Archive for the ‘Productivity mindset’ Category


Life is a waiting game!

In Productivity culture,Productivity mindset,UK productivity on December 1, 2010 by Tim Aikens

Whether at work or play, we all spend a remarkable amount of time waiting for something or someone.  This creates ‘dead time’.  Think of a few examples. At home, waiting for the kettle to boil, waiting for the pasta to finish cooking, hanging around because the kids are not ready despite countless exhortations that you needed to leave at 10:00 a.m. sharp . . . . and so on!  Then at work we see that same thing.  Waiting for a large document to print, waiting in a meeting for someone important to turn up (have you ever calculated the cost of waiting for a meeting to start, it can be a lot of money).  When drilling an oil well they call it NPT – Non Productive Time.  With some oil rigs costing around $1 million a day you can understand  why they are keen to minimise  NPT.  Surprisingly there are not too many business areas where there is a significant focus on NPT.  Manufacturing industries are often keen on NPT.  The capital invested and lost production usually means a lot of lost revenue. But what about service industries or the public sector?

Many organisations are aware of the cost of having to wait. GP practices do not like it if you turn up late or not at all. It costs them money.  But what about the opposite?  How much money is wasted because you go into your GP appointment and are kept waiting 20 minutes or your customer keeps you waiting half an hour?  Is this something we should live with as part of the cost of doing business or should we seek to do something?

I believe we both can and  need to do something.  In an earlier blog I wrote about a ‘culture of productivity’ and this is a related issue.  In a consulting company I used to work for we had a very bad meeting culture.  They often started late, took far too long and the outcomes were often poor.  After introducing and enforcing a few simple rules things changed very quickly.  Meetings started at the appointed time – regardless of whether the boss turned up, there was an agenda and they finished on time. People soon learned to be on time and have an agenda!  It saved a lot of money and productivity improved.  That is one simple example.

Another change that needs to happen is the mindset about waiting.  Two key things need to change.  Firstly how can you avoid the waiting.  The meeting example above is one way of tackling a problem.  Thinking about what you need to do and when is actually important, but people spend little time on it.  The key is often planning!  You see this on construction sites. Four men standing around a hole in the ground for 30 minutes because the welder has not turned up – well plan ahead.  In some cases you cannot avoid the wait. You have a big print job.  You don’t need to stand over the printer whilst all 30 copies of 60 pages print. Make a coffee (it saves time later) or do an overnight print.  The overall point is to plan your time and make sure everyone in the organisation plans theirs.  One of my biggest frustrations is the London tube.  When they are refurbishing an escalator, it is naturally closed and boarded off, but frequently there is nothing happening! Why the wait, why no activity?  Better planning would save much of the time.  In a petrochemical plant a similar shutdown is planned to the smallest detail so there is no waiting time.

Waiting time costs money – its best avoided!



Does specialisation help productivity?

In Productivity mindset,UK productivity,Uncategorized on August 19, 2010 by Tim Aikens

Well I am back from three weeks of vacation in India and France.  Whilst away I was struck by two things. Firstly how you could still get a good three course meal in France cheaply (despite the exchange rate) and secondly by a specialist heart hospital in India.

On our first night in France we went out to a restaurant for supper.  We took the 11 Euro meal (about £9.60).  The meal was three proper courses and whilst not Michelin star rated was more than fit for purpose.  How do they do it?  The meal was undoubtedly more for less.  You would find it hard to match the quality of meal at the same price in the UK.  This was not a chain, but probably a family run business.  A little thought on the beach came up with this:

Keep it simple: Not only was the menu short, is was also fairly simple.  This meant that quality was easy to replicate and that repetition supported the adage of ‘practice makes perfect’.
Commitment: There was quite a bit of competition as well as plenty of custom.  Everyone worked hard and they were committed to providing not just a good meal, but as the Americans would say ‘a good restaurant experience’.  In order to achieve this, everyone needs to be fully committed to deliver.
Hard work: Everyone was busy – all the time. No space for slacking and if your tables were quiet you went and gave someone else a hand.

I bet no one had given them the productivity 101 lecture, it just came naturally to them.  This is a simple recipe for high productivity.  A lot of sophisticated businesses should take note!

David Cameron came to India when I was there (only a coincidence).  One of the trips the health minister made was to a specialist heart hospital.  This hospital did nothing except heart surgery – and often very complex surgery.  The standards and quality were every bit as high as you would expect in Europe or the USA.  However they were delivering the outcomes for about 50 to 60% of the cost!  Then I noticed the similarities with the French restaurant.  All three principles applied.  This hospital only did heart surgery. They had economies of scale as well as the ability to perfect what they did through repetition.  You could almost feel the commitment of the surgeons and nursing staff.  They really wanted to deliver.  And whilst they were not short of staff, everyone worked hard.

Move back to the UK and you see the same principles in action in many highly productive organisations.  Not surprisingly the principles sit behind much of the outsourcing done in the UK and other countries.

So today’s message for high productivity is keep it simple,commit and work hard. Sounds obvious, looks easy, then why don’t more organisations do it?


Productivity culture – for service delivery

In Productivity mindset,UK productivity on April 26, 2010 by Tim Aikens

I can remember  working on the shop floor of a factory as a student and being told  ‘don’t be so keen, you’ll make everyone else look bad’.  It was not that I was rushing around or desperate to show others up. I simply wanted to do a good job.  There are millions of people in the UK keen to do a good job, but frustrated by lots of things.  Police officers, for example, are sometimes wary of making an arrest because they worry about the vast amount of paperwork (and I mean paperwork, not computer work) needing to be completed following an arrest.  This limits time out in the field, often takes up overtime and generally reduces effectiveness.  I can recall working for a client on an offshore oil platform, where the necessary and vital paperwork was a real hinderance to effective working.  The workforce had all the ideas and changes necessary to minimise the impact of this.  All that was needed was a small push and a willingness to listen!

I have worked with other clients in the past and been amazed at how they work at being effective and efficient. Creating work packages for maintenance, so that the engineer had everything he needed at hand; nothing left to chance, no waiting for tools and materials.  Perhaps the most interesting example I have seen recently was the man who came to install my new garden shed.  The shed was prefabricated, but the base, wall, roof and door all needed putting together.  He did it in 90 minutes.  Not only did he have all the equipment and materials he needed, he also had a clear process.  But perhaps above all, he was very proud of his efficiency and speed.

So what does this productivity culture look like?  I think it is quite simple and boils down to three things:

  • Pride in the job and in being efficient.  People want to be seen as doing a good job and doing it efficiently!  Interestingly, those who do good work are often the most efficient as well!  You don’t need to be slow of inefficient to do a good job.
  • Freedom to act. People are allowed to think up and put in place their own ideas about how to be more effective.  They are not constrained by ‘the one best way’   This can make it hard for public sector organisations who are often constrained either by legislation or by ‘rules’.
  • Understanding and belief of supervisors and management that those who do the work are in a good position to improve things and they need to  be listened to.

The picture of what a productivity culture looks like may be simple.  The really difficult part is getting there AND staying there. I’ll come on to that in due course.

Does your organisation have a productivity culture at its roots? If not, why not?


Productivity culture?

In Productivity mindset,UK productivity,Uncategorized on April 20, 2010 by Tim Aikens

Is there such a thing as a productivity culture?  Imagine an organisation where everyone spent time every day thinking about how their operation could be done more productively.  Think about teams set up to brainstorm ideas, or perhaps teams set up to drive changes through and achieve higher productivity.  Sound familiar?  Those who were around in the 1980’s will remember Quality Circles, Total Quality Management (TQM), self managing teams and many other ideas to engage everyone in delivering productive change. Yet for the most part they have all fallen by the wayside, seen as management or consulting fads that never really had a lasting impact.  In the Thatcher era, thousands of jobs were lost as miners and others – steel for example realised the need to modernise or die.  But in a heavily unionised nation where jobs come first and profits second, productivity was anathema to them.  Unions have changed somewhat but not much.  How about management? A more popular solution at the moment seems to be offshoring. Moving the jobs overseas where costs are lower, but actual productivity may be no different or even lower.  This is fine until wage inflation in the offshoring nation catches up with the UK and the jobs need to be moved again!

So do leaders and workers alike simply not want to increase productivity, either because it is ‘too difficult’ or because it simply cuts jobs?  There is, of course, no simple answer.  Some management teams see the need very clearly and get on with it.  Some work forces equally see the need and engage enthusiastically.  But if there was a real productivity culture then major interventions for change would not be needed.  Instead there would be a steady gain in productivity year on year.  As noted in earlier blogs some countries have significantly higher productivity than the UK and the gap has remained despite efforts by UK plc to catch up.  The organisations in the other countries must be doing something right.

To improve requires all sorts of things – well-trained staff, good technology, effective management, low levels of government imposed bureaucracy to name a few.  But if there is no constant drive to improve continuously  – the productivity culture, then little gain will be made.  So what and where is this productivity culture?  I believe it is endemic in the business.  It stems from a core belief that if productivity is not high and improving, not only is the business being robbed of profit, but survival is at risk.  It’s taken that seriously.  Do you as a manager or worker have that mindset?

In my next blog, I will start to get into more detail about what a productivity culture looks like – at various levels in the organisation. Then perhaps we can move on to talk about how (or if) an organisation can create such a culture where it has been missing in the past.

Does your organisation or business have a productivity culture?


Is there a productivity mindset?

In Productivity mindset,UK productivity,Uncategorized on March 22, 2010 by Tim Aikens

There are always people you meet and work with who are both efficient and effective – all the time.  You can’t quite pin down what it is they do but whatever it is, it makes them different. They are a pleasure to work with, their customers think they are superb and they seem to think and care about their job.

This is what I call the productivity mindset.  It exists in many of us. For some it is really active, for others it lies dormant until brought to life by circumstances or someone who knows how to bring it out.  For others, it sadly does not exist and they may actually think in the opposite direction – improved productivity means that more can be done with less, so fewer jobs, so we had better not be productive if we want to stay employed!  As an argument it does not bear much scrutiny, but it still exists. Happily there are some trades unions who have abandoned this line of thought and take a much more sensible approach.

The big question then for anyone in a position of responsibility  is how can I encourage and make the most of this mindset?  Unfortunately there is an awful lot more to it than I can hope to describe in one blog. So I am going to provide the short answer today and then go through each of the main points over the next few blogs.

There are three sides to the answer:

Firstly it is about unearthing the positive.  This is mostly about getting people out of their ‘fur lined rut’ and starting to think differently. It is also about self belief, that anyone can have this mindset and that everyone has some level of creativity waiting to be harnessed.  In many organisations there are a lot of people who are frustrated at the poor level of productivity and desperate to push forward.  However,  they often do not know how or they do not have a leadership able to move them forward. Turning this around is a vital part of the harnessing the mindset.

The second part is about destroying the negative.  Why should I bother? It’s been tried before and never worked. It will put my job at risk. Why me? My boss doesn’t care. These are all questions and comments I have faced in the past which I have had to deal with through a mix of different activities and events.  In some cases the change is slow, in others refreshingly dramatic.  But one thing is certain. If you do nothing, nothing will change!

The third element is communication. People need to know why the mindset is vital to long-term prosperity. They need to hear about success stories – and failures.  They need to be built up and encouraged.  All of this communication has to come from within the organisation itself.  If the top does not have this mindset it is hardly reasonable to expect the rest of the business to follow something you are not passionate about!

Does this mindset exist in your organisation?  If so how deep does it run – if not why not and how can you turn it around?

I’m going on holiday for a couple of weeks, so updates might be slow. I’ll be back on April 8th!