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Radical approach needed to address productivity crisis – with business schools leading charge

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Against the backdrop of a range of geo-political and societal risks and challenges, and a set of macroeconomic schisms (a deflated Eurozone, volatile capital markets in the Far East, a nonchalant North American production cycle and a rapidly growing MENA and African middle class), the need to address productivity comes a very poor last place in the priorities of the world.

Although it is generally accepted there are continuing improvements in living standards, prosperity and technology worldwide, what is becoming increasingly worrying is the fact there is a general global slowdown in efficient output, which in turn may lead to reductions in production output. So, those efficiencies we are now reaping success from will ultimately lead to our slow demise as every technological or societal advance will be based upon a diminishing and incremental overall benefit.

The productivity conundrum is ultimately pointing to the reality of low growth rates – and whilst this might be a symptom of (largely) stable and mature economic markets, it continues to raise questions when we try to equate efficiency versus effectiveness (with more powerful technologies and automation why can’t we increase productivity any further?). Productivity is, in many ways, becoming an oxymoron in itself. But what can organisations deal with the situation?

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Several commentators have continued their calls to enhance and boost productivity worldwide through ensuring education is strengthened with a particular focus on boosting entrepreneurship and capital investment in providing a knowledge-focussed workforce of the future.

To meet the challenges, we need to go beyond the fundamental definitions of productivity and radically change the mindset around linking productivity to specific sectors (such as STEM). Harnessing rather than “piggybacking” on such subject areas to provide productivity gains, may not provide improvements in productivity that countries such as the UK will need in the long term.

The most immediate and available mechanism in this regard must surely be employability. Both employability and productivity must be correlated and the benefits from each need to be made accessible. This will require a sea-change and shift away from the Fordist view of productivity simply as an engine of the firm, and as a progenitor of an efficient market.

Business schools, in particular, need to be taking a lead on this redefinition. The study of business should be seen as a discipline on par with STEM and science subjects. If, as it is argued and expected, a better skilled workforce for post-21st century organisations is required with ever better management and leadership, business and management itself needs to become a professionalised subject.

Read on to find out how business schools could help the UK’s productivity problem.

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