Blog Archives

Are Better Processes an Answer to the Labour Shortage?

It’s been a while since I did a post but yesterday I was asked to do an interview improvewith one of our local media organizations regarding our current labour shortage in this region. The interview conversation caused me to re look at where we are with regards to productivity in our area. I was asked to provide advice for employers about what they could do if they were experiencing the labour crunch. My response was to get better at their processes, to train their employees so they were really good at what they did and to make sure they were only doing the right things – things that their customers saw value in. The interviewers reaction gave me that AHA moment when she responded by saying ‘no really, what can you tell employers that will help them find more staff?’. I actually repeated myself only this time with a little more explanation to help her connect those dots.

That interview got me thinking maybe the media isn’t the only ones that feels the solution to our labour situation is to throw more people at it – even if you can’t find them. Maybe we need to look at helping people understand the connection between productivity and the labour shortage especially employers. Unfortunately I suspect we are too busy working in our business (and making money in spite of ourselves) to have a look at how we could do things differently. And perhaps we don’t understand that productivity is NOT about doing more with less; it’s about doing it better so you don’t need as much.

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at or check out our new website at

Are You a Super Productive Person?

I recently came across an article in Time Business by Margaret Heffernan that shared the secrets of people who are very productive. I was a little surprised at a couple of the habits so I thought I would share them with you. According to the article it boils down to four things. 1 – These people have a life. The article suggests academic research keeps showing external commitments are highly correlated with high achievement. 2 – They take breaks. From what I understand when you get tired you can quickly become rigid and narrow-minded and a quick break may be all that is needed to get those creative, productive juices going again (more on that later). 3 – These people have often worked in different industries. While this makes sense to me I was surprised to see it on the list. Having a diverse background allows you to see different frameworks and approaches. We discussed this in the Diversity Enhances Productivity post from November 2011.  4 – The final attribute – these people have great outside collaborators and networks. What the article really suggests is productive people have very wide, rich resources to call on. The secret to productivity isn’t the latest tool or being better organized, it’s having a complete life.

Now let’s take breaks and take that one step further. I receive regular newsletters from Patricia Katz and her April newsletter focused on getting the most out of your breaks at work so you have more energy to be productive. Patricia got her information from an article that examined Knowledge Workers’ Energy Management. The newsletter suggests some of the things we do when we take breaks may not be as recharging as we thought. Basically the things that really renew our energy relate to learning, strengthening relationships and finding meaning at work. Patricia actually lists 8 different re-energizing strategies and I challenge you to incorporate even one of them in your breaks. Perhaps with all this advice we can all turn into one of those ‘Super Productive People’.

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at

Too Much Time

How many of us have too much time and not enough to do in it? I venture to say not too many of us can claim that! Which means we start every day knowing we are not going to get it all done. Talk about setting ourselves up for failure.

I recently read Peter Bregman’s book ‘18 minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done’, and I must say this was one of the better time management books I have read. I really enjoyed Peter’s analogy of likening our time management challenge to a buffet. I have trouble with buffets. I have a tendency to want to try everything and even if I only take a little of everything that is often still way too much. Peter suggests we often manage our time like that – because there is so much to do, so many interesting people, enjoyable activities, worthwhile causes and compelling opportunities, it’s hard to choose. So we don’t. We try to do it all. Peter offers some really good solutions, ones that are do-able, all in 18 minutes a day.

On the same theme of too much an article on CBS News from the Harvard Business Review suggests that the culture that the smart phone is encouraging, one of 24/7 availability, actually is decreasing our productivity. The argument is that not only does this 24/7 availability cause productivity and effectiveness to decline but customer satisfaction declines as well. The article provides a pretty convincing argument.

Now here is something a little off the wall (literally). Have you given any thought to the effect colour has on productivity? Well this painting company has. It seems painting the walls in your office blue may actually make the staff more productive. Pink on the other hand is tranquilizing and may make the staff want to fall asleep. Be careful with red as it is thought to make people more cautious and accurate but it also raises blood pressure and heart rate. And better stay away from yellow as people tend to lose their tempers most often in yellow rooms. Who knew?

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at

Wasting Time

Lately I have become aware of how much I get annoyed at having others waste my time. For example when I fill up with gas I pay at the pump. I think going inside to stand in line behind someone purchasing lotto tickets wasting time includes standing in lineis a total waste of my time. You can imagine how choked I get when I have to go inside to collect my receipt. Another time waster for me is meetings that don’t start on time. This is wasting time for a number of people and in my world that is totally unacceptable.  Turn that around and to the contrary I am ok if a friend is late for a scheduled visit (it doesn’t happen very often as I have a reputation I’m afraid). This is because I carry a note-book with a couple of things listed in it that I need to accomplish so I am prepared for that gift of extra time. It all comes down to managing expectations. How well do you manage yours?

Now here is something that is a little controversial – pay your great people slightly more than the market dictates. According to a study conducted by the Nobel Prize in Economics winner George Akerlof and his wife Janet Yellen; Paying great people slightly more than the market demands helps attract bet­ter talent, reduce turnover, and boost productivity and morale. They found that the firms that paid their employees more rather than construct elaborate incentive systems, outperformed their competitors. I just want to add this note from Daniel Pink: ‘Policy makers and business leaders take note: money matters. But often the best use of money as a mo­tivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table—so that people can focus on the work rather than on the cash.’

Let’s take this one step further and have a look at paying people commission. Both in the UK and in the US some companies have found that commissioned sales were not leading to better performance. In fact according to one company ‘By their very nature, individual commissions discourage collabo­ration. Why help ‘Mary’ close the deal when she’ll get the gains from the sale? The comp plan was dividing people.’ When the companies changed the system the managers, instead of spending a huge amount of time and effort policing the compensation system, could focus on more productive activities. Collaboration and better team work were also benefits.

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at

Productivity Do’s and Don’ts

There has always been some difficulty around how to define productivity. I recently came productivity graph to illustrate productivity do's and don'tsacross an interesting post called ‘Uncasting the Spell of Productivity’ by Jessica Lawrence.  She suggests we have gotten away from the original definition of productivity – being as efficient as possible in a set period of time, to – a productive person is one who never stops working. You can tell from that where she is in her life. I suspect a lot of people are there especially in this age of super connectivity. Jessica recommends stripping away anything excessive and unnecessary. That sounds suspiciously like applying a ‘Lean’ methodology to me, casting yourself in the role of the customer and eliminating anything that doesn’t provide you with value. Interesting.

In that same post Jessica offered a link to a short video (1 minute 35 seconds) on ‘lost time’ and how to take advantage of it. The video makes sense but I would suggest you take it one step further and actually plan for the ‘lost time’.  I had a meeting with someone the other day and due to circumstances beyond their control they were late. Because I plan for this kind of thing I had my notebook with me and I did some planning for a course I am giving next month on becoming an entrepreneur. It wasn’t just having the notebook but having the plan of what to do that made the difference.

Are you hindering your employee productivity? I came across this list of 5 Management practices that kill employee productivity and felt it was worth posting here. Some of these things I have talked about before such as ignoring top performers (see What are You Rewarding Employees For?) and ineffective meetings (see Meetings; Good, Bad, or Just a waste of time?) but I encourage you to check out the other 3 to see if you are contributing to the problem. Till next time I will leave you with my definition of Productivity:

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at

The Power of Planning

A couple of years ago I was at a presentation by the Construction Owners Association of Alberta (COAA). These are the guys that do the major projects in Alberta. At that time skilled workers were still scarce although things were getting better. The COAA was taking a serious look at productivity as they were forecasting the number of workers that would be required as they looked into the future. They believed that planning, specifically workface planning could increase tool time by as much as 25%. Workface planning is having the right people in the right place at the right time with the right tools and materials. I don’t believe there is any extra cost associated with that. Imagine the savings in time and labour costs and that is something that can be applied to more than just construction.

There was an article online on Engineering News-Record in June of 2011 that dealt with this same issue. The article referred to a study that showed that prep work and time on task was rarely over 50% for the skilled workers in a typical day. The workers were actually asked what the issue was and things like no forklift to move material, no clear direction or unclear plans or specifications, and looking for tools were among the replies.

Does that apply to your workplace as well? Do you always have the right tools or clear direction (from management or customers) on what needs to be done? And if not does the job then take more time than necessary to complete?

How important is planning? When you can increase your productivity by up to 25% I would say it is very important. So why don’t we do it? I think it’s as simple as we don’t want to pay people when they are doing nothing! For the most part you can’t see someone planning. If they are just sitting there thinking, in our get it done society, they aren’t really doing anything and if they aren’t doing anything there is no value in that. It has been my experience that we apply that to ourselves as well so next time you are just sitting there planning understand that is just as important as the doing.

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at

Motivating Employees with a Thank You Card

I recently came across an article on called ‘7 Unusual Ways to Motivate Your Employees‘. The one I saw the most value in was from Stanley McChrystal, the retired four-star U.S. Army general. Stanley served as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and was once ‘boss’ to more than 150,000 service members. In a keynote speech at the 2011 Inc 500|5000 Conference  the general said he sent out more than 2,000 thank-you notes to his troops each year. “I used to get thank-you notes for my thank-you notes,” he said in his keynote speech . “I’d find them framed in [the troops’ bunk] areas.”

You don’t have to be in charge of a large number of people to apply this tip. I used make a point of sending out thank you cards every year at Christmas. I would sit down and hand write a thank you note to every one of our employees. In the note I would write how much I appreciated their contribution to the business and what qualities I admired in each of them. It always came from the heart and I could tell how much the notes were appreciated as I too got thank you’s for the thank you’s. Showing people how much you value them is a great way to keep them motivated and productive.

Now here is a tip from another former U.S. Army member, former captain Gary E. McCullough. In a 2009 interview with The New York Times Gary says “When people ask me for time, they generally don’t need the time that they ask for. So my assistant asks people, ‘How much time do you need?’ If they say an hour, we cut it in half. If they say 30 minutes, we cut it to 15, because it forces people to be clearer and more concise.”

That makes sense to me. If I have only 15 minutes to make my point I am going to really think about what is important and focus on that. Gary seems to be using Parkinson’s law (See blog post ‘Do your tasks take too long?) specifically to focus others so they are productive with his time. Could you apply that method to the meetings people request with you? You could take that one step further and apply it to the meetings you request to have with someone else. I bet that would create a lasting impression!

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at

32% More Employee Productivity with Plants?

I recently came across an article on New Zealand Business news called Growing Productivity with Office Plants. According to the article the trend over the last few years to a ‘lean, clean office’ really impacts employee productivity in a very negative way. But wait – before we throw lean out the window we need to look a little deeper. The problem is not the lean clean, but in fact the lack of employee involvement. According to British researcher Dr. Craig Knight businesses can improve staff well-being by up to 40% and employee productivity by up to 32% by first “enriching the space” then allowing staff to stamp their own identities on how it looks. If management can see their way to letting go a bit and allowing staff into the decision-making around their own environment the result is the optimum solution for productivity – no matter what the work space ends up looking like.

Do you encourage your employees to be active? A study in Australia recently had one group of employees walk 10,000 steps a day and another not only walk the steps but add some resistance training 3 times a week. (For a comparative a typical office worker walks about 2000 to 3000 steps a day and on average walking 18 holes on a golf course is about 12,000 steps.)

What they found was the employees’ measurable components of brain function, including the ability to plan, remember, simulate future scenarios and make decisions was improved by 2% for the walkers and 4% for the group that had extra activity. Add to that their stress levels were also reduced.  Now 2% might not sound like a lot but as I have observed with the sport of curling a 2% better performance can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Now here is a real simple test for the health of an organization from the online toolkit of Daniel Pink’s latest book, Drive;  the Reich’s Pronoun Test.  Robert B. Reich is a former US labor secretary. He devised a simple tool for measuring the health of an organization. When talking to employees he listens to the pronouns they use. Do the employees refer to the company they work for as ‘they’ or as ‘we’?  ‘They’ suggests at least some amount of disengagement, ‘we’ on the other hand suggests some ownership and possibly the employees feel like they are part of something meaningful or significant.

If you are hearing a lot of ‘they’ perhaps you need to invest in some plants and allow your employees some control over their work space  😉

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at

Do you Know What Motivates Your Employees?

In our area things are heating up again just like they were a few years ago when employees could not be found, let alone one with the skills to do the job right. For the next couple blogs I would like to focus on a few little tips that hopefully not only help with productivity but maybe help with keeping the employees we have now.

Let’s start with employee motivation.  Do you know what motivates your employees? It goes without saying that an employee who is motivated is more productive but that is just the start, they are also more creative.

It wasn’t that long ago that I had a conversation with a business owner who really felt that if he could find and implement the right monetary incentive program his employees would not only be motivated to do good work but that they would be less likely to leave. He was convinced money was their main motivation. I asked him what was his motivation, because it certainly wasn’t money. He worked long hours and would have been paid way more with less stress working for someone else. Now that made him think! Why would his employees be all that different?

If you too think employees main motivation is money I strongly urge you to have a look at Daniel Pink’s You Tube video on Drive and Motivation. It’s about an 11 minute video that is well worth the time. Daniel Pink gives some great evidence to support the idea that you need to give people enough money to take money off the table but after that it is really autonomy, mastery, and purpose that inspires people to do good work.

What about your personal motivation? Do you ever feel a bit overwhelmed? Let’s face it there are always too many things we want/need to get done and not enough time to do them. Interestingly enough I came across a blog post also by Daniel Pink  yesterday advertising a cool new (free) productivity tool called IdoneThis. According to Daniel you sign up and every evening you receive an email asking what you accomplished that day. IdoneThis then compiles your responses in a calendar and you can see just how productive you really are. Cool! I signed up because all too often I forget just how much I accomplish and it is easy to be hard on myself and think I should be doing so much more just because there is so much to be done.

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at