As I mentioned last week, it was very apt that the two articles on productivity fell in the last week of January and the first week of February.

At A4G, the last week of January is our busiest week as we finalise all the tax returns and the first week of February is the week, we start planning for the year to come. The two weeks require a very different mindset and approach.

Whilst the former is all about efficiency, volume and delivery, the week just past is about working smarter and considering the best uses of our time. Whilst there is still a huge amount of work required by clients, we have the time to think, plan, train, systemise and do all those things that you’d refer to as “working on the business” instead of “working in the business”.

This began on Monday morning with our annual staff focus group. Normally we hire the hall at the New Ash Green Rugby Club, and everyone gathers in one place. This year of course we were all online.

My preparation as always included comparing how we’d done against the goals we set a year ago. Oh, how I chuckled at the plans that we carefully laid out on the 1st February 2020. “The first victim of war (and Covid-19) is the plan” as they say.

But Pandemics aside, taking some time to step back, survey the changes since last year and develop a plan is of course crucial. As Steve and Roger of BackleyBlack say in our latest video, it’s not the performance in the big events that are really where things are won or lost but in the training sessions day after day. In the preparation, the training, the practice.

Now of course World Class athletes spend 95% of their time training and practising and 5% of their time competing. If you tried doing that in your business, you’d be bust within a fortnight. Your business relies on getting the work that the business does done. If not, you’ll soon see your customers heading off to your competitors.

As a result, many business owners end up head down working in the business all the time with the risk they become busy fools. There might be the occasional break for an industry conference (online these days of course), a strategic planning session with A4G (you never know) or simply doing some industry research.

There is a danger of feeling overwhelmed when you do that as you identify a long list of things you should do. But you can only do one thing next and the key is deciding what that is.

The technique we use is “Return on Investment” (ROI) which I’ve featured in these articles a few times previously. The first thing to do is identify what your main limiting factor is. Is it cash? Or maybe it’s your time.

And then you decide what gets you the best return on based on that limiting factor.

The biggest project being rolled out nationally at the moment is of course the vaccination programme. When this started, the limiting factor was the time of those who would administer the vaccines. Therefore, at that stage ROI was calculated as number of patients per hour of vaccinator’s time.

So to achieve a better ROI, you might consider installing conveyor belts on which octogenarians could be wheeled through the local doctor’s surgery while a harassed and tired doctor plunged needles into their arms at breakneck speed. A silly example, but you get the point.

But as more people were trained to do the vaccinations, the limiting factor is now the availability of the vaccine itself. There’s no point increasing capacity to do the vaccines (unless we’re planning for times when we have more supply) so we have different considerations.

Now its not about maximising the number of vaccinations but maximising the benefit from the fixed number of vaccinations that are available. That’s your return.

But how do you measure that?

Is it by minimising the number of deaths caused by Covid? Or minimising the number of hospitalisations? They may be same thing of course but who knows because no-one has been brave enough to define it.

Either way, that criteria is key to deciding who goes next. The current criteria is mainly based on age, with NHS staff bumped up the queue (quite rightly). But a list based on ROI might be more sophisticated. I’m in my 50s and like many of my friends am sat safely at home tapping away on a computer all week. Am I at more risk than a 40-year-old working in a supermarket five days a week? Probably not.

And at some point, we have to decide when to dish out the second doses. Does a vaccine given to an 80-year-old who has had one dose already give a better “return” than a first vaccine given to a 20-year-old? That’s probably easy to answer. But what about second vaccine for a 60-year-old versus 1st vaccine for a 30-year-old. Now it’s getting tricky.

Obviously, that’s also where it all gets a bit political. Applying unemotional accountants’ logic to a problem like the order of who gets vaccinated would run the risk of deliberate misinterpretation by the press and then vested interests spinning it into something else via social media as happened with the notorious exam algorithm.

But as a business owner, you don’t have to worry about what the Daily Mail might say. Unemotional logic is your friend.

And that’s what’s required to decide what you spend the next hour on. Or maybe your next Kilo Joule of energy. What will give you the best return?

And what does “return” even mean? Return means different things to different people. Return in your business might be profit. Or if you are on a fast-growth strategy, it might be turnover. Or perhaps if you’ve got enough money, it might be your time. Or if you haven’t got any money, simply cash. One of my clients told me he had started measuring the effectiveness of decisions based on the number of golf holes he could play in the time he personally saved from the change.

What you choose to do next might not be the obvious. It might be to deal with a major customer. But it could equally be to write a system or design a training session. Or simply take a break or go for a walk and a think. Sometimes less is more.

Get most of those decisions right and productivity will take care of itself.

Ironically, when I was about halfway through this article, I checked out the BBC news website and saw a story where Matt Hancock explained that the strategy for the vaccine rollout was inspired by a Hollywood film called Contagion which you may have seen.

And there was I thinking they’d finally got the accountants in to help make the supply chain work. Never mind, our time will come.

Have a good weekend.


Interview with Steve Backley and Roger Black 

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Malcolm Palmer


Managing Partner

01474 853856

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