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Solving the productivity puzzle

How do you position your business and its operations to ensure that you’re working better but not necessarily harder?

The Scottish Council for Development and Industry is responsible for delivering Scotland’s Productivity Club, which aims to increase business competitiveness, supporting them to win more business and be more profitable. This free programme for businesses provides the opportunity to hear from businesses who are introducing new ways of working as well as being able to discuss and debate with fellow attendees from across all industry sectors. Women’s Enterprise Scotland ambassadors Wendy Pring, Poonam Gupta and Nathalie Agnew (pictured above) have all spoken at meetings about the innovative solutions developed to overcome challenges.

We asked Productivity Club Programme Manager Ashleigh McCulloch to explain some of the ways that productivity can be tackled.

“Managing SCDI’s Productivity Club I am asked to define productivity on an almost daily basis! If I were an economist, I would provide you with statistics on labour productivity and total factor productivity, but these are terms which are used as indicators of the economic health of a nation, and although that information matters hugely, what you need to know is how productivity impacts on your business.

Yes, it’s true that productivity is a key driver of the economy and if increased nationally, could create better living standards and an economy’s competitiveness.  A recent article estimated that average private sector wages would have been just over £5,000 higher in 2018 if the productivity growth we had been experiencing before the financial crash had been maintained, so yes, productivity matters.

The reason for an increase in productivity stalling is unknown. Indeed, the ‘productivity puzzle’ is arguably the defining economic question of our times. There is a fear that trying to increase productivity means that everyone needs to work harder…however it has more alignment with finding better ways to work and reflects Fair Work principles. It’s not about working harder, it’s about working better.

Businesses are using a number of methods to change how they do things and in doing so, they are actually supporting their staff, focusing on wellbeing, mental health and fulfilling work. Examples include streamlining processes, introducing digital technology, staff engagement techniques, strategy development and collaboration.

One of the most interesting stories that I have heard showed that by planning work better, extending break periods and increasing the time spent communicating and briefing staff, a company also increased fully productive work by 25%. That means a project which took eight weeks previously is now taking only seven.

Another organisation simply moved a paper process online. In doing so, it decreased the time taken to fix faults by a staggering 90%. As the staff started to realise how effective the new system was, employee suggestions for improvements increased by 90% too.

Many businesses do not have measurements for productivity but can consider how to do things better. For example, is there an option for flexible working in your business? A national survey reported that nine in ten employees consider flexible working to be a key motivator to their productivity at work (89% – even more than financial incentives which only score 77%).

Or would a different business model be an option? Figures released recently highlighted productivity in employee-owned businesses had increased by 6.9% in 2020.

Business-owners who participate in the Productivity Club are keen to support other leaders and managers to develop their own businesses. The Club offers just that, a forum to share ideas, thoughts and opinions with your peers, offering inspiration and a chance to reflect. Join us for a meeting, I think you’ll find it very productive!”


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