Written by Andrew Moore, Director, DAV Management
I recently read an article by the BBC’s Economics editor, Kamal Ahmed, about the fall in UK productivity and its subsequent impact on the economy. In the piece, Ahmed comprehensively outlined the issue, citing a fall of 0.5% in the first three months of 2017 putting the UK economy’s ability to create wealth below that of 2007, when the financial crisis started. Unfortunately, the piece only really served to leave readers feeling a little despondent, concluding that “until [the problem of very low paid jobs] is solved, our productivity problem, our wealth problem, will continue”.
In the current, economically uncertain environment, it’s easy to see how the problem of falling productivity, fuelled by the growth of low paid jobs, will become more serious. Kamal Ahmed’s article is a wake up call but pointing out the issue is only the beginning. We need to look at tackling the underlying problems, one of which is an increasingly demotivated workforce. This diminishing motivation leads to an incremental fall in productivity and tighter restrictions on incomes, which inevitably further undermines motivation. It’s a spiralling cycle of decline that opens up the possibility of the UK falling behind its global competitors.
In looking for the causes of this phenomenon, it’s impossible to ignore the impact of Brexit, particularly since it’s becoming more readily apparent that the likelihood of getting, what many would consider to be, a good deal is fading fast. Add to that the slightly surreal, snap election, which saw the government lose its Commons majority and with it any sense of a ‘strong and stable’ hand on the country’s macro-economic tiller. These are both strong drivers of the uncertainty that is progressively impacting the UK business landscape.
All of this is leaving UK business leaders, regardless of company size or sector, in a dilemma as they try to offset these negative effects when they themselves often know little more than their workforce. In today’s challenging economic environment, it can be easy for business leaders to be so focused on the top and bottom line that this sometimes overshadows other demands and needs in the business. In our quest to deliver success and results. I believe the focus must be on squeezing every ounce of value out of the business and the key lies in the motivation and subsequent performance of employees.
And there’s the rub! In our experience, when it comes to performance management too much emphasis is placed on traditional techniques to tackle the underlying problem. Instead, the focus should be on enabling people to deal with the human complexities present across the business environment. Arguably, today, this is more important than resolving the technical and business challenges that many performance management techniques seek to address.
During times of economic uncertainty, it becomes even more necessary for people and teams to be aligned to what the business wants to achieve. This then enables the organisation to build on all the technical requirements, best practice and structured frameworks that can be brought to bear, as well as any classroom-based training. It involves harnessing an individual’s specific abilities and helping them to develop their behaviour to not only meet their own objectives, but also achieve the desired results for the business.
We only need to look to millennials to find support for this. Millennial is the term given to those born between 1980 and 1999, and is the largest age group to emerge since the baby boom generation – a group that accountancy firm Deloitte predicts will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025, so the ones that arguably require the most support. Countless articles proclaim that these younger workers aren’t motivated by the same factors as previous generations, suggesting they are solely motivated by the ability to work from the comfort of their own beds or to repurpose their office as an American style ‘frat-house’ the moment it turns half-past three. What these articles neglect to mention, however, is that as a group millennials highly value feedback based on outcomes and deliverables when it comes to motivating factors, something that is inarguably conducive to creating a more productive workforce.
In addition to having clear goals, millennials’ career choices are strongly affected by whether or not an organisation has a compelling vision of what it or the team is contributing to society. Cast yourself back to the general election last month and the unusually high turnout of young voters. One of the main turnoffs for younger people is the perception that politics is an exclusive club, but many were furious about austerity and generational injustice, annoyed at what they saw as patronising media coverage of their concerns, and disillusioned with the political status quo. Whilst this is an example from the political stage, it provides a strong insight into the key motivational drivers of our future workforce and something that business leaders must embrace in their performance management approach, if we are to address underlying problems of motivation and productivity.
Sadly, with age comes cynicism. Things that we once valued as being important, such as making an impact on society as well as business outcomes, sometimes get dropped off the agenda and the most effective ways of delivering the best performance can get overlooked. In order to lead your business successfully through this economic minefield, the focus must be placed back on the individuals that make up your workforce and efforts should be driven towards ensuring they are motivated, happy and, ultimately, productive. After all, the only thing worse than demotivated staff leaving, is demotivated staff staying and the cumulative impact of this is bad news for the UK economy and our future prosperity.