We can't wait for HS2 to overhaul our productivity gap, we must act now - Sue Jefferson

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The dismal 0.1 per cent UK productivity improvement in the last quarter, following on from its worst drop for five years to June 2019, makes frustrating reading for businesses.

Of more concern for us in Yorkshire and the Humber, our real GDP growth is 1.2 per cent per head, compared with 2.0 per cent in London.

PM Boris Johnson speaking at the CBI conference last year ( PA)

PM Boris Johnson speaking at the CBI conference last year ( PA)

Several suggested initiatives have been aired: infrastructure, training, devolution and investment would all help –- but the continuing saga of whether we’ll ever see the HS2 rail line in our region is a good indicator of how quickly substantive support will materialise.

Yet there is also a more immediate action that seems overlooked… how effectively we, as leaders, enable productivity in the workplace. Research has pointed to collaborative teamwork rather than isolated personal contribution as most impactful when it comes to building productivity. A focus on team outcomes creates transformational cultures and sustainable success follows.

The real question is how?

A simple approach has continuously worked for me, in UK and global organisations, achieving record manufacturing outputs to halving time of marketing innovation.

Start with a shared vision as to the productivity outcome sought and why – its impact on the business. Listen to ideas from the team as to what’s missing for this to be a reality now and from this align on the critical success factors.

Then empower the group to determine how they will approach and deliver these. Agree measures for the outcome and for milestones as well as what desired behaviours look like – the

How things are done, not only What gets done. This preciseness is invaluable.

And finally, lead by example: ensure consistency as you walk the talk, with your own and leaders’ behaviour matching that which you desire in your people.

Let me share an example of seeing this work effectively in practice, delivering measurable and meaningful increase in productivity.

A business unit separated from the core business in order to provide new focus was loss- making financially, lacked investment, had low morale, people safety issues and more.

We turned it around by uniting behind a shared vision for the future – to become a profitable centre of excellence – along with some simple but powerful critical success factors (One team, No waste, Quality in everything we do, Leveraging new competitive advantage to win new business).

Everyone collaborated on the one goal, learning Lean Six Sigma techniques for process improvement to deliver change. In addition, daily board walks by the team shared performance results, learnings and importantly, listened to suggestions for improvements.

This empowerment and recognition of team results created ownership and transformed the business unit to become profitable in three years and best in the group for safety. Individuals grew in confidence, capability and working inclusively. This revitalised team thrived on tackling challenges and went on to re-engineer and run production lines at record +54 per cent.

Of course, watch out for unintended consequences like individuals’ fear of loss of power and recognition. So in parallel, line managers must be having one-to-one conversations of encouragement.

With productivity stalling, it’s time for a fresh solution – collaborative behaviours and measuring team outcomes. Whilst waiting for the HS2 and other investment initiatives, I’d urge leaders to get ahead by changing their productivity conversation and measures now, and so improve your organisation’s performance.