TSI Blog

Are we a nation of under-skilled slackers!

November 5th, 2015 by Jacqueline Mitchell

SkillsFirst estimates produced by the ONS for 2014 suggest that productivity output per hour in the UK was 20 percentage points below the average for the rest of the major G7 advanced economies, the widest productivity gap since comparable estimates began in 1991.

Quite a shock to the system to hear that!  This follows the launch by George Osbourne back in July 2015 of the Government’s ‘Fixing the Foundations’ plan. A 15 point solution to improving the UK’s productivity problem intended to make us one of the richest world-wide nations.

The statistics, the reasons, the solutions to all of this is far more complex than can be covered in this blog but it set me thinking about where opportunities exist within large and small businesses to make a difference to their own productivity.

When we work with our clients to share an understanding of how employee engagement has a direct impact on bottom line organisational performance (erm, that’s productivity too!) we can see where investment in creating the right (for that organisation) environment, practices, culture and behaviours has the potential to deliver those broader tangible and financially led performance based results which every business leader and Financial Director will hook into, above all others.

An area of activity which consistently ‘underperforms’ compared to others for many of the organisations we work with is that relating to people being able to realise their potential. This covers people having the skills and knowledge to be able to do what they should be doing well, utilising that capability – fully, and being able to grow and develop their capabilities beyond the now.

When you apply this to a business the benefits are obvious.  Your people must know how to do the job they are asked to do, otherwise they make errors and productivity (that word again) slows.  You need to tap into the full capability of each person, otherwise it’s a wasted resource for your business, and is probably costing you more than it need do. By enabling people to develop their talents, and skills beyond today’s needs you release potential and create opportunities for innovation, greater agility and flexibility for your business. Obvious really isn’t it?

Sadly, this is an area of organisational performance management that lags behind others.  When budgets are tightened, what do we do? We often cut back on training because that’s a ‘nice to have’. When we want to develop new products and services we hire in the knowledge and capability rather than having the foresight to develop it ourselves.  We hold people into the jobs they are hired to do because it’s too inconvenient to enable them to stretch their wings and as a result be ‘poached’ into another department. And we put in hierarchies, rules, processes and procedures that can stifle creative thought and ideas beyond one’s perceived role.

A much overlooked aspect to developing capability, skills and knowledge is that relating to what I’ll describe as the more ‘seasoned’ worker. Many organisations are pretty good at putting in programmes such as graduate development and apprenticeship schemes and even management development programmes.  These are great for getting those into their first jobs skilled in the necessary aspects of what they are doing or for supporting those with a technical background to develop knowledge and (soft) skills around the often lamented vagaries of managing people rather than processes.  But, what about everything else?  Is this a key area contributing to the UK’s under-performance and lack of productivity?  When our graduate trainees and apprentices stop being defined as such, do we no longer need to so overtly invest in them, their skills, knowledge and quite frankly abilities?

Clearly the answer should be no.

The opportunities are in every business to take a step back from time to time, and rather than consider training and development as a nice to have, to look at it afresh and consider equipping people with key skills and knowledge just as important as making sure they have the right uniform, a desk to work at, an office to work from or any other of the must haves for many workplaces.

Equally, we can all ask our people a simple question “do we use all your talents, all your experience, all your knowledge” if the answer is no, we can look to identify and harness that untapped resource.

And if we can get better at looking to the future, be less precious about keeping people in their place, and see aspiration as something to be nurtured and channelled, we can support and enable people to fully achieve – to do more, do better or do different.

Every business has the capacity to take these steps, and that might just make the difference to UK Plc’s bottom line…

We at The Survey Initiative pride ourselves in the work we do in partnership with organisations to help build and maintain employee engagement levels. So if you would like to know more about how we can help your organisation, then give us a call on +44 (0)1255 850051 or contact us via our website.

Written by Jacqueline Mitchell
Jacqueline has over 20 years’ experience of people management gained across all key employment sectors, in large and smaller businesses; in later years as a Board level HR&OD Director. Her broad experience has enabled her to gain an insightful and intuitive understanding of what it takes to lead a successful organisation through optimising its people practices. Crucially, not just by talking about it, but by doing it.

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