Who Wants an 18% Boost in Productivity? 

Practical tips for manufacturers who know “it’s all about the people”  May 2022

As costs are squeezed and filling vacancies is increasingly challenging the need to boost productivity just increases.   There are numerous schemes to digitalise, automate and make things in a smarter way and yet it is people within the business who will need to step up to invest and integrate these solutions.    

The founder of JCB was once asked what it took to succeed. “The same thing it took to get started”, he replied, “a sense of URGENCY about getting things done”.   This article is about recognising the power of individuals’ “sense of urgency” or “drive” and how leaders can tap into this in their workplaces.

A bit about this amazing and essential part of the economy!  

The manufacturing sector in the UK employs some 2.5 million people, accounts for over 50% of UK exports and contributes £31bn into the UK Economy.  As lockdown struck the Secretary of State for Business wrote:

“Manufacturing is a critical part of our economy and I would like to be clear that there is no restriction on manufacturing continuing under the current rules.”

Social distancing, high absence levels and erratic supply chains has made it a tough time for this industry but some amazing feats like the ventilators challenge have shown what a resilient and agile sector this is.

Nearly half of employees in manufacturing are in Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs).  The intent of this article is to give some practical hints and tips from research carried out on larger organisations which are just as applicable to the smaller ones.

How does looking after people help the bottom line of business?

In 2012 an extensive piece of research was put together and if you’ve made it to this website you’ll have heard of the Engage for Success movement and perhaps the Nailing the Evidence Report.

Can high quality products be produced from toxic workplaces?  The answer may be “yes”. So why worry whether your employees are personally motivated to do their best for you?  The truth is that without the personal motivation of all individuals, a business will not grow and perform to its true potential and here’s just a few findings from the research:

PrincipleExample of the Impact  
SafetyOrganisations in the bottom quartile of engagement had 62% higher accidents than those in the top quartile. 
Quality  41% increase in quality (reduction in defects) See Gallup Report The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes 2020 Q12® Meta-Analysis: 10th Edition
Cost  Organisation in the Top quartile of engagement had 18% higher productivity than those in the bottom quartile.
DeliveryEngaged employees take approximately 2.7 days absence per year whilst disengaged take 6.2 days per year.

How can you increase personal motivation? 

What drives us as people is complex, but the Engage for Success movement categorised some enablers that were present in the organisations who had motivated their workforces well:

  1. Strategic Narrative – When companies have and share where they have come from and where they want to go, people are more bought in.   

TIP Does your company have a stated goal or mission and does everyone know what it is?  Everyone needs to feel that their contribution is helping create the company vision. Take time to communicate this with the team. Share what’s important about the vision for you personally.  What’s the back story of the company or the leaders – use storytelling to communicate better.

  • Engaging Managers – Even if a company is poorly run from the top, workers on the ground can be highly motivated and dedicated to perform well for their immediate line manager.  An engaging line manager will instil confidence, bring out the best in the team, help you play bigger and make them feel valued.  

TIP Invest in people development as well as technological or capital investments.  Your greatest asset really is your people.  First time managers need training in how to manage and be engaging and if you don’t train them they can be frustrated and revert to type.

  • Employee Voice – an organisation that listens to its staff gains deeper commitment.  This should be no surprise to students of lean manufacture who are familiar with the Toyota approach to workplace problem solving.

TIP Embedding Kaizen activities and practical problem solving invites everyone to have their say and input into making things work.  Swan Vesta, The matchbox manufacturer saved multiple thousands of dollars simply by listening to an idea that came from one frontline worker: putting the strip to strike the matches on only one side of the matchbox instead of two.

  • Organisational Integrity – Where employees trust and have confidence in the people around them they are more engaged. 

TIP. Asking for feedback and being quick to apologise when you’ve been unable to follow through with a promise increases trust.  Trust is hard to earn and easily lost so maintaining an open dialogue, being frank about things and being prepared to confront poor behaviour is essential if you are going to be a company where people feel safe to take risks and be supported.

Where to go from here?

If this article has been useful and you want to create a workplace where people thrive and are motivated you are definitely not alone.   Engage for Success is an active community of people who care passionately about this and run various online events and webinars. We would love to connect and hear your experiences on this theme and offer any support we can.

Sharing the Nailing the Evidence report with your leaders could open up discussions about what is your people strategy and mission.  An employee engagement survey will give you some real data and can be a good place to kick off a new initiative. 

Regardless of where you fit in the organisation, you can make a start with your immediate team. Simple actions like picking up on positive behaviour is a great way to start reinforcing the 4 enablers and will help to keep you positive too! 

David Savage.

Former Manufacturing Manager and founder of Manufacturing with Purpose

In consultation with James Court-Smith, Geoff Lloyd, Eric Collins and Clive Richer

Link to video… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqO3sfRZDAE

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