Generally over a beer, one of my oldest friends and I often explore our differing opinions about the world. Especially, the motives of leadership behaviour in the workplace. I was interested in what he thought of 100% efficiency. Moreover, if he thought it could be achieved.

To make the argument easier to digest – and this is too black and white to represent it well. He believes that leaders are intentionally obtuse, and that workforces will get away with what they are allowed – Inevitably, efficiency will be low. I believe that leaders are often under-developed, but want to do the right thing, and that the workforce is frustrated because they aren’t allowed freedoms in improvement, and thought – 100% efficiency is achievable.

He thinks that managerial control is the answer, and me, well… I think that positive culture is the answer. It’s worth noting that we have very different experiences of the manufacturing sector that have shaped our thinking, and I respect his viewpoint (Sometimes!)

So, yesterday we started a debate about efficiencies of manufacturing facilities. We were discussing the ability to survive. How do manufacturers in the West compete with manufacturers in the East? Those of us with a stake in the Western European, or US manufacturing sectors have asked the same thing (probably even in our sleep!) I suggested that we need to up our game on quality, delivery, and tighten our spending to achieve these improvements. He agreed with this, and we had a talk about non-value added activity, and how we could minimise the maintenance budget by being more proactive – it was all very friendly at this point…


“We should have a mind-set that 100% efficiency is achievable” Yep! I said it…

His look said something like “Doug, I can’t believe how naive you can be. I thought you were better than this?” I’ve seen this look before, many times.

“Yeah, I think that would be brilliant but it’s just not achievable in the real world is it.” It wasn’t a question, he was stating what he perceives as fact.

“Why not?” I said, interested.

“Sickness, machine breakdowns, bad materials, poor quality, operator error, tool breakages, stock outages, spec changes, natural disasters even. Loads of things can happen that wouldn’t allow it.”


You know, what he said is exactly right. Loads of things can get in the way of 100% efficiency. We could get in to the realms of toilet breaks, the bus being late, a road accident, power-cut. We could all sit down and make a list of things that have happened to us that caused a stoppage to our processes. I have one today – The plotter has run out of paper and I need some stuff printed for tomorrow. Yes, you’re right it is bad planning. That’s my point.

If we analyse the list of reasons why we can’t reach 100% efficiency is there anything that can’t be resolved?

  • Machine breakdowns – preventative maintenance
  • Bad materials – Better suppliers who share our expectations of customer satisfaction
  • Poor quality – Better equipment, better training, better inspection, and better processes
  • Operator error – Better training schemes, better communication, and better coaching and mentoring
  • Tool breakages – proactively monitoring tool capability, and changing before breakage
  • Stock outages – Better inventory management systems, better suppliers, and better management of supply chain performance
  • Spec changes – A clear understanding of what is required at all moments during production
  • Natural disasters – Positioning our factories in low risk areas. Moreover, righting plans of what to do if the worst happens.
  • The bus is late – Get a cab, buy a car, leave earlier
  • Power cut (Really in the 21st Century!) – Backup generators

Sickness is a tough one. A lot of us have experienced “Wellness” initiatives (What a clumsy word!) We can run a medical programme, and incentivise gym membership, or fitness classes. Perhaps even set expectations about attendance. However, often people don’t think it is a big deal to take a day off, because no-one told them it was a big deal.

We could multi-skill our workforce to minimise the impact of sickness.


I guess my own view of efficiency is that we should start with the expectation of 100% efficiency. If you aim for the stars and miss, you might shoot the moon! If we don’t achieve it, we should investigate, and counter every failure. However, the current model seems to easily rationalise that we could never achieve anything near 100% efficiency.

If we develop a culture of “Why can’t we?” rather than “We just can’t!” and push this throughout our own organisations, and flow it out to our suppliers, we will get a greater understanding of efficiency and what is achievable. However, I’m not saying we will ever achieve 100%, but I am positive that we will get nearer to it, ask better questions about it, and also drive new changes to our processes and procedures that will be less forgiving about sloppy performance, and silly excuses.

Is 100% efficiency achievable? Perhaps it is, even if only for short periods, but it doesn’t have to be a myth. A bit like autonomous improvement!


Take a piece of paper and write down everything that has effected your efficiency, or delivery performance in the last three months. Now write a countermeasure to each event. Move on to simply planning some actions to implement the countermeasures. Now, think about communications that would stop them happening again. Some things may seem too big to tackle right now, but guess what? Everyone that you do tackle – however small – will result in better efficiency going forward. Now that must be good, mustn’t it?

If you would like help increasing your efficiency, get in touch. Moreover, we’d love to hear from you…