well benefit from.  Here are a few of them, not in any special order.

Training. These special teams all have extensive training in their roles – even at the lowest level.  They know what to do and how to do it well.  A recent publication about productivity in the construction industry cited poor or insufficient training as one of the main causes of low productivity compared to other countries.

Teamwork. The people in these teams are developed and trained to work as a team.  Not only are the teams highly effective, they are also innovative, able to move away from standard procedure and use their initiative when demand dictates.  ‘Management’ is often a long way away and decisions need to be made quickly.  Increasingly in the business world, the concept of ‘self managed teams’ is being used to build teamwork and the effectiveness of individual teams.  Responsibility and accountability is being pushed downwards in a lot of successful organisations.

Motivation. The circumstances and nature of the individuals in emergency teams mean that they are highly motivated from the moment they arrive.  It is difficult to contemplate how most other organisations could generate and sustain a similar level of motivation.  But pause a moment and think of the key motivators.  Each individual knows they are doing an important job in a constrained situation.  Often life and death is dependent on their work.  They are working with like minded individuals and support one another.  They all have a determination to do a good job and see results.

Preparation. The team arrives as fully prepared as they can be.  Not only in terms of training as noted above, but also in terms of equipment, planning and especially preparation to deal with the unexpected!

Leadership. There is good leadership at ‘head office’ to make sure the teams get to an emergency quickly and properly equipped. There is also good leadership on the spot to lead the teams.  The leaders are recognised and supported by their teams.

Of course, not all such emergency teams are perfect, but in general they deliver quite remarkable results very quickly.  People I know who have worked on disaster teams return home completely exhausted, both mentally and physically.  They need a rest before returning to normality.  Working at this pace  would be unsustainable in any normal environment.  The question is how can such effectiveness be translated and sustained in a more mundane business or organisation on a day-to-day level?  There are a number of ways of translating these aspects into an ‘ordinary’ organisational situation and I will have a look at this next week.


Motivation – what do I want? (2 of 2)

In Productivity and motivation,Uncategorized on February 15, 2011 by Tim Aikens

Picking up from last week, let’s imagine that you have decided to do something about helping your team or staff to make a positive move towards achieving what they ‘really want’!  What are you going to do?  All thought and no action gets no results, you have to make a start somewhere.

Of course if you simply started going up to your staff and saying ‘what’s your dream?’ you might be met with some strange looks and a few unappreciated comments.  The first step is to build relationship with your staff.  They need to get used to you talking to them – beyond work and believing that you really took an interest in their lives not just what they are up to.  You might already be there, but sadly all too many organisations take too little interest in their staff beyond their direct effort and contribution at work. This might take some time (depending on where you are starting from).  In one organisation I used to work for, one of the senior directors knew everyone. He always spoke to the office cleaners, canteen staff and knew all their names.  He would be in a position to start straight away.  Ask yourself, how genuine is my relationship with my staff?  Until you get to a real relationship you will not be taken too seriously.

Even at this stage you will benefit.  Staff will see the change and, as long as it is REAL, it will be appreciated.  Now you can start to move forward.  As your relationships build you move into a position to start asking about dreams and hopes for the future.  Keep a short, very private, record – Fred wants a house that will hold his seven kids without four in a bedroom; Joe wants to sky dive; Alice wants to work part-time, Anne wants to be a software engineer – and so on.   When you begin to get traction you can then think about talking to staff in general terms.  Not about individual dreams, that would be a breach of confidence, but you can talk about the fact that we all have dreams and that you would like to see how you can help your staff achieve them. In his book, the firm that Matthew Kelly describes appointed a ‘Dream Manager’.  That might be the right way to go.  You may only have a small company or department and may not need someone full-time (which is of course expensive. It would be a good idea to see what a business case might look like i.e if we hired a part-time Dream Manager, what is the increase in performance we need to achieve in order to break even?).

Who would be best in this key support role.  You need someone who is passionate about people, believes in moving mountains, highly practical and does not readily take no for an answer!  Their role is to take time with each person, identify a key dream and build a plan with them to turn it into reality.  It is not to do it all for them, although many will need help.  Get several dreams, with some more short-term than others.  You need to be able to see some early results, however small, as an encouragement to everyone.  Then see what happens!

Will it work? I honestly don’t know, but I believe strongly ij the idea, otherwise I would not be writing about it. I doubt if it will have any detrimental effect. At the very least it will enhance your relationship with your staff and the organisation’s reputation as a good place to work. That alone has to be good.

Let me know what happens in your business!


Motivation – what do I want? (1 of 2)

In Productivity and motivation,Uncategorized on February 7, 2011 by Tim Aikens

How often has your boss, supervisor or leader come up to you and asked you what you really want to do with the rest of your life?  I’m not talking about career or just the family, but about the broadest concept of the rest of your life.  Most of us have dreams of what we would like to see or do or become.  Indeed, if you look at a lot of famous people a common theme that applies to many of them is the dream that they had from an early age.

Now, let’s move back into the less exciting arena of work.  For most people a career or job that is exciting, satisfying, well paid, good promotion prospects and a good work life balance is hard if not impossible to find.  Even at a senior level there are many who have no real satisfaction in their work, driven more by the need to pay the mortgage or from fear of the sack or redundancy.  Going into the workplace is rarely fun and leaving at the end of the day a huge relief.  For many thousands, clocking off at the end of a shift is the best thing that happened that day.  How do you motivate an office cleaner, a road sweeper?  How do you generate real pride in their work after all the usual tricks have been tried?  I believe that if people are turning their big dreams into reality they are likely to come to work significantly motivated.’

Here I must confess to being heavily influenced by a book I read just before Christmas – The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly (Hyperion Books). The book tells the true story of how an organisation started to pay attention to and help staff with their very real dreams and the business success that emegerd.  The company engaged a ‘Dream Manager’ to help staff turn their dreams into reality.  Compare two members of staff, both doing a fairly mundane job.  They both have dreams outside of work.  One talks to a good friend who says  let me help you turn this into reality, whilst the other holds his dream in private and keeps on wishing.  Six months later one set of dreams is becoming real, the other still just a dream.  One man comes into work with a spring in his step a willingness to work and engage.  The other sees no change and no reason to change!

Does it work?  According to the book it does!  From my own experience, looking back at times when areas of life outside work have taken a major upturn, there has been a commensurate rise in desire to do well at work.  Looking at situations where I have been able to inspire groups of staff to head towards their dreams, there has been a noticeable upswing in motivation. I think one reason why large organisations have social, sporting and other clubs is that it helps staff work out some of their dreams, some of the inner desire of  ‘what I want’.

Would it work in the UK?  I’m not totally sure about the concept of a paid Dream Manager, but I am sure the principle is correct. whenever you pay attention to staff as a manager (in a positive sense!) there is a lift in spirit.  But what if, as a leader or manager, you started to pay attention to the dreams of your staff, they saw you were taking an interest and willing to help!  Put yourself in the shoes of the worker. How would you feel at the end of the day as you think to yourself  ‘funny thing  today when I opened up to my boss and told him about our dream to own our own house – he’s agreed to help’?  Uplifted, more committed, motivated and encouraged are a few words that spring to mind.

Of course doing this would require effort, commitment and a willingness to be open.  But think about what could happen. Next week I will look at some of the practicalities.


Motivation – flat out for the common cause

In Productivity and motivation on January 31, 2011 by Tim Aikens

Dunkirk, England’s 1966 World Cup  win, the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami in South East Asia are all examples of situations where a team or people are drawn together by a common cause and go on to make a remarkable effort to achieve a much needed (or desired ) result.  Contrast this with five men standing around the proverbial hole in the road whilst one man digs, or the postman who cannot be bothered to deliver all the mail so he stashes the rest in his home (as has happened).  In an organisation how can you establish common cause and achieve high levels of motivation that are both enjoyable AND sustainable?

It’s easy to see the link in a sporting team.  The more everyone works together, the more likely there is to be a good result.  The adrenalin rush of winning is almost sufficient reward on its own, let alone the other benefits.  As a lawyer, being on the winning team enhances your personal reputation – and that of your organisation.  And even if you lose – well you have still been paid and the case was an interesting intellectual challenge!  But what about the shelf stacker, the checkout assistant, the road sweeper or office cleaner?  Establishing common cause in these situations is much more difficult.  It is possible and the benefits are huge.  Of course money can be a great motivator, but this is not about money.  Indeed a number of studies have shown that money is not the great motivator it is cracked up to be.  Here are some thoughts from my own past.

Firstly the two Ps – PEOPLE and PROCESS.  You may call them staff, partners, employees, labour or anything.  BUT, every one of them is a human being, a person with a name, personality, history and a future.  Start calling your colleagues and subordinates by name. remember names, ask about them and their day.  When people are called by name and someone takes an interest in them they are lifted up, they start to feel good about themselves – work harder, be more efficient.  A little bit of recognition and relationship goes a long way.  This is more than a Hawthorne effect (look in Wikipedia), because you can keep this up.  All the best ‘bosses’ I have had in my career or seen at clients’ offices have done this.

The second P is PROCESS.  Hopefully everyone in an organisation is doing something that adds value and is therefore a relevant and important part of the process.  For example, no food stacking means no food on the shelves to sell.  Have you ever passed by an empty shelf and made your purchase of that item at another store? Empty shelves mean lower sales!  The key here is to explain the process and make sure everyone is aware of the importance of their role and that the role is recognised as such.  Supervisors – give recognition to the lowest role, it is still important.  Don’t demean your colleagues because they do not have a high profile role.  Do you wonder why the credits at the end of films are so long? Well the company is giving credit to all who helped put the film together, not just those who were in front of the camera!

The third big area for me is leadership.  Part of the role of a good leader is to establish common cause.  Don’t confuse this with vision.  Apple’s vision of an Apple on every desk is not going to motivate the microchip worker in a factory in China!  Leaders all through the organisation need to think about what their common cause is and how it can drive up performance for the whole.  Having created common cause, they then need to make sure that (by using the two Ps above) everyone understands the importance of their own contribution.

But what about those roles where it is hard to apply the two Ps or a leader cannot figure out something to generate common cause?  For example the solitary road sweeper (who is nevertheless part of a bigger team) or the late night office cleaner.  This is where we need to consider personal Interest, the topic of the next blog!


Motivation and Productivity

In Productivity and motivation on January 17, 2011 by Tim Aikens

So far in this blog I have not really talked about the topic of motivation and its impact on productivity.  I have talked about a productivity mindset and the need for passionate leadership, but that is not really the same.  Every day we all go to work with some level of motivation (high or low).  The question I have is in two parts.  Does motivation have a direct link to productivity and if so, is there anything that can be done to improve motivation and therefore increase productivity.

Of course motivation is a vast topic in its own right, you can full shelves (or is it disks) with all the books and research done on the topic.  Consequently, I am not going to try to answer both questions in one blog.  Rather I will take this as a theme to work through over the next few weeks.  For those of you who can’t wait, here are my conclusions.  The answer to both questions is maybe and it depends!  Or to put it another way, in some situations people will definitely perform better when highly motivated.  In others no amount of motivation would help.  Of course in both cases improvements in productivity may also be constrained by other factors such as the process and available resources.

But going back to basics. What is motivation?  Well there are loads of definitions available.   Here is  what I hope is a simple definition.  Motivation is the extent to which an individual responds to a set of influences on his work environment and thereby governs the nature of his actions.  Note that I have used the word ‘on’ not ‘in’ his work environment. I believe that there are many external influences that can have a huge impact on motivation that have no origin in the workplace.  For example – a few influences might be good (or bad) family life, the weather, the nature and difficulty of a commute to name but a few.  Within the workplace pay is possibly the most common lever of motivation, others are the working environment, hours of work, the team and so on.  This is where a lot of theory and practice has developed.  Perhaps the most common are incentive schemes designed to get staff working harder (and smarter).  Another is designing work processes so staff would feel more involved and party to decisions.  A few of the other ideas that have been developed  and many still in place today include varying the nature of work, using the concept of self managing teams, and 360 degree feedback.

Yet the battle continues to increase motivation and increase productivity.  I believe one reason for this is that many organisations only address those factors over which they have direct control (e.g. pay).  To succeed, I believe that an organsation has to look much more broadly than this.  One piece of research has had a major influence on my thinking.  In the mid 80’s two US researchers, Barry Shaw and Jerry Ross reviewed a longitudinal study of attitudes to work (over a 50 year period).  They found that attitudes and disposition in the early years could significantly predict attitudes in later years – even when there had been multiple job changes and also career change.  So efforts to improve motivation at the company level would have had little impact!  For me this places a very different emphasis on how to generate productivity enhancing motivation that is very much broader than often addressed in the past. At the expense of using a little jargon and approach has to be holistic and comprehensive!

What is your experience? I would love to hear of success and failure!