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Sunday, 18 September 2016

Want Your People to Work Harder? Smarter is Better!

There is a well-known maxim that says that we shouldn’t work harder, we should work smarter.  Ignoring the grammar this is a very good approach to work in general and one that is missed so often.

The advent of the “science” of work-study in the 20s and 30s was based on the premise that people can be compared to machines in order for them to be measured in the same way.

Charlie Chaplin in his 1936 film “Modern Times” depicts the little tramp working on an assembly line where his task is to tighten two bolts with a spanner in each hand.  So repetitive is the task that he can’t stop the movement even after he has left the job in the evening and that causes some mayhem.

There has always been a tendency to look favourably on those who work hard (hard work never hurt anybody), put in the effort, keep their nose to the grindstone, put in the hours in and other platitudes.  It is called the work ethic.

Admirable it may be but the whole idea of work is to produce a product or service at the best possible quality and in the shortest possible time, not necessarily demonstrating that by showing how hard we are working.

When I was an engineering apprentice many years ago the wise hands on the shop floor would tell us that if we wanted to bunk off for a while to go and see a friend in another department we should always carry a blueprint under the arm so that we would appear to be going for a work reason.

Working smarter means that we define the desired outcome, assess the best way to undertake any task with the minimum effort and in the shortest possible time and then go ahead.  As long as the demands of top quality and service are observed then the amount of work is irrelevant.

Of course we are talking about productivity and from recent reports it seems that the United Kingdom comes pretty low on the list of productive countries measured apparently by GDP divided by the number of hours worked, in other wards average output per hour.

There has been much heart searching lately about the number of migrants undertaking work that the natives don’t want or won’t take on simply because they don’t find it worthwhile.

Removing the social and political aspects from the argument the whole thing revolves round how to produce goods and services in the most effective and occasionally the most efficient way.

The history of engineering for example is littered with examples of changes in production methods that increase productivity and reduce the need for people.  The birth of mass production leading to component interchangeability right up to the present day with the development of robots show what can be achieved.

Agriculture has in the same way shown how by the use of highly sophisticated and advanced machines production can be revolutionised.  This has in some cases required the employment of more people and this has been easily counterbalanced by the increase in production.

The question to ask then is, if this can be achieved in an engineering or agricultural environment, how can we translate the theory into practice in our own businesses?

80% of United Kingdom GDP results from the service sector with only 20% coming from manufacturing and the like.  Doesn’t it seem obvious that it is the service sector that needs to look forensically at how it produces these services?  Indeed how can they be produced more effectively with the same workforce and even an enhanced workforce?

Perhaps we should take some time to assess precisely how we run our business, where we can help our people to improve their productivity, whether we can mechanise or digitise the methods we use and how would those changes be accepted by the people we lead?

The best people to ask about productivity are the people who are doing the job.  They know how it can be improved so have a brainstorming session and discuss it with them.  Trust then and they will come up with the answer.

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