For some reason productivity in the UK stays stubbornly on the low side and it is worth taking a look at possible reasons and solutions.
The Office for National Statistics list the measures of productivity as follows:
Economic productivity measures, including output per hour, output per job and output per worker for the whole economy and a range of industries; productivity in the public sector; and international comparisons of productivity across the G7 nations.
If we consider the measure of the value of output per hour there are has hidden anomalies (thank you Roger Martin-Fagg).
For example a barman in London serves 100 pints of beer per hour at £5.00 per pint so his output is £500 per hour. At the same time a barman in Salford also serves 100 pints of beer but this time at £3.50 a pint resulting in £350 produced.
Presumably the geniuses at the Office for National Statistics have covered all the bases or have they? For example, if we look at measures covering an industry does that include everyone employed in the industry or only the “productive” workforce? If it covers everyone as seems likely then the measures can mask any over-staffing at management level.
Some credence has been given to this thought recently with an announcement that a major UK business is intent on shedding some 6,000 jobs from a total of around 45,000 mainly from “middle management and administrative” jobs.
This, to me, suggests that in the good time businesses have tended to increase their head counts by the creation of positions that in some cases could be construed as vanity appointments. The public sector is not above reproach by any means.
The question is, how, if at all, can this be rectified?
Merely scrapping the livelihoods of thousands of people does something to alleviate the position but it is dramatic and in personal terms, traumatic and must be handled sensitively. Remember, it is management who created these jobs in the first place.
If we want to improve productivity just take a clear and honest look at some of the meetings that we have attended recently and ask ourselves these questions:
- What was the purpose of the meeting?
- Was everyone there aware of the purpose?
- What actions resulted from the meeting?
- Who was accountable for the action/s, to whom and by when?
Simple stuff but we have all been to meetings that last two or three hours and we come away wondering what was that all about.
In a very exciting period of my career I worked in the Slater Walker Group, one of the businesses in the 1970s that cleared out a great deal of dead wood from British industry by the simple expedient of acquiring under priced companies with fat balance sheets and then using a 100 day project to slim them down and release assets
Jim Slater, the Chairman and CEO (pre-Cadbury of course) ran board meetings with a rod of iron. Finance was discussed for no more than twenty minutes followed by a rigid adherence to a short agenda covering points for action.
The minutes were exclusively a list of actions to be taken, by whom and by when with accountability to the the next board meeting, and it worked.
Meetings can be the bane of our lives if we are not careful so why not reduce them to the very minimum? Why not have a meeting with just one single topic. Exclusively?
The people attending should have direct interest or responsibility for outcomes and the timing needs to be absolutely strict. Agreed actions are then reported as usual with no excuses for lateness.
We expect the shop floor and the wealth creators in the business to produce their output with the greatest possible expediency and attention to purpose so why not transmit that ethos to the overall management of the business?
We can’t create more time but we can allocate it more sensibly and certainly we can implement methods to reduce the wastage of management time.
That should have a salutary effect on productivity in the end.
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