During the General Election campaign the debate about the economy was astoundingly ignorant. Most ill-informed politicians kept banging on about austerity when government spending has never been higher, the national debt has never been higher and the deficit is still one of the largest in the developed world. Meanwhile one of the most important factors in the economy, that of productivity was never mentioned. Most good economists and even policy makers in the Treasury and the Bank of England agree that low productivity is the core economic challenge facing the UK. Output per worker-hour remains 2% below the levels of 2008 before the financial crisis set in while in the rest of the G7 group of rich countries it is 5% higher. As The Economist
put it recently: “the French could take Friday off and still produce more than Britons do in a week.”[i]
Growth in productivity is the ultimate economic foundation of future growth in wages, living standards and output.
Most economists agree that the problem in Britain has been a lack of investment, and I agree with this. But I also think there are issues with levels of personal productivity. I dealt with that aspect in my book The 20 Ps of Marketing
“Ren McPherson, Chairman, Dana Corporation Systems says:
“When you put on the hat of manager for the first time in your life, you give up honest work for the rest of your life… you no longer drive forklifts, open the mail, answer the phones or do anything of any direct economic value to the enterprise. …Given that is the case, the only thing you have left is…. the way you spend your time.”
Each individual manager has the responsibility to manage his own personal Productivity in the best way he can. This is not confined to Marketing Managers but for the reason stated above Marketing has a particular need to demonstrate its commitment to this principle. This has been drummed into me ever since I was first trained at Procter & Gamble as a sales representative and was taught that my objectives were to
Over the years I have attended courses on Time Management like everyone else; I have been sold expensive stationery to assist my Time Management like everyone else; I have learnt to make lists of actions and how to prioritise them like everyone else; and so on. But the most effective teachers I have had in this area have not talked of time management which seems an ever losing battle because in the end time cannot be managed. It wins. It is irrepressible. Instead, what you must manage is your own effectiveness and efficiency, or in a word, Productivity.
Most senior Marketers will have developed and practised line management skills and these need to be well rounded to be able to manage the performance and needs of a great variety of individuals. A general manager, managing director or chief executive will need both a high degree of task orientation, to get the job done, and a high degree of relationship orientation, working with colleagues to get the job done. Robert Blake developed a two dimensional model to plot how these behaviours apply. But the late Bill Reddin of Magill University had the insight to add a third dimension, that of effectiveness.
As a young sales manager with Pedigree Petfoods I was fortunate to be sent on a training course taught by Reddin based on the 3D Theory of Management Effectiveness. An effective manager developed the situational analysis to determine what type of behaviour is called on from him in any particular situation. Different individuals require different management techniques and the good general manager is adept at both knowing which and knowing how to apply them. He will also focus on outputs rather than inputs. Ultimately every job can be measured in terms of outputs. In the last chapter on Profit I listed the metrics on which Tim Ambler recommends the Marketing Director to focus.
My other great teacher in this regard was Jay Hurwitz of the Institute for Business Technology who worked with me when I was at Sony. Jay is an American based in the UK with a particularly effective technique. He got me to focus on Productivity rather than Time Management. This was in the days before email was rife and certainly before I was using it. So there was still a lot of paper correspondence that came in to my in-tray on a regular basis. He grabbed each piece of paper from the in-tray in turn, jabbed it in my face and said “What are you going to do with this?” Depending on what it was I might say, “Oh! That’s something I need to discuss with Steve.”
JAY “When are you going to see Steve?”
DAVID “I have a meeting with him on Friday.”
JAY “So, what are you going to do with this now?”
DAVID “I guess I’ll leave it in a pending tray.”
JAY “And when you see Steve, how will you remember where it is, and even that you have it? Why don’t you create a Speak-To file for Steve, and all your other reports, and when you have your one-on-one regular meetings you can bring out your Speak-To files and deal with all the pending papers at one go.”
And so I did and continued to do so. It was a highly effective way of reducing the number of times you handle a piece of paper. I think of it like football when it is well played. The best players have good first touch and usually only need one or two touches to control the football and move the game on. That is how it should be with a piece of paper. Deal with it immediately if you can. If it can or should be delayed only touch it once more. Don’t put it back in your in-tray. So how does that change with email? I have not discussed it with Jay but I imagine his advice would be the same. Deal with it once, immediately, or if you leave it for a later time, deal with it only once more and then delete it or archive it where you can easily find it if you need to.
Jay also taught me how to Plan my time so that I really prioritised the important actions. He asked me how many hours a week I worked not including travelling time. I told him. It was a big number though not as big as some workaholics I have known. He then asked me if I was content with this. I answered that yes, I was broadly happy. It was a long working week but I recognised that I was in a position of considerable responsibility and so accepted the workload. He then asked me to come up with about six to eight broad headings for the types of work I did including the routine areas. This might have been something like Corporate, Customers, People, Strategy, Planning, Review, and Administration. He then asked me to allocate a percentage of the agreed number of hours to each of these with the whole adding up to 100%. This might have looked as follows:
Then the trick was to allocate blocks of time in my diary Planning that corresponded to each of these items starting with the most important. I was employed by the corporation and had a duty to respond to its requests to attend meetings in Tokyo, Cologne or wherever and that had to fit in the first 20%. Then I allocated a day per week on average to spend out in the field. And then I allocated a day per week on average to work with my direct reports and other colleagues on leadership, coaching and mentoring. And then I fitted the other items in around this Plan. This was a quite different approach to that which I, and I suspect most others, had taken before that is to allow the diary to fill up with meeting requests and other administrative duties and thus the really important areas of seeing customers and listening to your people got restricted.
Jay also encouraged me to book meetings with myself for thinking and Planning. My PA was instructed to guard my door on these occasions. So I operated an open door policy except it was sometimes closed. I went further and started to go to the gym during the working day. I wanted to set the example to say that this was OK. It was not necessary to only work out outside working hours. Because I believed, and believe, that a fit person will in any case be more Productive than an unfit one.
Tony Schwartz, President and CEO of The Energy Project, has written of The Productivity Myth.
Ben Bernanke, former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank, in testimony to the US Senate in 2010 stated that Americans were working 10 per cent fewer total hours than they did before the recession, due to layoffs and shortened workdays, but were Producing nearly as many goods and services as they did back in the full employment days of 2007. Bernanke called these gains in Productivity "extraordinary" and “unforeseen”. Schwartz, however, believes that this is simply because those in work are afraid of losing their jobs and so work that much harder. But this is not necessarily a good thing. It can lead to problems of health, particularly if it is sustained. He concludes an excellent HBR blog by saying:
“We need a better way of working. It's not about generating short-term, superficial Productivity gains by using fear as a motivator and then squeezing People to their limits. Rather, it depends on helping leaders to understand that more is not always better, and that rest, renewal, reflection, and a long-term perspective are also critical to fueling value that lasts.
If you're a leader, here's where you need to start: Stop measuring your People by the hours they put in, and focus instead on the value they Produce. Make that your primary measurement. Then encourage your People to intermittently renew during the day (and on weekends, and over vacations), so that when they're working, they're really working. That's the path to true Productivity.”[ii]
This comes from Chapter 12 on Productivity in The 20 Ps of Marketing
published by Kogan Page. There’s a direct link to buy in it on the home page of this website