How do we increase productivity? – with a bit of empathy most probably

This week we thought we’d start on a bit of a journey looking at some of the challenges facing the clients we work with.

Not necessarily their PR challenges as, being RDZ clients, their PR is obviously ‘tickety boo’ or at least on a good path to tickety boo!

We have many clients whose roots are firmly planted in manufacturing and we’ve noticed recently that there seems to be a great deal of talk about productivity.  Now, productivity stats used to make an appearance on the management report pages of engineering companies looking to keep its workforce operating at the highest possible output level.  The figures at the moment, however, are being analysed for the UK as a whole, as well as at a company-by-company level.  Not wishing to dwell too much on the ‘doom and gloom’ side of things, it’s reported that the UK currently lies 7th within the G7 and 17th within the G20 group of countries when it comes to productivity per capita.  Not great rankings it has to be said, especially since we are a country steeped in manufacturing and engineering history.  So, what, exactly, has happened?

Well, the demise is often blamed on the rise of technology / automation / the Internet of Things although it is fairly true to say that just about everything at the moment is blamed on the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Brexit – and sometimes a mix of both!  The truth, however, is probably much more to do with the way that the workforce is changing and a general failure within industry to adapt quickly enough to this change.

Manufacturing has historically been a sector focussed on ‘making stuff’ and this has, in the main, been carried out by a well-established, long-service workforce.  Great for stability (and thus great for productivity) but not an effective strategy for a future business which is staffed by employees with a very different attitude towards employment in general.  It’s not that the millennials are lazier or slower than the generations before, it’s simply that their expectations are different, their mobility without boundaries and their attitudes shaped by the fact that they saw their parents’ loyalty being disregarded when the recession came.

There really is no way to bring back the previous attitude and work ethics and manufacturing, therefore, has to embrace the change and implement some changes themselves. With this in mind, the shake up most probably needs to start in the HR department; employees need to be valued for the new skills they can bring and rewarded for their contribution.  There has, perhaps, been a tendency to think of the younger generation as being flaky or uncommitted, but the challenge which the more successful manufacturers (our clients included) have met head-on is in investing time and resources in making these future champions feel valued, making them want to stay in the longer term.

The thought that we should choose management teams for their social skills rather than technical know-how and to look for empathy over discipline may be one more commonly expected within the public sector or in creative corners.  We believe that the future of manufacturing and the hope for increased productivity (and a welcomed rise up the rankings) relies upon these more empathetic concepts being embraced within our industrial workplaces.