Delivering high productivity by developing engaging managers 

The productivity puzzle

A few years ago I attended an IPA conference about the productivity puzzle.  We learned that Britain’s productivity gap with other G7 advanced economies has widened to its largest since 1992. The OECD has drawn a link between Britain’s poor productivity record and the squeeze on living standards over recent years. Its report into the UK says that “income and wealth are below the G7 average and real earnings have been exceptionally weak as they have continued to reflect poor productivity.” At the conference the various speakers emphasised the importance of engagement in raising productivity in organisations.

A potential way forward

Over 35 years ago I was appointed HR Director to a large chemical factory in the North of England with an appalling productivity record and failed management interventions to shift this.  I persuaded the factory Director we needed to engage the whole of the workforce in making it the best factory in the Group by developing engaging managers who enabled the employees’ voices to be heard and acted upon.  Five years on, the Group’s CEO came to visit the factory to congratulate it on becoming one of the best and most productive factories in the Group worldwide.

Engaging managers is critical to productivity and yet my research on management behaviour has demonstrated consistently that engagement skills are the ones they are often least good at: listening to people; empowering them; helping them identify their talents and develop them. I contend the principal factor which is generating uncompetitive international levels of productivity in the UK is a low managerial capability in engagement.

So, how do organisations change managerial capability in engagement?

Well, regarding the factory described above, we:

  1. Developed a vision of success for the factory in 5 years’ time, involving high levels of productivity, and communicated this across the factory. Furthermore, we asked each manager and team leader to ask their teams what will help and what will hinder us from delivering this vision. These views had to be recorded on flip charts and fed back to the Executive Team which took these into account in developing a strategy for delivering the vision.
  2. The strategy required managers to be good at consulting their teams about improvements that could be made to the way things were done on the factory. The methodology we developed for this is powerful and highly practical. It was based on research carried out by Terry Morgan and Neil Rackham which has shown that any conversation can be categorised into around 15 different interactive behaviours. These fall into 2 types, which are concerned with ‘advocacy’, e.g. giving information, making suggestions, summarising, etc, and ‘enquiry’, e.g. seeking information, seeking suggestions, checking understanding, etc. It is the ‘enquiry’ behaviours which managers almost always need to develop to interact more effectively and enhance their teams’ problem solving capability by: listening to others; exploring differing points of view; checking understanding; building on suggestions; etc.
  3. We also trained all of the managers to empower people by:

─       Ensuring people were clear about the responsibilities and accountability delegated to them;

─       Ensuring they had the information they needed to deliver on them;

─       Coaching them to be competent to deliver;

─       Giving them feedback, both positive and negative, on how they were performing.

This is a process I have used successfully in many different organisations to develop engaging managers to release the power of employee voice and, as a result, generate high levels of productivity.

Author Bio: Dr Ian Dodds, FRSA, Lotus Award Winner 2017 for Lifetime Achievement www.iandoddsconsulting.com

Photo Credit: Mohamed Hassan, Pixabay

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