Editorial: Plain talk & simple actions

Last month we launched the first of our Editor’s Breakfasts. Run hand-in-hand with the New Zealand Institute of Management, they’re designed to create small-group series of conversations with business leaders. This first one was about productivity. More specifically we wanted to know if, and how, we can lift the performance of our nation’s organisations in this area.
We were privileged to have, among others, NZ Productivity Commission chief Murray Sherwin at the table. I was impressed by the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and the passion with which he’s embracing the challenge to help lift New Zealand in the international productivity stakes. Let’s face it, we’re in sorry state. We’re slip-sliding down the global rankings at time when, more than ever, we need to be hauling ourselves back up them.
More specifically still, I was impressed by Murray’s ability to cover the broadest spectrum of ideas necessary to make difference in lifting productivity. He talks knowledgeably across both big-picture macro settings and the button-down, how-to details necessary to make changes in real-life business settings.
I’ve been thinking lot recently about how easy, inspiring and even pleasurable it can be to talk only big picture stuff. In contrast, it can prove time-consuming and frustrating to then have to work out how to translate those big ideas into practical actions within organisations. The satisfaction, of course, comes from getting good results.
In my interviews for this month’s cover story on boosting productivity, I’ve also been struck by the many examples of how successful companies focus on small incremental steps that together can add up to giant leap forward. (See page 30 for this month’s cover story “The sharing CEO: How to lift your firm’s productivity”.)
I especially enjoyed talking with independent company director and chair Kerry MacDonald whose wealth of experience gives him ample credibility to make his refreshingly blunt comments about where we’re going wrong as nation in sorting out our productivity issues.
He’s particularly scathing about productivity in New Zealand’s public sector which he sees as far too focused on ticking boxes and thereby missing both the point and the myriad opportunities available for improvement.
In his opinion, too many consultants brought in to help lift public sector performance focus on cutting costs and the number of people employed. What they don’t do, is work on improving the organisation.
“There’s very good saying in this area that unless you change the systems you are not changing anything,” he says. “Anything else is naïve and ill-informed approach to productivity improvement.”
Bring on more such plain talk.

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