Unlocking the UK’s productivity potential

It’s no secret that the UK has a productivity problem. Figures from the Office for National Statistics earlier this year showed us to be 18 percentage points behind the average for G7 nations and 36 points behind G7 leader Germany. Cracking the UK’s so-called productivity conundrum continues to be a tough ask for UK employers.

The link between engagement and productivity is well established and studies show that highly engaged workforces can bring about more than a 20 per cent increase in productivity. Alongside engagement, business leaders have a potentially more powerful tool at their disposal to increase productivity though: unlocking an individual’s discretionary effort.

While engagement is about a person’s emotional connection to an organisation, releasing discretionary effort is more concerned with an individual’s inner being and how much they want to give of themselves. It’s also about how aligned they feel with the organisation and its overall mission which differs from engagement. An engaged employee may well love the company and enjoy their work but it won’t necessarily mean they will expend extra effort during the day or be prepared to go the extra mile for the organisation. Without discretionary effort, the higher engagement = higher motivation = higher productivity equation is flawed.

Rialto’s research in this area demonstrates that there is a direct correlation between increased productivity and each percentage point of discretionary effort that is released.

So how can this be achieved? US psychologist Abraham Maslow discovered that motivation comes from individuals seeking personal growth and self-fulfillment or ‘self-actualising’. The first step is for leaders to drill down into the psyche of their workforce and support individuals to grow both personally and professionally. If a person truly believes that their manager is helping to realise their potential and put them on the path of self-fulfillment, it will lead to the required level of motivation that will release their discretionary effort.

Secondly, they must assess how aligned the individual feels to all aspects of the organisation from its values and culture to its products and services. For instance, they may respect their manager and believe it’s a great place to work but privately think it has a weak product range compared to competitors. Or they may admire the products but are appalled by the poor standards of customer service in some parts of the organisation.

Extracting this level of information requires time and effort and senior leaders need to explore what tools and services are available to do this effectively. Carrying out an annual staff survey, for instance, won’t be enough to obtain a sufficiently in-depth picture about an individual’s alignment with the organisation across a breadth of areas. Our research has identified no less than 110 factors that impact motivation across 11 areas including: leadership; how well the organisation adapts to change and challenge; and how well it collaborates and works with others.

The final piece in the equation is to put in place the necessary interventions and actions required to increase alignment. Securing employees’ emotional buy-in to unleash high-levels of discretionary effort demands high involvement and commitment from senior leaders but it will definitely pay off in productivity gains.


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