Growing through productivity and innovation

Lori Schmidt of GO Productivity talks about how a made-in-Alberta strategy helps companies reach their potential and set new goals

Lori Schmidt is CEO GO Productivity.

Lori Schmidt

Can you explain what GO Productivity is and what it does?

Schmidt: GO Productivity is a not-for-profit corporation whose mission it is to assist companies scale up and grow through productivity and innovation – enabling companies to improve their completeness and compete on a global scale.

GO Productivity started as Productivity Alberta, an initiative identified out of the Premier’s Competitiveness Council Strategy in 2010.

A gap and opportunity that was identified through the Alberta Competitiveness Report was the fact that small and medium sized businesses had the most potential to grow, but were slower in adopting productivity and innovation strategies, methodologies and tools. It was also identified that there was a clear gap of support programming for scale up businesses.

So, with support through the province of Alberta and Western Economic Diversification, and through an industry-led initiative, including the establishment of an industry board, Productivity Alberta was incorporated in Alberta in 2011.

As awareness of Productivity Alberta’s programs, services, expertise, knowledge and tools grew, so did the demand outside of Alberta. So in 2014, the organization was incorporated nationally as GO Productivity.

Productivity Alberta/GO Productivity chose to be a not-for-profit as it allows for collaboration amongst many stakeholders and services providers in order to provide the best value and support to business and industries that we work with.

What has been your reach and impact since you first started?

Schmidt: The first few years was education and awareness on: What is productivity? What is innovation? What are the leadership and management skills to purposefully and strategically tackle these within an organization?

When we began, the word ‘productivity’ meant, to many, laying people off. So a large part of our work needed to demonstrate that productivity and innovation meant: working smarter, not harder – and adding value to your customers. How to use the resources we have at hand in a far more effective and efficient way.

This was huge – suddenly the word productivity became a common and positive term.

Next, we learned that we needed to break down the steps to begin to tackle productivity at the firm level. Working with small and medium sized businesses (incidentally approximately 90-plus per cent of businesses in Alberta are small and medium sized businesses), our breakthrough came in the form of our ARC Program, a two-day, foundational workshop and assessment that’s designed to begin the continuous improvement program in a firm. ARC stands for assessment – roadmap – coaching.

We started this work in Alberta and then expanded nationally. In the past four years alone, we’ve served over 800 companies, helped companies achieve $16.3 million in financial savings, over $4 million a year. We have achieved a 96 per cent client satisfaction rating since 2014.

As we worked with Alberta firms to tackle their productivity to be better participants in the energy supply chain, we realized that the energy supply chain itself was very inefficient. We took the initiative to facilitate bringing some key industry leaders and partners together to see how we might collaborate to tackle major project performance. Through this, PAAD (project alignment and delivery) was born. The PAAD program continues to work to discover, measure and address critical execution and productivity challenges in large-scale energy and construction projects.

Savings on the first set of pilot projects were close to $10 million. We have been recognized for our work tackling firm level productivity by the Global Federation of Competitiveness Councils, and recently our paper Be Exponential, Growth Through Innovative and Inclusive Alliances: Canada’s Emergent Leadership was published in their Scaling-Up Innovative and Sustainable Businesses Best Practices in Competitiveness Strategy.

What are some of the key challenges to productivity for Alberta businesses today?

Schmidt: Increased global competition, new entrants to markets, keeping up with emerging technologies and related skills and competencies required in business today – all with a very volatile economic environment – are the key challenges for Alberta businesses.

It can be overwhelming for a business to know where to start to begin to scale up and grow. It can be a daunting process to shift strategic thinking to look at new and innovative ways of doing your business – all the while being efficient and bringing new value to your customers.

These issues, coupled with a rapidly changing energy sector brings challenges – but also huge opportunities to Alberta business.

What are some of the key ways to turn productivity around?

Schmidt: First, with your strategy of where you want to go in hand, it’s important to link that plan to execution. It’s about how you effectively operationalize as you continue to innovate – to be able to move you towards your strategic goals.

It’s understanding your processes, assessing where your firm is, beginning to measure and track performance and look for ways as a team to continue to improve and drive the waste out of all processes.

Formalizing innovation systems and processes within your company, hiring for innovation and nurturing innovative ideas that are moving you towards your goals – and being agile in that process.

So productivity is also about continuing to innovate, and that’s formalizing an innovation strategy and plan. It’s about committing to a long-term plan to continuous improvement.

This work is not a quick fix, but a culture shift of how an organization does what it does. That will not only allow it to survive the ups and downs of a volatile economy, but allows the firm to thrive and grow.

What’s your sense of where the Alberta economy is today after struggling for a few years?

Schmidt: The Alberta economy is getting back on its feet. There are positive signs.

We will not see the same boomerang that we’ve seen in the past to really high energy prices or the size of major energy projects. However, there are a tremendous number of innovative projects developing  around new technologies with application to a range of sectors.

The future of Alberta business can be strong. We need to continue to push to be the best we can be. That means being efficient, and always looking to make our product or service better – by looking not to where we are today but where are the opportunities through the emerging technologies of the future.

– Mario Toneguzzi

go productivity innovation

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