The Straits Times
Published on Nov 13, 2012

Consultants can point out simple ways to boost productivity


HOW Singapore businesses are missing out on productivity gains is well highlighted by Mr Peter Chua ("Over-50 and jobless: How he made it back despite discrimination"; last Saturday).

I am a senior citizen and an engineer, and have held top management positions in multinational corporations.

I have had the opportunity to do consulting work for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to improve their outputs through quality and system improvements - that is, productivity enhancement.

Many a time, a simple action produced great results for businesses.

For example, one company experienced high rejection rates for its printed circuit boards. When I went through the assembly line, I found that the operatives were inadvertently touching the boards' surfaces with their bare hands, thus contaminating the soldering surface.

By training the employees to hold the boards by the sides instead, the throughput increased by 15 per cent.

The management was puzzled that its own managers could not detect such a simple issue. I explained that a consultant has specific goals and stays focused on finding the root causes of problems; many supervisors concentrate on big issues and miss out on the trivial matters.

However, business owners tend to reward consultants based on the amount of time spent on the consulting work. Many find it hard to adequately reward consultants for their efforts, which are often very simple.

Quite often, the gains to the company are high and long term, in comparison to the fees paid to the consultant.

Consultants should be treated as one-off catalysts and not as regular employees, to justify rewarding them better.

SMEs quite often miss the forest for the trees.

T. N. Srinivasan