Is increasing productivity the solution to the economic woes of Caribbean SIDS?

Economic context of Caribbean SIDS

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Economic Conditions in several developed economies have improved considerably since the 2008 financial crisis. This is in contrast to most countries within the Caribbean where the characteristics of high debt, chronic poverty, little to no growth and high unemployment persist.

Most of the Caribbean islands belong to a special grouping of islands commonly referred to as Small Island Developing States (SIDS). SIDS are a distinct group of developing countries facing specific social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities. The commonality in these islands lies in the development challenges which they face; these include: small size, limited natural resources, remoteness from large markets, and vulnerability to natural disasters and economic shocks. The economic growth and development of SIDS has been slowed by high communication, energy and transportation costs. Additionally, public administration and some private sector functions are disproportionately more expensive within SIDS in comparison to developed countries. This is due in part to their smallness and the lack of opportunities to enjoy economies of scale. The smallness of SIDS make it difficult and almost impossible for government policy to have any significant impact on their economic situation.  

The external current account balance for many Caribbean SIDS has deteriorated significantly during the latter half of the last decade. This was mostly as a result of the decline in tourism and related receipts, rising energy prices and other commodity imports, and the loss of preferential market access. High levels of public debt built up from prolonged fiscal deficits and slow growth have also plagued Caribbean economies. Sustained fiscal consolidation complemented by structural reforms is now required to remedy Caribbean economies. In layman’s terms “The economic reality within Caribbean SIDS can only improve if we reduce our public debt and borrowing by making changes to how we do certain things in our economies.”

One option available to Caribbean SIDS which is likely to encourage economic growth is increasing productivity. Improving productivity is one structural reform which can be considered low hanging fruit for the region. Economic growth and productivity are intricately linked, and research has shown that increasing productivity will unlock economic growth, allow for efficiency gains and allow for a better allocation of resources in an economy. A number of countries have already recorded successes by pursuing a regime of improved productivity. Regionally some of the larger countries such as Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago have made significant strides in improving productivity and competitively; whilst internationally India and the Republic of Mauritius have helped to advance their respective economies through improvements in productivity.   

What is productivity?

It is important to not confuse productivity with production, output or efficiency. The concepts are all linked but one is not synonymous with the other.  Productivity describes the relationship between outputs and inputs. Simply put, productivity is a measure of how well an individual, organisation, industry or country converts input resources (labour, materials, machines etc) into goods and services. An increase in productivity occurs when an increase in output occurs with a less than proportionate increase in inputs, or when the same output is produced with fewer inputs.

Productivity is interpreted at three broad levels: the national level, the sectoral level and the enterprise level. The national level which is the broadest level is the aggregate of all the sectors within an economy. At the national level the state is required to create an environment conducive to productivity enhancement. The sectoral level relates to specific segments of an economy, such as agriculture or financial services; whilst the enterprise or individual level is the smallest unit for understanding productivity and refers to either an individual or entity.

A relationship exists among the three levels, as the enterprise level is the building block for the sectoral level, and the sectoral level the building block for the national level. Any improvement or deterioration at the lower levels will result in a comparable change at the national level. It therefore stands to reason that interventions which are made at the enterprise level are sure to result in some change at the national level.

Do increases in productivity benefit the economy?

Empirically, it has been proven that there is a positive correlation between productivity increases and economic growth.  However, the gains are not automatic, but are derived from a combination of well-targeted, strategic interventions. Measures meant to generate growth must be directed at both the public and private; and attention given at all the levels of productivity.  

The benefits from productivity are realisable at all three levels and are by no means mutually exclusive. Productivity gains at the enterprise and sectoral levels will redound to productivity gains at the national level.

Productivity improvements at the enterprise and sectoral levels should result in increased profitability, business growth and increased competitiveness for the related businesses and sectors.

 Advancements in productivity increase a businesses’ profitability as additional goods and services are produced with the same level of inputs, or the same level of goods and services is produced from fewer inputs. The result is a greater net output, as either the total output has increased or the total input     has decreased. The higher net output presents an opportunity for growth to businesses and industries. The savings created from the reduced requirement on input can be re-invested into new projects and product lines. The benefits to an economy from business growth are two fold; business growth may require the business to hire new employees thus creating employment, and growth will result in increased revenues for the business/industry, therefore the potential for greater tax revenue for governments. Businesses and industries will also enjoy enhanced competitiveness as their business processes would now be more efficient therefore creating the potential for price reductions for their goods and services. All three of the above gains will benefit the local economy as they create the possibility for increased tax revenue as a result of the rise in economic activity.

The gains from productivity at the national level are similar to those at the enterprise and sectoral level but are aggregated for the economy as a whole. The primary gains from increased productivity at the national level lie in: resource re-allocation, efficiency gains and increased competitiveness.

The higher output of goods and services, together with reducing levels of inputs, increases the wealth of the country and drives economic growth.  The very notion of increases in output implies that the net effect would be an increase in the country’s gross domestic product.

In so much as productivity is not the same as efficiency, there will be efficiency gains in an economy once productivity has increased. Furthermore, the decrease in demand for some inputs will mean that these inputs must now be redeployed elsewhere in the economy.  Once these inputs are engaged, and do not remain idle, this will cause a further increase in output.

Efficiency gains are perhaps one of the greatest benefits of increased productivity. As explained above, more will be able to be accomplished with fewer resources, a factor particularly important for most Caribbean SIDS in recent times given resource constraints. The new found efficiency will allow countries to redirect resources to reduction of public debts or resources can possibly be channelled into activities intended to stimulate investment and therefore grow the economy.

The increased productivity for businesses and sectors will make the country as a whole more competitive both regionally and globally. The products and services offered by the country then become more desirable on the global market. Improved competitiveness not only protects current jobs, but will attract some of much needed foreign direct investment which will create additional jobs and greater opportunities for employment at all levels.

Overcoming the economic conditions of high public debt, high unemployment and low growth is a hugely daunting task. One cannot expect such change overnight, nor will it come quickly and easily. The path to an improved economic condition will be challenging and will require patience and discipline. A comprehensive package of economic reforms is needed to address the deficiencies which exist in Caribbean economies at present. One critical transformation will be the pursuit of increased productivity.  Raising productivity and ultimately, economic growth cannot be avoided on the journey to achieving sustained economic growth. Equally important, productivity cannot be pursued half-heartedly, but must be pursued in full and in earnest to enjoy the many gains which are present.

Article written by Mr. Cecil Charles, Economist, Department of Finance

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Make Yours a Productive Online Meeting

Businessman working on laptop in his office.Business meetings are an important part of any organisations daily schedule. Whether liked or loathed, research shows that senior decision makers spend an estimated 65 percent of their time in mandatory meetings with different departmental heads. Such meetings are usually vital as they update attendees on work schedules and progress. However, as many of us know, even if not intentional, business meetings can eat away at crucial work hours.

With the advent of the online meeting, many believed that unnecessary hours spent around a conference room table would be a thing of the past. Although some of the negatives related to ‘conventional’ meetings have been eradicated by way of the new technology, online meetings harbour other complications.   For example, with participants of online meetings being in various locations, telecommunication and technological problems often arise. Connectivity issues and communication delays are two of the most common problems that occur. Also, it is sometimes hard to keep a meeting structured with multiple participants speaking at the same time. Thankfully however there are some practices that can help make online meetings more productive.

Online Meetings Need a Clear Agenda

Even ‘traditional’ meetings should have a clear agenda. A meeting with a vague purpose often leads to confusion and a lot of wasted time. So never hold an online meeting without one. Make things easier for everyone by preparing a formal agenda which details all of the key issues to be discussed in the meeting.  Also clearly state the expected roles of each participant in the meeting.  Send the agenda out at least 24 hours before the scheduled meeting start time, and seek acknowledgement of the agenda from each participant.

Appoint a Moderator

A meeting without a moderator is likely to go off-track. By appointing a moderator, you have given somebody the authority to control proceedings. No one can speak without the moderator’s permission. It will also be the moderator’s job to keep everyone focused on the topic. This is particularly important during an online meeting since the chance of miscommunication is greater due to Internet connectivity and audio/video quality.

Prepare Your System In Advance

Ask all the participants to restart their computers at least 20 minutes before the meeting gets underway. Also, make sure your camera and microphone are working fine, and your meeting software supports multiple participants. For one-on-one meetings, you can go for a standard video calling service like Skype. But if there are multiple participants, a specialized application like ClickMeeting, which gives you the ability to conduct online meetings much more professionally is recommended.

Limit Distractions

Distractions can easily cause miscommunication in online meetings. To avoid them, make sure all your participants are sitting in a closed and well-illuminated room with a clear background. Also, it’s better to use headphones and a collar mic instead of your laptop’s mic to ensure clear communication.

 And In Conclusion…

Once your online meeting concludes, make sure a summary of all the meeting notes are sent to the participants. List the action points identified for each agenda item along with the name of the person responsible for its delivery. Ask all the participants to acknowledge the meeting notes and confirm their understanding.

Conducting online meetings with people in different locations can be difficult to manage, but advance preparation, good structure, and tight moderation can bring about a productive success.  If done right, well-communicated, online meetings can become an extremely effective platform for connecting your company stakeholders and employees, whilst saving you telephone and other conventional communication costs.

ARE YOU A PRODUCTIVITY ROBOT?

Productivity is measured internationally, nationally, at the level of the company and of the individual. Of course, we all want higher productivity from workers, which is preferred to stagnant output or declining productivity. Stagnant output severely drains the resources invested to generate said output, and represents an overall loss to the company. By this I mean that the returns to the business are reduced given the cost associated with keeping those employees hired. Economists refer to this phenomenon as diminishing returns to investment. In an ideal situation, one would expect that productivity gains in the workplace would exceed the costs associated with the operating costs of the company on a sustained basis.

At the level of the firm, an increase in productivity is induced by reducing cost, improving price competitiveness, improving the organisation’s financial ability to pay salaries, increasing output or service quality performance and returns financial capital invested to improve the capacity of the firm.

Using the academic mode of thinking about productivity, organizations which are able to successfully manage (or lower) their inputs and correspondingly increase their outputs, would inherently be able to consolidate a financially secure and competitive position.

Profitability is not the only indicator; however it is indeed one of the best indicators of company productivity – it provides evidence of sound management decisions, sales and price levels, investment, production, innovation, and underlying management of process efficiency within the organization. But are you a productivity robot? And more alarmingly, are you creating an army of productivity robots? These are employees who do as they are told, maintain an acceptable level of performance, which create a satisfactory level of output, sales, and profitability.

These organizations do not encourage the real transformational element which spurs growth. Productivity robots and the organizations they work for are much like machine bureaucracy, which according to Mintzberg is a “mechanistic organization characterized by a high level of standardization and centralized control. A continuous effort to embed routine tasks through formalization of worker skills and experiences. It is highly rigid and unable to cope with novelty and change.”

An employee can execute the mechanics of the job well and help that company achieve profit. However, and I am speaking broadly now, if the private sector is to contribute (as it should) to macroeconomic sustainability, growth and ultimate evolution of the macro-economy, then risk, innovation,  creativity and problem solving are urgent priorities. Companies must constantly seek to evolve their products, services and organisational structure- this is the only way that they will become competitive. And when I say competitive, I mean a company’s ability to increase exports, increase its capacity for import substitution and increase its contribution to the earning of foreign exchange for the country.

Productivity robots may (and this is no guarantee!) suit the purposes for the company in the short-term, but in the long-run they stifle the organisation. Therefore embedded within the employee’s job description and activities should be requirements to be productive through process innovation, reduction of wastage, punctuality, and customer service excellence.  If you recall NISE’s 100 Improvements in 100 Days initiative, then this is similar. Get your employees involved in developing productive initiatives and reward them for initiative and excellence through their performance appraisal and other tangible incentive.  To fully capitalize on this, the company must encourage and reward innovation, creativity, out-of-the box- thinking and non-linear organisation communication and participation.

(Article submitted by guest contributor Olivia A. Smith, Senior Economist, Barbados Productivity Council.)

Performance Based Incentive Plans- A Means of Boosting Productivity within Your Organisation

Today’s competitive business environment has led to a greater emphasis on organisation and worker productivity. Attaining a higher level of productivity is considered to be key in achieving a thriving business, as resources are used more efficiently in the business work process to create more value for the firm. It is commonly viewed that organisational productivity is fairly low due to the ‘production process’ but it is also important to note the role of employees in boosting productivity. Organisations are increasingly investing in the development and implementation of performance based actions which contribute to the achievement of organisational goals.

Performance based incentives link individual and corporate achievement of predetermined outcomes with remuneration. In other words, pay is allocated on the basis of the individual performance and business results rather than paying for the job or length of service.

Many businesses which have implemented performance-based incentive programmes have realised the benefits. They have found that an incentive program that rewards improved business results translates into increased productivity, higher profitability and a more motivated staff or employees.

An article in the Harvard Business Review of March-April 2000, called ‘Leadership That Gets Results,’ reports that ‘of six leadership styles studied, the use of rewards was the single highest predictor of ‘organizational climate’ and in turn had a direct correlation with financial results’.

In his article, ‘The Reward That Makes Employees Work Harder’ on The Business News Daily website, Chad Brooks adds, ‘A study by workforce solutions firm Kelly Services found that 40 percent of employees feel they would be more productive if they had their earnings linked to certain performance or productivity goal. Currently, nearly a third of the companies surveyed use a performance-based pay system with their employees. Performance-based pay involves any arrangement where an element of the total salary is tied to meeting performance targets, including profit-sharing, performance bonuses and sales commissions’.

However, before an organisation can develop a successful performance-based incentive program, there must be a clear vision. Without such direction, it is difficult to identify the types of performance that should be rewarded. Therefore, organisations must create a clear vision and identify the steps required to achieve it. This is important as, a clear corporate vision is the foundation on which all effective performance based incentive systems are based.

The corporate vision has to represent a high-level understanding within the organisation of where it would like to be in the short, medium and long term. After defining the vision, subsequently the elements of an effective performance-based plan can be identified. Without a clearly stated vision, even the best designed programme will drift aimlessly. It is also important to bear in mind that although incentive programs can encourage employees to perform at high levels of productivity, employers should always analyze the merits of the program prior to implementation. They must determine the optimal incentive plan that is in the best interest of the business and that will help improve performance and promote ethical behaviour.