Bigger Thinking Series Part 2: Productivity and Performance Post-Brexit

2018 will be a year of change for UK businesses in so many ways; Brexit has seen to that.

2017 ended with news headlines of UK productivity lagging across a many markets. Now, in 2018, predictions regarding productivity levels, combined with the uncertainty of Brexit, are at times, as wild and varied as the process of exit is complicated.

And whether you’re forlorn about the grand exit, or delighted, the fact remains; the future success of the UK economy in a post-Brexit era will be heavily influenced by levels of productivity.

The UK media has been focused on automation and investment in technology as the major routes to improve productivity levels – and they clearly have a role to play, especially in the manufacturing sector. However, in every business, and especially in professional services, it is the people factor that will be the key to driving more productive working and an increase in output.

There is no doubt that as the UK economy is scrutinised by the media, we can expect to see the word ‘productivity’ in the news alongside Brexit reports more frequently. And when it comes to driving up productivity levels in a sustainable way, business leaders facing evolving and unknown markets will have to work out how their company can work smarter, not necessarily harder or longer.

Small gains add up…

The positive news is that small, incremental improvements in performance and productivity across a significant number of businesses can have a huge effect on the UK as a whole. But for this increased productivity and performance level to be sustained, an increased motivation is needed. This motivation however has to be based on a long term, authentic and meaningful incentive, not simply vouchers attached to the Christmas email. For when there is a meaningful motivation on the table for every employee, tangible lifts in productivity levels are seen, through the individual small actions by the many.

Such productivity and performance lifts are regularly seen in businesses that introduce the significant motivation of becoming employee owned. In fact, within the first two years of a company adopting the employee owned structure, measurable performance leaps and lower costs usually go hand in hand. The evidence shows that as employees no longer see work as a daily chore, but in a more meaningful and long term light, productivity levels go up. From strategic planning to energy consumption, collective work ethic to brand culture, when employees take ownership of the company, a rise in productivity levels follows.

From independent research we know that a leading cause for this lift is that employees are more engaged and with a meaningful stake in the business, are more aware of and feel more accountable for the strategic objectives. Individually this means that they often have more authority to influence how they work and what they do and collectively, staff align their efforts in the same direction as the business demands. Employees begin to see that doing what is required and what is needed is sometimes more important than what might be personally preferred.

From the top…

Of course, effective leadership is key to productivity, and if leaders also have a stake in the business, then the sustainability and growth of the business will also be paramount to their output. Leaders will not prioritise personal profile or ambitious endeavour, but as with every other employee, they’ll be focused on delivering within a more collaborative culture. Such collaboration and sharing is often in stark contrast to the work-in-silo, departmental competitiveness seen across other business structures, across a variety of markets.

Leaders in employee owned businesses know that their role is to inspire and maintain a culture that is more transparent and where information is shared widely on an equal standing. They help support a culture that empowers employees to independently make the right decisions and take the right calls in order to do what is right for the business. And the results speak for themselves. From eliminating unnecessary waste, to streamlining processes and achieving efficiencies. This is what happens naturally when productivity is properly incentivised.

So what?

According to recent productivity reports, Britain’s businesses aren’t as productive as other companies in Europe and around the world. For every hour spent at work, a British worker makes 20% less than a company in Germany. Speaking to Drapers Online, Sir Charlie Mayfield, the Chairman of employee owned business, the John Lewis Partnership, and president of the EOA, said: “For many ‘productivity’ is the language of economists, but it’s also critical to a healthy heartbeat for the economy, for wages and for competitiveness.”

To counter the problem of poor productivity, Sir Charlie Mayfield and other UK business leaders created ‘Be the Business’, a movement to inform, educate and collaborate to help make British businesses better. Sir Charlie said: “We aim to support businesses in three principal ways. By inspiring leaders with actionable insight that helps businesses to set goals and measure progress. By providing modern tools that enable businesses to work out how good they are compared to others they choose. By encouraging sharing of best practice within communities of businesses across the UK as a catalyst to enable people to find out what’s worked best for others seeking the same improvement.”

Bigger thinking is very much needed from leaders to look beyond the ‘quick win’ approach to productivity and provide employees with purposeful reasons to performing at their optimum levels. The alternative to an engaged and advocate-workforce is increasingly proving to be low productivity, high staff turnover and staff disillusionment. And business leaders will need resilience as ‘productivity’ and ‘performance’ become the next Brexit business buzzwords. But when your employees know that they’re playing a major part in the story and future success of the businesses brand, they will play their hearts out.

It is for this reason that the EOA will continue to seek to ensure, through campaigning, influencing and lobbying, that more businesses in the UK are able to consider a tried and tested business structure that drives productivity with a long term meaningful motivation for every employee.