“Productivity” seems to be the buzzword for many UK businesses in the modern age. Research, surveys and theories have all been banded around, claiming to possess the answer or dismissing the UK as being one of the worst for productivity in Europe. Plenty of column inches have been filled and negativity created as a result, yet while externally, business leaders insist they are looking to overhaul this, very little seems to be occurring in the form of change. For me, it’s clear that the right questions are not being asked; rather than trying to polish a clearly faltering system, a serious overhaul is required.
Jeremy Warner of The Telegraph labelled British productivity a “national disgrace”; while The Guardian reported that UK productivity has remained “stubbornly low for years”. Unfortunately, these kinds of statements are only the thin end of the wedge – UK productivity, when considered in line with the hours we work, is shocking. With London now recognised as the tech hub of Europe and a place for tech startups to thrive, the UK should be competing more readily with the US and other G7 nations. However, as it has been made painfully clear, our current approach to engendering productivity is not working. Millennials are forming a larger proportion of the workforce and as a result, companies need to start tailoring offerings for them. Millennials have very different priorities and require constant motivation as they are far more likely to change jobs than the “traditional” workforce. The worker of today is no longer fooled by the box-ticking nature of CSR initiatives and is far more interested in companies who marry profit with genuine purpose. Purpose is the thing that ultimately drives profit, motivates staff (and indeed potential staff) and is where companies will notice a significant improvement in productivity.
Similarly if there is a clear lack of purpose or misalignment as in the case of Volkswagen (lying about emissions), the company lost a third of the value of its business. It will take strong leadership to navigate the next ten years and many businesses will fail because they cannot harness this talent alongside communicating clearly the scale and investment required to their shareholders. There will be many more Blockbusters, HMV’s and RBS’s – this time though there will be no bailouts. Corporates that will be successful are the ones that are going to tap in to the creative capability of the future generation (their future workforce), acknowledge that automation/artificial intelligence and machine learning are going to decimate traditional processing orientated roles and drive forward with courage, communicating this to shareholders. One great piece is an open letter to management from a millennial which hits the nail on the head titled “Why Millennials Keep Dumping You: An Open Letter to Management”. I quote a para from this letter from a millennial: “I was raised to believe I could change the world. I’m desperate for you to show me that the work we do here matters, even just a little bit. I’ll make copies, I’ll fetch coffee, I’ll do the grunt work. But I’m not doing it to help you get a new Mercedes. I’ll give you everything I’ve got, but I need to know it makes a difference to something bigger than your bottom line.” There has been far too much emphasis in the past on “bottom lines”, with senior staff members barking orders down the company food chain. What we are seeing now is that some of the biggest shakers and disruptors in the modern business world are the young innovators, who find the quickest path to the top. This is increasingly evident as we see successful people flocking from city businesses to startups, in order to be a part of something that truly makes a difference. Things click in to place and productivity is driven if staff are well aware of what they are trying to achieve and given a sense of purpose. This, coupled with a platform for creativity, can help employees flourish in the workplace and ultimately make them productive and even, that undervalued term in modern business, loyal. The UK workforce may trail 33 percentage points behind Germany when it comes to productivity and Sweden may have introduced a six hour working day to increase their output, but the UK must look deeper. Knee jerk reactions should be avoided and instead a clearer strategy is needed, designed to benefit and motivate the most important people in the business – the employees. Productivity is ultimately driven by creativity and purpose; if you are working on something that you know can make a significant difference then your time and efforts will be more efficiently spent. Yes, productivity in the UK can be better and yes, it is crucial for the economic growth of the country that it improves, but I’m afraid everything else we have been told on the subject is wrong. Gi Fernando is founder of Freeformers.
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