Chairman's blog: Brexit or Nexit - Productivity remains the key - By David Lennan, Chairman of Work Wise UK


23rd June will be a big day for all of us and whatever the outcome there will be substantial and lasting impact on our working lives. Never before in our history have we as individuals had such an important decision to make, that will have such major consequences for future generations.

Yet, I am far from convinced that we all feel adequately prepared and confident to cast our votes, as we are subject to so many conflicting views hitting us from all sides of the debate and through the media channels. One place that really does have impact on all of us as individuals, is our Workplace and it is my firm belief that employers small and large should be doing all they can between now and 23rd June to help their staff understand the arguments for and against membership of the EU.

It really is important that business leaders, employers and managers demonstrate clear leadership in this debate and communicate their views and experience to their staff in a reasoned and balanced way. They are the only ones in the position of being able tell people how their business will be affected and how this may impact on their  working lives. Whether they are for In or Out is not really the issue, the key activity for business leaders is to help people understand the context of their own business environment and to create the clarity that will help people to interpret and understand all the information and how this might impact on their working environment.

This is our eleventh year of promoting Smarter Working practices throughout the UK and helping organisations  to introduce modern working practices, yet we still find that many are not embracing all that technology and modern people practices can offer. Over the years we have seen many different crisis come and go, due to weather, work to rules, illness, recessions, doctors strikes et al, all of which contribute to upsets and disruption in the workplace, leading to a reduction in productivity. The next big issue for the UK is Brexit and we need to be concerned about the impact on skills, supply chain capacity and crucially Productivity.

Productivity is the key to success and to creating successful and growing businesses. Improving workplace productivity can produce enormous gains for any organisation and radically improve the bottom line. Workplace productivity is about changing the way things are done and finding ways to be better, which will be different for every organisation.

We at Work Wise UK are in the very enviable position of working with and inside many organisations and we continue to see a lack of clarity in the direction of travel. Few companies have a clear strategic position that really links to people practices and they are often unaware of the confusion that surrounds them and their staff. They do not have a clear understanding of their real business drivers and are often unsure how they can demonstrate a real competitive advantage. The result is low or falling productivity and we all know that the productivity puzzle in the UK is far from being solved.

The big obstacle is still Culture; culture, risk management and performance run hand in hand and the more repressive or controlling the culture, the greater the risk of things going wrong.

Culture is really the product of people’s attitudes and behaviors and this starts right at the top. Board members often struggle with defining the sort of culture they Want and Why? The attitudes and behaviors that the Board members and senior managers display, really does reflect on individual and company performance, as people take their lead from the top.

We find that Board Leadership and Management Practices are real game changers in delivering success and even when legislation is introduced and non performing Directors and Managers are forced to change, the results are not always great. The legislative changes are often resisted or ignored, think about equal pay, low pay and how this links to our low productivity rates. These obvious failures are a drain on moral and the development of productive teams. Productivity is very clearly linked to investment in Corporate Governance and good governance and Board effectiveness is all about leadership, communication and doing the right things.

Even after 11 years of campaigning and helping organisations to develop, Work Wise UK remains determined to have an impact on Productivity. We believe that the key to improving productivity and workplace effectiveness is to concentrate on our seven key productivity drivers:

  •        Leadership and Management Capability
  •        Creating Productive Workplace Cultures
  •         Encouraging Innovation and the use of Technology
  •         Investing in People Skills
  •         Organising Work
  •         Networking and Collaboration
  •         Measuring what Matters

Achieving higher productivity requires much more than just a focus on the bottom line, it means a change of culture. Raising productivity is the real key to prosperity not just for companies but, for people and the whole of the UK.

Work Wise Week provides a real opportunity to have a proper discussion in your workplace about how you work and what you achieve. This is the time to think about your working practices and to think about how and where people work. This could lead to adopting more flexible approaches to people management, which is a key component of effective change and increased productivity.

Talking about these issues during this next month might help to develop thoughts and actions around the Brexit debate and involve people in thinking about the future of whether we stay or go.

None of us can predict the future, but all of us can have a part to play in creating it.