Synopsis: Communication For Productivity
Letters written to some 7500 Workers / Managers / Union Leaders, following a period of strike / Go slow / Murders (1979 - 1987), at Mumbai factory of Larsen & Toubro Ltd. This direct / open / honest communication led to a remarkable atmosphere of trust between Workers and Management, which, in turn, increased productivity at 3% per year (ave).
12 Nov 1979
PRODUCTIVITY- “PRODUCT” OF THE BRAIN BY THE BRAWN
Someone said recently that productivity is yet another name for the work. The definition is elegant for its simplicity. It is a simple statement of an otherwise complex subject. It is also a brief statement. It has, therefore, both the key attributes of mathematics-simplicity and brevity.
Looking beyond this simple definition, the word ‘productive’ makes us think of the manner in which this hard work-or effort-was applied. Was all that hard work effective? The cause and effect relationship is brought into picture. Obviously, effort is the “cause”. But was the effort “effective”? Did it produce the desired result? Or did it produce any result at all?
Now we see the light: No matter how “hard” the effort, it is no good – not productive – unless it produces certain “effects” – the results.
Long before man invented the circle, he used square wheels on Stone age carts. You can imagine the effect: (Those who drive on Bombay roads do not have to stretch their imaginations). It called for applying a lot of effort but did not take one very far: It also took a long time to get anywhere. Although time was not important, the effort was so when the stone age cart Mark it, with circular wheels was test-marketed, it was an instant success:
Someone had finally hit the key-how to multiply muscle power by brainpower – the “product” of the brain by the brawn. From this “product” came “productivity”. This then is the more involved definition of productivity. Life on earth was never going to be the same again: Let us look at the change the definition underwent.
effect = F (effort)
(i.e. effect is a function of effort) we moved into
effect = F (effort x brain)
So we learned how to enhance the effect for the same given effort through application of intelligence. Alternatively, for the same given effect, we could use much less effort, using mental skills.
Productivity, therefore, means using both body and mind simultaneously, for easier attainment of a given end-result.
Although there is limit beyond which the body cannot be prodded to greater effort, there does not seem to be any such limit to mental powers. When the two are multiplied, the results can be fantastic. THE history of mankind has proved this again. Depressingly, more often than not, this multiplication has been used for the self rather than for the benefit of mankind.
IN so far as productivity means producing more for the same effort or producing the same quantity for less effort, no one would have any quarrel. This was particularly so when it concerned one’s own efforts to gain an individual advantage. Such a situation, however, did not last beyond the days of the caveman who hunted alone for food.
For an end objective, in this case food – shall we say survival? – cooperative effort emerged as early as the caveman – hunter era. Cooperative effort was synergetic and certainly more productive. The cooperative effort was problem-solving in so much as it was an answer (solution) to the question of survival. Cooperation also improved the chance of attaining the desired solution.
One does not know for sure, but at this stage one or more of the following things happened:
1. Some persons with a greater sense of survival desired greater (than equal) share of the end-result.
2. Some persons with greater mental or greater physical abilities desired a greater share –a share out of proportion to their physical effort contribution.
(This was a couple of million years before man stopped working for himself and started working for the income tax Department).
Anyway, we see here at once the roots of Marx-Lenin’s class struggle as also Lord Mahavira’s Asteya principle of desirability of minimum wants. As long as an individual desired to take more out of the Society than what he was prepared to give to the society by way of his effort, no societal wealth could be created. In such a situation an individual could amass wealth only at the cost of improvement of some other individuals, the sum total remaining the same.
It is only when every member of the society gave more to it than what he took away, could societal wealth increase. Create more, consume less. Contribute more, distribute less. This, then is the principle of the Wealth of Nations.
Now you will notice the relevance of the earlier remarks. Productivity became a dirty word only when it became synonymous with exploitation of the efforts of the others to gain personal advantage for a few. This was particularly so in a cooperative venture like an industrial organization where necessary persons of varying physical and mental skills must work together towards a common goal.
Even in an idealistic situation where nobody took advantage of nobody, the question of establishing an equation (or rather an inequation - mathematically speaking!) between the contributions of thousands of employees, each possessing an unique combination of physical and mental skills, remains intractable. Although some norms of overall corporate productivity can be established for a given venture and could prove to be useful yardstick if used consistently, the enormous complexity of a modern business venture renders all but impossible any attempt at measuring an individual’s contribution to that overall productivity gain. Any overall productivity index tends to mix up the effect of several resource inputs in the denominator of the simplified formula.
Productivity = Output
The same is true of the selection of any numerator, such as sales, cost of production, profit, etc. Therefore, the only true measure of labour productivity can be equated as
Labour productivity = Physical output
The foregoing equation is particularly true for a diversified operation. Considering that, at macro level, no single index can be found which can isolate labour productivity, it appears inescapable that all the manufacturing units must establish work standards in terms of the standard hours for the production to be achieved. The ration of the standard hours to the actual hours would then indicate an individual’s or group’s performance index or productivity level. Output as measured by the number of physical units for a given unit of time is something which is easily understood by all concerned. This brings us back to where we started, namely hard work – for what is hard work other than doing more in the same period of time?