Chairman's blog: Productivity: Paradox, Puzzle, Problem or Symptom? - By David Lennan, Chairman, Work Wise UK

Commute Smart week is a very significant week in the year for the Work Wise UK calendar, when the clocks go back and we reflect on some of the stunning headlines that have hit the press during the year. A real standout one is that Traffic Congestion is estimated to cost the UK Economy more than £300 Billion over the next 16 years according to a study from INRIX and the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

Work Wise UK has focused attention on the Productivity conundrum and these massive missing £Billions for several years, but during this last year, more has been written about Productivity than at any time in our Industrial history and if the gurus are to be believed, we continue to slip down the International productivity leagues and are now said to produce 17% less per hour worked than other G7 Nations.

The Government has now set Sir Charlie Mayfield the task of finding “The Missing Billions” £130bn to be more precise, said to be lost to the British economy through poor productivity. Well, as we are now in full flow towards Brexit he and his team had better find the answers to that puzzle quickly, as the impact for most of us will probably be felt in our Workplaces and our pay packets. Whether the impact will result from changes to our Laws, our Terms of Trade, or simply because our attitudes and behaviors at work are not changing to create more productive workplace cultures, is yet another problem and perhaps even the big one to solve.

Convention tells us that improved productivity is the only way the population can become richer as opposed to growing the economy by more people working and working harder;  as we know we’ve already done that bit! As soon as people tell me “This is the only way David” I loose interest pretty quickly and start to look at the paradoxes, puzzles and problems in different ways and through different lenses.

I believe that our low productivity is a symptom of poor work place management, combined with a mix of other related factors such as the age and composition of our workforce, working hours, poor vocational education, housing, travel to work congestion, workplace health, investment in skills and technology, supply chain management and innumerable other issues that can influence and change the workplace environment and impact on organisational performance.

All of these factors impact on output throughout our Manufacturing and Technology Industries and most importantly in our vast array of Service Industries that fuel and drive our growing economy. Productivity in the Service Industries is notoriously difficult to measure using our somewhat crude yardsticks and measures relating to output per hour and trying to compare our performance with other economies that are clearly at very different stages of development and have different cultures to ours.

Work Wise UK has been looking closely at workplace environments through their “assessment telescope” for many years and have constantly flagged up workplace competiveness and productivity as serious survival issues. We have talked about these issues in the media and from conference platforms and   believe that the time is now right for the UK to develop and work towards higher standards in the workplace to keep us ahead of market.  

To help achieve this Work Wise UK has entered into a new collaboration with the University for the West of England, Bristol Business School to enhance, redesign and relaunch the Work Wise UK Standard and Mark of Excellence. We will be embracing all the current workplace best practice from a business and academic perspective.  This will provide opportunities for organisations to work towards the new Mark of Excellence by developing techniques and standards to help them become more competitive, more productive and work more effectively with our European and Worldwide neighbours.

The assessment process will determine how effective an organisation is at recognising that smarter working in its widest sense, contributes not only to organisational success, but also employee satisfaction, improved competiveness and increased productivity.

A snapshot of Productivity revolves around several key factors:  Leadership and Management Capability, Creating Productive Workplace Cultures, Encouraging Innovation and the use of Technology, Investing in People and Skills, The Organisation of Work, Networking and Collaboration and Measuring what Matters. This is where the Work Wise UK Assessment process  starts and helps organisations  construct their own road map to find the elusive lost £Billions that the Government is so keen to find.

Workplace management is all about letting people use their knowledge, skills and experience to do things better and more efficiently and by making sure that the workplace culture really does allow ideas to flow and most importantly be acted upon.    

We need our Industries to be fully prepared for Brexit to be able to attract the very best people and employ the very best working practices and processes.   Rising Productivity is a 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, but it is all too apparent that much still needs to be done to develop the UK to a World leading status. The big obstacle is still Workplace Culture;  culture, risk management and performance run hand in hand and the more repressive, oppressive or controlling the culture, the greater the risk of things going wrong, as we keep learning about almost daily in the Press.

We find during our assessments that Board Leadership and Management Practices are the real game changers in delivering success. Productivity is very clearly linked to investment in Corporate Governance and good governance and board effectiveness is really about leadership, communication and doing the right things. We are seeing too many examples of cultures that create and hide significant issues that when exposed, leads to severe reputational damage and a loss of trust. Trust takes years to build and vanishes rapidly when cultures and behaviors are exposed to public scrutiny.

Commute Smart Week provides a real opportunity to have a proper discussion in your workplace about how you work and what you achieve.  As the clocks go back and give us one more hour, this is a great time of year to think about your working practices, how and where people work and the attitudes and behaviors that have become prevalent and even accepted in your place of work. This could lead to adopting more flexible and open approaches to people management, which is a key component of effective change and increased productivity.

Research shows that translating change and development strategy into reality, whilst people issues remain a low priority is flawed. Talking about these issues during this next month might help to develop thoughts and actions that will help organisations hit the top spots with their people management and productivity achievements.

Let’s not forget our so called failures! We have achieved an unemployment rate of around 4.5% against France with 10.5%, we have a higher percentage of the working age populations in work than most, if not all European Countries and our flexible working policies allow people to fulfill their ambitions inside and outside the work environment.  In contrast we do work longer hours than our European colleagues an average of 1674 hours per year against, 1482 in France and 1371 in Germany and productivity is said to be higher in both of those countries, however measured.  

Paradox?  Puzzle?  Problem?  or are we once again looking at Symptoms that we should be dealing with rather than choosing to ignore.