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August 2013

Improving Productivity

Productivity is a people issue. People make things happen, or not. This seems to be a revelation to some managers, as if merely pushing people around and simply paying them a wage leads to high productivity. The reality is that this approach leads to subtle sabotage and non-vocal resistance: lip-service to the organizations and its goals, but at root a deep dislike and resentment. Eventually, of course, it leads to outright hostility and then we go down the line of cost: somebody quits and we have to start all over again. Alternatively, bad managers take the view that they can discount their people because technology will do it all – how misguided can one be?

People are in one sense like bees: they like being productive, they like being in a well-tuned hive where everyone and everything has its place and all is purposeful. It produces honey and sweetness, and the sense of a life well spent. But what is productivity and where is it in the scheme of things? Now that’s the interesting thing; that’s the thing which if all managers understood they might get real about leading their staff instead of just paying them.

Productivity is what it says it is: it is the ability of the individual (and teams) to produce something – to create: be that a product (a thing), a service, or value. In short, productivity is about adding to the sum of existence: something that wasn’t there before is now there, and as a direct result of the individual’s efforts. You’d think everybody would want to be productive, not least because it boosts one’s own self-esteem; but if you think so, you’d be wrong. That said, however, the important thing to grasp is the position of productivity in the scheme of organizational activities.

For productivity sits midway between the two other vital ‘P’s: performance and profit! Yes, that’s right – productivity is the bridge to profits! Now do I have your attention?

We need high performing people to start with. These are the people who will produce. How much? According to the Pareto Principle they will produce four times more than your average worker and sixteen times more than your poor worker. Once that level of productivity kicks in, then profits (or value in a non-profit making organization) are inevitable – but with one caveat. The caveat is simple: if the organization has adopted or created the correct strategy for the market it’s in; for it should be apparent  to anyone that one might be massively productive producing 10 billion one inch widgets, but if the Continental market demands metric measurement, then one cannot sell these superb widgets at any price! But given the right strategy, increased productivity leads to increased profits. This is perfectly expressed by Dr Alex Krauer when he said, "When people grow, profits grow".

The issue, then, of productivity involves performance. If we are not happy with our current levels of productivity, how are we going to change the situation? By thinking about the performance of our individuals. This can be done on an individual level and the organizational level. Here is a quick, personal aide-memoir to ask yourself and then ask about your staff: what one skill, if you had it now, would make the greatest impact on your productivity? This could be anything - a technical, or interpersonal, or strategic skill. Whatever it is, now you’ve identified it, how are you going to bridge the gap?

This question leads on to the more general point about training or learning - nobody stays highly productive for very long. We all need updates and inputs to remain effective. This is true of knowledge as well as skills. It is reckoned that currently information has a half-life of 2.5 years. This means 50% of what we know will be redundant every 2.5 years, and this half-life period is decreasing! To improve productivity, therefore, you must have a mechanism in place to audit the knowledge, skills and attitudes (or competencies) of all staff.

But that is only half the equation on the individual level – skills are not enough on their own. Staff need to be motivated, and for this too we need an audit – we need Motivational Maps, the world-proven methodology for looking at individual and team motivation.

Nobody is saying these audits are easy; what is? If you want results, then you need to drill down into the granular detail of what is happening with your staff, especially at a motivational – that is, I want – level.

And isn’t it strange? We want to go straight to profits: they are real, they are tangible, they are our goal. But to get there we have to explore the mushy soup of motivation, of feelings and wants and people; but if we can do that, the rewards are vast because the productivity will be enormous.









The Power of Prayer

Those of you who have followed my blogs over a number of years will have no doubt that I believe in prayer; by which I mean, that prayer is efficacious and effective and, in short, works! Quite apart from anything else, my time in hospital with my life-threatening illness and the power of prayer then, some of my earlier blogs have depicted. But it is not only when we pray that things happen; other people pray and the Earth moves in some way.

A seemingly trivial yet startling event occurred to me last Monday, my wife’s birthday, when I took her to London for the day. We visited the Royal Academy – for a wonderful exhibition of contemporary art – and then moved on to The Royal Portrait Gallery and spent a long time in the Tudor and Jacobean section: wow! How good was that? My wife loved it and so did I. Finally, we ended up at the Azzurro Restaurant just under the arches beside Waterloo Station. There we met two old friends and celebrated, and all this was massively convenient as Waterloo, so close by, was where we’d take the evening train back home.

So, after a deeply satisfying day – being together, sharing great art and meeting friends we hadn’t seen in a while – we said goodbye to our friends and wandered across to the station as we’ve done dozens of times before. And as before the same old same old greets you: the taxis zooming across  your path, the too many people under your feet, the free newspaper stands distributing the Evening Standard blocking your passage, and the beggars by the steps as you start the ascent into the station. What was new?

There she was: the beggar, seated in a quasi-lotus posture, her hands in a prayerful position pointing upwards just in front of her nose, and her eyes closed – closed in supplication as if to the God and not to the passerby and their wallets. In front of her was the open purse inviting contributions to her vigil. She was an Asian – probably of Indian origin - and seemed to be a Hindu. How different all this seemed to the usual begging scenario.

I’ll be frank: I don’t usually contribute to this kind of begging and find it incredible when I see beggars with dogs, ciggies, alcohol, mobiles and other assorted bits and pieces whilst apparently claiming abject poverty. Perhaps a better me might be prepared to give benefit of the doubt, but the me-that-is thinks that contributing simply fuels the behaviour, so it is better to contribute to charities where structured support is given to people with difficulties.

Naturally, then, with that view I simply walked past with my wife. She, I think, hadn’t even seen the woman: it was dark now, she was small and to one side, and was making no noise or moving gesture. How could my wife see her? But we were half way up the stairs towards the station and I stopped. I said to my wife,

"I have to go back".

"Why?" she said, perplexed. I looked at her.

"I believe in prayer," I said. Then exasperated – with myself – "I can’t ignore this woman: she’s praying".

"What woman?" my wife said. I turned and strode back. I put some money in her open purse. She didn’t open her eyes, but she heard it and a gentle smile crossed her face.

I forgot one thing: to say, ‘Pray for me’, but then I knew she knew that anyway.

Self-fulfilling prophecy? Placebo effect? Yes, maybe – but also a connection with the source underlying all these things - and the Will that makes all things work together for good.








Discerning Friendship

Having lived to the ripe old age of 60, having been a teacher for 15 years and observed extensive playground behavior, having been a trainer for over 20 years and seen thousands of people interact, and having been a mentor or coach to hundreds of people, having watched my son grow up and interact with his friends, and at the same time having experienced friendship myself in all sorts of flavors, including being a Quaker (The Society of Friends!) I think it is true to say that friendship is one of the most problematic aspects of human life. Simultaneously, it is one of life’s crowning joys. Why, then, is it so difficult?

Of course, the other thing about this observation is that most people don’t see the problem at all: they live without self-awareness, although often there is a dull ache that they feel but do not realize what is its cause. They have friends – they think they have friends, and so all is well, all is normal, but is it? What exactly is the problem I am alluding to?

Quite simply, this: many friends that we acquire during the course of our life are not really our friends at all. The trouble is, once we have defined somebody as our ‘friend’ we have an awful problem ridding our self of this belief, or of a feeling of guilt that arises if we decide to act in a way that is not consistent with ‘friendliness’ towards that person. And we need to be very clear about what is happening here: parasites – mosquitoes for example – are creatures looking for other, and different, creatures that supply them with the warm blood they need. The exchange is one way: for a light opening touch – some flattery perhaps, a useful exchange, an endorsement of some value you hold dear – they have landed in your life (on your arm in fact), and from then on proceed to suck your blood; but they are your ‘friend’.

It was Pythagoras who said that "friendship is equality" and that is the essence of it. Friendship is a 50-50 thing and you see it in a number of ways, especially in the flow of conversation – it’s 50% about the one friend, and then 50% about the other. Have you noticed those so-called friends for whom seeing you is always about them? About their problems, or about foregrounding their importance and in particular, as they begin to take liberties, their superiority to you?

The great thing about the equality principle is that it is liberating: it is marvelous being with a true friend where you don’t have to prove anything, or do anything to impress. This is so different from being at work where you have to prove yourself, or even sometimes being with your family where you are expected to know your place. Because you are ‘equal’ everything is as it should be; once inequality seeps in the relationship is no longer one of friendship – it starts becoming co-dependent and asymmetrical. What you get from it is much less than what they are deriving from the relationship.

I have said it before but must say it again: the cure for dealing with bad friendship is to pay attention to your feelings. A good friend, a real friend, a true friend is the kind of person that when you have spent any time in their company you feel energized, you feel better, your self-esteem has risen. Can you feel that – can you pay attention to it? And conversely, somebody who is not really your friend but faking it for their own purposes always when they have spent any time with you leaves you feeling drained, exhausted even; often self-esteem seriously impaired.

Thus it is that we must pay attention to our friendships and weed out the non-friends; not aggressively, not unkindly, but in the sense that we mustn’t let them into our inner lives where they will play wolf and thoroughly debilitate us from being ourselves and even from being able to help others. Before we can love other people, we need to remember, that we need to love ourselves, and this mean valuing ourselves, and not allowing ourselves to be abused by the parasites that exist and are really out there. They need help, perhaps, but true friendship is probably not it – it’s more like a kind of therapy.

Pay attention, friends, to your feelings at all times – they do not lie!