Productivity—the Japanese Way


Economists are forever telling us that we need to increase productivity in order to improve our standard of living. Productivity is one of those concepts that are so loaded with meaning and implications that is very difficult to define, much less explain. Not surprisingly then, improving “it” is one of the most difficult tasks facing business. More to the point, the time for improvement is quickly running out. Industrial performance is being outstripped at a frightening pace by the Japanese. In fact, it has reached the point where their productivity performance is so superior that they can literally pick any product and any market and quickly come to dominate it.

The idea that Japanese are uniquely gifted in only a few related areas has been debunked by their proven successes in industries as diverse as automobiles and semi-conductors. As well, the facile suggestion that the Japanese are somehow culturally inclined to be productive doesn’t wash. Japanese managers have taken over factories in Europe and the US and greatly improved productivity records. Productivity has also been high in their North American plants.

If corporate managers believe that their workers can be as competitive as anyone else in the world, and technically, there’s no valid reason why they can’t be, then they must find better ways to help their employees realize their potential. In that sense, study of Japanese methods is a jumping-off point that can lead to adaptations that will produce unique ways of improving productivity.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

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Economic Truths


Although there are few truisms that apply universally in the business world, there are four related economic truths that are valid in every business situation:

  1. Over the long term, it is absolutely essential to be a lower cost supplier or profit margins will erode.
  2. To stay competitive, inflation-adjusted costs of  producing and supplying any product or service must continuously trend downward.
  3. The true cost and profit picture for each discrete product/market segment is often obscured by traditional accounting practice.
  4. Real business winners concentrate as much or more on cash flow and balance sheet strength as they do on reported profits.

These points have always been valid, but they are far more serious today because there is much less margin for error in our more turbulent environment.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

The Critical Incident Appraisal


Critical Incident Appraisal focuses the rater’s attention on those critical or key behaviors that make the difference between doing a job effectively and doing it ineffectively. The appraiser writes down anecdotes describing what the employee did that was especially effective or ineffective. With this approach to appraisal, specific behaviors are cited, not vaguely defined individual traits. A behavior-based appraisal should be more valid than trait-based appraisals because it is clearly more job related. It is one thing to say that an employee is “aggressive,” “imaginative,” or relaxed,” but that does not tell us anything about how well the job is being done. Critical incidents, with their focus on behaviors, judge performance rather than personalities.

The strength of the critical incident method is that it looks at behaviors. Additionally, a list of critical incidents on a given employee provides a rich set of examples from which employees can be shown which of their behaviors are desirable and which ones call for improvement. In drawbacks are basically that: 1) appraisers are required to regularly write these incidents down, and doing this on a daily or weekly basis for all employees is time-consuming and burdensome for supervisors; and 2) critical incidents suffer from the same comparison problem found in essays—mainly, they do not lend themselves easily to quantification. Therefore the comparison and ranking of employees may be difficult.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Cross-Cultural Ethical Contradictions


Some of the knottiest ethical problems occur as corporations do business in other societies where ethical standards differ from those at home. Today the policymakers and planners in all multinational corporations, regardless of the nation where they are headquartered face ethical dilemma.

Should ethical principles—the ones that help chart right and wrong conduct—take their meaning strictly from the way each society defines ethics? Are Japanese attitudes towards job opportunities for minorities, other workers and women as ethically valid as US attitudes? Who should assume the ethical responsibility? What or whose ethical standards should be the guide?

As business becomes increasingly global, with more and more corporations penetrating overseas markets where cultures and ethical traditions vary questions occur more frequently. Employees and managers need ethical guidance from clearly stated company policy if they are to avoid the psychological stresses.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

The Lacking Commitment


Why do so many senior people appear hesitant and half-hearted? Why are the communications concerning change programs so anemic, especially when coming from those who have little difficulty in putting their points across in other contexts?

We have to get at the roots of ambivalence. The reasons for concern, quiet dissent, and reluctance to commit need to be probed:

  • Apparent support may only mean that those concerned are crawlers, bootlickers and toadies. There is often reluctance to accept the reality that all manner of loathsome and self-serving creatures inhabit the corridors of corporate bureaucracy. Their wiles, and the games they play, which are so transparent to outsiders, and destructive of external relationships built upon mutual trust and respect, go unnoticed or are ignored within.
  • Those who appear difficult may be the individuals with intellectual reservations. These could relate to the application of a program in a particular area, or to an initiative as a whole. The objectors could be the ones who have thought it through and uncovered missing elements. An implementation process needs to incorporate a means of listening to, and learning from, those who have valid objections.
  • Also, not all customers have the same preferences. What is added value for one person may be regarded as an expensive luxury by other.

Bland ‘motherhood’ statements suggest people have not thought through what needs to be done. People judge by what they see rather than on the basis of what is said. The informal messages, the examples and the symbols, can undercut formal communications.

Too often the changes of attitudes that are sought are not reflected in the language used by managers, the anecdotes and war stories that make up the mythology of a company, in symbols such as the allocation of parking spaces or use of exercise facilities, and in how a myriad of day-to-day matters are handled. Changing structures and processes may not be followed by attitudes where managers themselves, and particularly senior managers, refuse to act as role models.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Accrual Accounting and Cashflow


Before the end of World War 1 most managers kept track of cash out and cash in. many senior citizen owner-managers still do today. There is an inherent problem in keeping the records that way, however, if the business offers and receives much credit. Doing business on credit displaces the time of the exchange of cash from the exchange of goods and services. Sometimes very little cash comes in during a particular month and very much cash comes in during other months. The same is true of cash out.

Keeping in track of what you pay or get paid for credit transactions causes the monthly reports describing the operations to fluctuate from month to month even though the goods and services flowing in and out of the business may be very much the same. About 1920 the accounting profession began placing emphasis on the accrual method of accounting to overcome this difficulty.

The accrual method portrays the smoothed-out profit as if all the transactions had been for cash and as if the business had purchased only exactly what was needed to make the sale. It is not an accurate portrayal of everything going on in the business, but it is a good approximation of the net effect of those things that affect profit. The problem is that so much emphasis has been placed on the accrual method income statement and balance sheet that the importance of cash has been regulated to virtual obscurity.

Even this result is satisfactory when the reports are describing large businesses with access to external financing through the stock market, commercial paper, and bank loans at the prime interest rate. But companies that do not have access to these external sources of financing have a different problem. For them, the flow of cash through the business means life or death, whether the accrual based profit is great or terrible. When new or small businesses need cash they must turn to the bank, the banker will look to the personal savings and assets of the owner-manager for collateral.

Accountants have not forgotten nor overlooked the importance of cash. They recognize the need for cash in sufficient quantity to keep the business operating. For their purposes, however, they often infer the cash available to the business from the income statements and describe future cash availability with the balance sheets. They, and others, frequently describe it as: cash flow equals net profit after taxes plus depreciation and other noncash expenses, such as amortization.

This statement is incorrect except under some very stringent preconditions that rarely exist in practice for a small business. This statement is an approximation that is valid for large and stable businesses in which changes from year to year are small and the statements from which the cash flow is inferred are annual reports. For a small and new business looking at monthly financial reports this approximation is inadequate. In a small, growing business the net cash flow to the firm’s bank account does not equal the net profit plus depreciation. Profit is not cash nor is it cash flow.

Although this pronouncement may be unconventional, entrepreneurs are realistic. Successful entrepreneurs ask how it really works and then get on with building their business. In the conventional approach the analysts, having inferred cash flow from profit, depreciation, and amortization, stop there, allowing their readers to assume that the resulting cash is in the bank wiating to be spent.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

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