Tea bags, productivity and talent management

As I spent much of my career in manufacturing, making locks and safes, tablets, sweets, jelly babies, aircraft landing gear, polymer seals and fasteners I am pleased to see the rise in confidence in the manufacturing sector. Not just among the large companies like Jaguar Land Rover who clearly have great products and exporting them around the world, but also growing confidence in the SME sector which is and has to be a huge asset to our economy.

My manufacturing heritage and my lapsed Chartered Production Engineering status has framed my simple premise to make work better, and I have a real obsession about eliminating work that is not value adding. Manufacturing is easy as it can be measured to death, and for a long time with the wrong measures, but strip it back to does this work add value to the customer or the business then there’s something simple to focus on.

This was brought into sharp focus this morning. A day working from home so my first job of the day to unload and load the dishwasher. So Tom my eldest son, sorts his breakfast and makes his cup of tea, takes his tea bag out and places it on a plate. Now firstly this is an improvement, as I had to moan about the fact that he was dropping them in the Belfast sink and the resulting staining had to be cleaned, but it was still not addressing the simple fact that someone else, that someone else being me, had to pick up that tea bag and move it to the compost bin. As well as being annoying to me, it was an example of non-adding activities. Hence he got a lecture in lean thinking this morning.

So back to manufacturing and the optimism in the sector, and tweets that came from a conference yesterday by the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF). One of the slides tweeted from the day is that we would have in the future an economy where manufacturing accounts for a larger share. I’m up for that, both in terms of reducing our reliance on services, but also I believe that manufacturing might just be the powerhouse to provide exciting and purposeful jobs for our children. Interestingly, it seems the day talked about the need for innovation in processes, resultant investment, and a key focus on collaboration and networking. All good stuff!

However what really concerns me is how we deal with tea bags!

Productivity in the UK is shocking. In terms of GDP per hour worked

• We are more productive than Japan by 11%
• We are less productive than Canada and Italy by 5 and 11% respectively
• We are less productive than the remaining G7 countries by over 30%

(Source Office for National Statistics – Comparison of Productivity 20th February 2014)

So clearly, whatever sector we are working in we are not dealing with our tea bags effectively.

In simple terms and thinking about “lean” principles:

1. What activities at work do we do that are unnecessary because someone else does not know what to do, not skilled to, or cant be bothered to do?
2. How long do people have to wait for decisions to be made?
3. Do those decisions warrant being made by someone else, or can we delegate authority?
4. Does the customer really value that activity?
5. Is that activity critical to the business that its completed? (e.g. required for safety or legislation?)

What do we need to make this happen? Then I am squaring the circle back to management and leadership.
Apparently we are facing a talent crisis again. We face challenges around attracting people to our businesses, and keeping them there, but we also face challenges about how people work, how they collaborate and work together to innovate. I recognise that some sectors are doing that better than others, but we clearly need to be better.
It’s the practice of management and leadership that removes the barriers to peoples work. Lets strip away the tasks and activities that add no value.

We have a productivity crisis. Notice how you are dealing with the tea bags.
There might be some answers in the tea leaves!!