4 innovative insights from the UK’s most productive businesses

Scale-ups see their productivity improve

Productivity is about getting the best from your business. From implementing a new CRM system to adjusting management structures – improving the processes and behaviours within your company is key to unlocking capacity and kicking on for further growth. Tom Thackray, Director – Innovation at the CBI shares some insights from pioneering scale-ups on how to improve your businesses productivity.

The entrepreneurial spirit of the UK is thriving and we are home to some of the most innovative businesses in the world. However, against this optimistic foundation is the reality that productivity growth remains weak, with the UK lagging 17% behind the G7 average.

While government has an important role in unlocking the structural bottlenecks that can hold companies back, such as digital connectivity and maintaining a competitive tax environment – businesses take decisions on a daily basis that make real improvements to their productivity. The challenge is often knowing where to look for inspiration and good practice.  

Fast-growth businesses, so called ‘scale-ups’, are best in class when it comes to being highly efficient. In 2013, just 4% of these firms contributed nearly one fifth to total UK productivity growth. The wide appeal of their insights is underlined by the fact scale-ups are found in every sector of the economy, in all parts of the country and are both young and old companies. The CBI’s new report, Lifting the Trophy, interviewed over 30 of these businesses to profile the tips and techniques that can encourage more firms to change their patterns. Here are 4 key insights scale-ups shared:

1. Recognise that boosting productivity is rarely a silver bullet intervention

​The simple act of thinking about what affects productivity within your business is an important process – from what metrics you use to measure success to how you train new staff. Scale-ups stressed that understanding how those processes interacted with productivity and where incremental improvements can be made is key.

Much like the world beating GB cycling team for which marginal gains – such as painting the training floor white to spot dust pick up – formed the foundation of their Olympic success.

We have a strong cultural attitude across the business that there is no process of structure too sacred to change.

Martin Tucker, CEO, GatenbySanderon

2. Sell your business journey to attract and engage the best talent

​With investment in skills responsible for one fifth of productivity growth in the UK, scale-ups recognise the importance of getting the best from their people. When seeking the best talent scale-ups look further than just competing on salary. Instead they leverage the distinctive benefits that an ambitious expanding firm can offer such as excellent development opportunities and strong company culture.

While access to talent sets the foundation for increasing productivity, effectively engaging employees is crucial to making real competitive gains. As well as increased retention, engaged employees are more innovative and enjoy higher levels of well-being. Scale-ups we interviewed talked about ensuring work is meaningful, establishing codified values that give a sense of identity and maintaining high quality leadership as integral to raising engagement.

We learned the hard way that clear and honest communication with new starters was essential to diving up engagement and retention.

Sean Taylor, Managing Director & Co-Founder, Redwood Technologies

3. Understand that small behavioural changes can make a big difference

The CBI has worked closely with the Behavioural Insights Team to profile insights from the world of psychology that can have practical productivity implications for businesses. Tips such as ‘operational transparency’ which means showing employees the effect their work has on clients. For example, chefs who saw customers eat their food achieved higher customer satisfaction ratings in later meals.

Encouraging reflection in employees can also produce real productivity gains. Processes that discourage employees from ‘going through the motions’ can have significant positive effects on staff efficiency. For example, call centre employees who were encouraged to reflect on their performance at the end of the working day rated better in performance evaluations.

Employees involved with the technical manufacturing side of the business are encouraged to reflect on how they’ve solved issues that week and how processes could be improved.

Alan Courts, Finance Director, Rittal

4. Jump the barriers to the adoption of technology

The importance of adopting technology is clear with recent CBI research highlighting that 94% of businesses identify technology as a crucial efficiency driver. But the challenge for businesses is rarely the availability of technology, rather overcoming the barriers to adoption of new techniques. Inadequate digital skills and unclear ROI can hold businesses back, but scale-ups champion the importance of swift adoption.

Improving digital skills within your business is a critical step to being able to make informed decisions about technology. Forging strong links with digital gurus through networking and giving technology a strategic face in the form of a Chief Technology Officer are two common themes in successful scale-ups. Additionally, understanding what processes are taking the most time in your business and thinking about how technology can automate or at least speed up the process is a worthwhile undertaking.

Continuously improving our systems has enabled us to scale from one person being responsible for 10 cleaners to one person being responsible for 500 cleaners.

Avin Rabheru, Founder & CEO, Housekeep

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