Time to solve the so-called ‘Productivity Puzzle’

By July 28, 2015Blog posts

I don’t think I need to ask if you’ve heard about the Productivity Puzzle? In case you haven’t, some say it is the most important economic challenge facing the UK today.

It’s hard to imagine you haven’t. I have no idea who first coined the phrase, I’m sure it was around before the Bank of England published this in 2014 And the BBC seem to love to talk about it, whether back in February this year, or indeed April or the eve of the Budget in July. And if that’s not enough, here’s another perspective in the Economist in May. There’s plenty more where that came from, but you don’t need me to Google it for you.

The point is there is much talk of The Puzzle, but not so much by way of The Solution, at least not in any of the articles I’ve read. People just seem baffled. I mean just how is it that we are less productive than our French neighbours? I mean the French! Ha, I find it funny how many British people I’ve met who refuse to believe this is possible. I think many are in denial as they run around being incredibly ‘busy’ (and stressed).

It seems pretty clear. We need to find better ways of getting things done. And something has to change to make that happen. Something fairly big, because we want big things to happen. I’m not the only person who believes much of the answer lies in connecting up, sharing our piece of The Puzzle, and our thoughts and ideas on how to solve it. We need to get better at communicating with each other and working things out together. By the way, and don’t hate me ; ) but as someone who lived, studied and worked in France for nearly five years of my life, I can confirm that the French do of course tend to be extremely expressive, communicative and collaborative. I am not in the slightest bit surprised they are more productive than us.

But The Puzzle isn’t about the French. And it isn’t just about changing the way we behave (granted “working out loud” has always felt more naturally suited to, say, the US than to Blighty). It is about our organisations enabling all of this properly by applying intelligent, joined-up thinking.

And it is starting to happen. This tends to be when forward thinking Tech and People teams cross their age-old departmental divide and sit down together. It takes courage and it takes passion, and it takes leadership, because nobody said it is easy. And to those who say “it’s not about the tech, it’s about the culture” of course it is about both. Badly implemented technology ain’t gonna solve anything, let alone support a collaborative culture.

At our little piece of The Solution, Betterworking, we have just started work with a particularly visionary part of the UK public sector on what they are calling their ‘integrated working strategy’, implementing Jive software to enable the desired change. Ultimately it’s all about productivity, in their case getting more from less in today’s increasingly tough operating environment. In a completely different industry we are working with a forward-thinking train operating company whose comms and tech teams have got their heads together brilliantly to launch Office 365 the way it should be done. Not just a little Yammer pilot over here, while someone else puts email in the cloud over there… No, a properly joined up, strategic approach with high value, targeted use cases to get things rolling, great leadership and, critically, proper teamwork across functions.

So come on UK, we can do this. We can make things more efficient. We can reduce duplication of effort. We can involve more voices in shaping the future. And in so doing we can make employees’ experiences wonderful, fresh and exciting and therefore more productive. We can unlock our collective intelligence and we can lead the way. There are loads of us chipping away to accelerate this evolution. It is sometimes so frustrating crawling through the treacle to give businesses what they need, but we’ll keep at it because we can see it is working and we are passionate about a better future.

Or of course we can just keep reading articles about the Productivity Puzzle and carry on as we are…

Here’s another from the FT in April if you’re interested.

Author: Nick Crawford

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