UK Productivity – Improvement Requires Behavioural Change
Updated: Apr 15
Poor UK productivity has been in the news a lot recently and rightly so, it is a measure of a country’s GDP and it becomes more important as the UK exits the EU. Just as the UK needs to be more competitive, our productivity is only slightly higher than its pre-downturn peak in 2008/2009.
“Output per hour worked in the UK was 15.1% below the average for the rest of the G7 advanced economies in 2016; this compares with 15.5% in 2015*”.
"There is always a solution to improve processes, products and services for those who want continuous never ending improvement" ~ Peter F Gallagher
Productivity is defined as how much is produced for a given input, such as an hour’s work. It is directly linked to living standards and a country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time. Productivity is also crucial in determining the long-term growth rates of an economy. Stronger country productivity leads to stronger GDP growth. This, in turn, increases tax revenues and usually results in lower government budget deficits. Lower productivity results in the opposite: lower GDP growth and higher budget deficits.
“Output per worker in the UK was 15.4% below the average for the rest of the G7 in 2016**.”
Productivity solutions include improved country infrastructure, AI, worker training and improved engineering, to name but a few, however should we also consider UK worker behaviour? For the last 30 years I have observed people behaviour, as a Business Improvement and Change Management Consultant. Here are some of my selected observations around people behaviour:
(a) A Piece of Litter on a German Street: In my early career, I was working in the R&D section for a UK defence manufacturer developing a short-range portable High Velocity Missile (HVM). During the one week stay in central Germany we learned how to operate the machine. For now, we will ignore the fact that a UK leading defence technology company had to travel Germany to purchase a machine to make the tools to manufacture the missile.
One observation still stays in my mind to this day. Every morning the host company collected us from the hotel at 08:00 exactly. The driver took us to the machine plant in an immaculate car, along pristine roads, in an orderly and safe fashion. On the second day, we were greeted as normal at reception and politely escorted to the car. We got in, buckled our seat belts and the driver started the engine. The driver indicated and started to pull away from the curb. He travelled no more than 1 metre, put the indicator back on, pulled the car back to the curb and stopped the engine. The driver opened the door, got out and walked 50 metres down the road behind the car. We watched through the rear window. He stepped off the curb onto the road and picked up what appeared to be a crisp wrapper. He then continued to walk a further 10 metres to put the rubbish in the bin. We watched mesmerised. He returned to the car, made no comment and we continued the journey to the plant. After reflecting on the experience for over 10 minutes I asked him why he did this. He asked surprised, “What do you mean?” I replayed my observations of the episode. Again, he looked perplexed. So, I simply asked, “Why did you go out of your way to pick up the litter?” He response was much simpler, “If we all took that attitude what would happen? I was the first to spot the litter so it was for me to take a few minutes to put it right, now the street is clean, we are all better for it”.
(b) UAE Corniche Workmen: While working in Abu Dhabi I often went jogging or cycling along the Corniche. The memory that sticks in my mind is how clean the paths were, very little rubbish or dead foliage from the perfectly kept trees, shrubs and gardens. Six days a week a team of cleaners swept the Corniche end-to-end, cleaning up every single piece of litter, including all the leaves. They appeared to take pride in their jobs, even though they were working in temperatures sometimes exceeding 40 Deg. C. These workers were minimally equipped, lowly paid expats who didn’t have enough money to travel home every year to see their families.
(c) UK Street Cleaning: In comparison, there is a lot more litter on the UK street than in the countries mentioned above, it is also a factor that is linked to behaviour, although this is not my key point. Whilst observing UK workers (RBtE) who are properly equipped and reasonably compensated for their role, I don’t see the same effort, consciousness or application.
We can improve infrastructure, deliver improved training and apply better engineering, but attitude drives behaviour and it’s our attitude to improving UK productivity that will enable a step improvement.
"If you do not change employee behaviour, you will not get organisational change or performance improvement" ~ Peter F Gallagher
*UK ONS Release date: 5 April 2017
**UK ONS Release date: 6 October 2017
RBtE (Rarely Blame the Employee): Employees should rarely be blamed as we don't know their environment, only the behaviours they are exhibiting should be judged.