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How to Make Work Better

Make work better one behaviour at a time by addressing the business productivity crisis and transforming companies into thinking organisations.

How to Make Work Better

Published on:

10 Jun 2021

Corporations – both large and small – are vilified. They’re seen to take too much and do too little. Taxes are avoided, the environment suffers and the rich get richer while the working man toils.

You get the picture. But is it really that simple?

After all, businesses throughout the industrial revolutions led to the growth that brought us to where we are today, in a digital realm where almost anything you can imagine is at the touch of your fingers.

We need to change our way of thinking. We need to make work better for everybody.

Too many businesses are stuck in an archaic mindset. One packed full of analogies about well-oiled machines and running like clockwork.

Businesses aren’t static, unthinking machines — or they certainly shouldn’t be. They’re made up of people, life and creativity.

They’re living, breathing organisations. But the dated way many are run is stifling business productivity and ultimately, profitability. Workers are disengaged, living standards don’t improve, tax contributions are dismal, profits are low and we all suffer.

When we make work better we improve business productivity, which makes life better, for everybody.

Why Business Productivity Matters

“Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.”

– Paul Krugman, American Economist and Nobel Prize Winner.

Business productivity has delivered huge growth for the world over the past 100 years, but it’s coming to a stuttering, painful halt.

Even prior to economic factors like the pandemic and Brexit, on average Britain is 13% less productive than the other G7 nations.

Low productivity is bad news for businesses profitability, that much we know. But the picture is bigger than that.

Improving business productivity drives higher wages and better living standards. In other words, when work isn’t working, we all suffer.

The reality is businesses are vital to their communities. The more productive they are, the more they can help by increasing wages, paying more in corporation taxes and ultimately increasing living standards for us all.

It’s all driven by the success of business. Society needs business productivity to improve.

What we can Achieve When we Make Work Better

If making work better increases business productivity and increases profitability, what can it achieve for wider society?

These increased profits lead to higher contributions in corporation tax, rising wages and rising living standards. Making work better benefits everyone.

When we make work better we can…

Look After Our Planet

Businesses that follow ESG principles are better places to work, but they’re also better for the planet. They need to factor in sustainability in their long-term plans and mitigate their effects on the planet, whatever they may be.

Be More Relational

We’ve become too transactional as a society. Everything is about the sale, the numbers, the money or the data.

It’s an exhausting way to live.

Of course, businesses need to make a profit, but they can do so by being more relational. They can build real connections with customers and have a real, positive impact on their communities.

Social Capitalism

Ultimately, when we make work better we move the dial a little closer towards social capitalism.

Industrial capitalism has had its era and served its purpose brilliantly, but now we need to adapt to a new kind of system. One that addresses the wealth gap and continues to increase living standards through business productivity.

Social capitalism allows us to build a better, more equal society from the wealth and growth that businesses create.

Just recently, the G7 nations have (finally!) agreed it is time for big corporations to pay their fair share in corporation tax. There will no longer be a race to the bottom of corporation tax as countries attempt to outbid each other.

This is a great example of the kind of wealth social capitalism can create. This money can be put back into communities and societies, increasing living standards by improving the services we all rely on.

Shareholder Capitalism

Shareholder capitalism, when infused with the ethos of making work better, shifts focus from solely maximixing profits to enhancing employee well-being, fostering inclusive cultures, and promoting fair compensation.

By valuing stakeholders' interests, it catalyzes innovation, productivity, and sustainable growth, creating a more fulfilling and equitable work environment.

So… What’s Stopping Us From Making Work Better?

With all the wonderful possibilities that lay ahead of us, you’d think business productivity would be skyrocketing. We have cleaner, faster transportation options alongside instant communications and other new technologies all forcing us towards the automation revolution of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Yet still, productivity remains elusive. It’s what’s known as the productivity paradox.

But it’s not machines that drive business productivity. It’s people, and people are complicated.

People think and feel and care. Fixing work then isn’t as simple as maintaining a machine. You need to get to the root of the problem — employee engagement.

A Gallup Survey revealed a meagre 15% of workers say they’re engaged at work, meaning a staggering 85% of employees feel unengaged at work.

This varies from country to country, but it’s not good news for UK business owners. Previous UK research revealed only 8% of UK employees feel engaged at work.

Why are UK Employees Disengaged?

We work more than ever and more people are employed than ever before. Yet business productivity levels don’t reflect this. In fact, a poor work-life balance is one of the many driving forces behind poor employee engagement.

Compound this work-life balance with stagnant wages and a gig economy and you have a recipe for disaster. Excluding Greece, UK workers have seen the biggest fall in real pay since the recession out of all OECD countries.

The gig economy has also led to decreased job security. Workers aren’t just underpaid, they’re also struggling to get basic benefits like pensions and insurance. Since 2000, there are 632,000 more workers in the UK on zero hour contracts.

Whether it’s workers on zero hour contracts or workers with stagnant wages, it’s increased worries about job security and led to many employees being unable to achieve basic goals like having savings.

At the same time, wage inequality has risen. Compared to other developed nations, the UK has one of the highest levels of income inequality, with the majority of households having disposable incomes below the mean income.

These figures paint a bleak picture, but it’s one that is a reality for many UK employees. But for many businesses, low wages and low job security aren’t the causes for poor employee engagement.

To examine those causes, we need to look at where company cultures aren’t meeting employee expectations.

What’s Lacking in Company Culture?

Why do your employees work for you?

Because of the pay? The perks? The people?

Chances are all of these reasons factor in to some extent, but ultimately, what makes employees work (and stay!) at a company is how much they care about that business and feel that business cares about them.

In other words, company culture.

For example, you might have a great employee who works their way up quickly through pay grades. But if they find the company culture stifling, pay won’t matter long-term. They’ll move onto greener pastures.

This is especially true for employees who are in younger generations like millennials or Gen Z. These employees expect more autonomy and flexibility in their workplace.

They also want to work for a business that is contributing to the greater good. It’s a vague idea to some, but all it means is your business ethics, values and principles matter to these employees more than any pay or perks you can offer them.

Many businesses think the key to success is customer-centricity. But we think employee-centricity is just as important, if not more so. After all, a disengaged employee isn’t going to deliver the customer-centric service you’d like them to.

In today’s market, your employees are your customers, just as much as your customers, suppliers and partners are. Instead of spending money with you, they’re spending their time and energy on you which are far more valuable resources. When they do this efficiently and effectively, relationships are stronger, more value is created and everybody in the value chain benefits. Companies that fail to create value in their organisations attract less talented employees and ultimately create a culture of disengagement.

Particularly SMEs – which make up the majority of the UK economy – are failing to meet employee expectations due to dated business practices, operations and management styles. This conflict between current company culture norms and employee expectations is the simple solution to the puzzle of UK productivity and how to make work better.

Make Work Better Through Organisational Design

Though it’s been largely doom and gloom til this point, it’s not all bad news. Because it’s easy to make work better — it’s what we do with our business improvement framework.

Businesses need to transform from dated hierarchical organisations with top-down, command-and-control management into thinking organisations.

It all starts with inverting the pyramid.

So many businesses, in the UK and across the globe, are stuck in the dated business hierarchies of the 19th and 20th centuries. The old analogies of businesses being run like an army, a clock or a machine don’t work. They need to be left in the past where they belong.

It’s time to evolve. Businesses need to be thought of as living, breathing organisations like an organism. They don’t just survive through maintenance like a machine, they grow as any living organism can.

To achieve this, businesses need to run from the bottom-up in a holistic, organic approach that includes everyone. Management doesn’t have all the information to make all the decisions. Every employee must be valued and encouraged to thrive individually.

This doesn’t happen overnight. It means changing the way you think about your business to allow your business to think for itself.

Businesses need to address many internal aspects to take a holistic approach to transforming company culture and operations to increase employee engagement.

This includes:

  1. Intrinsic motivation

  2. Emotional intelligence

  3. Internal communications

  4. Collaborative decision making

  5. Assessments and appraisals

  6. Team building

  7. Time management and flexibility

  8. Workplace design

Intrinsic Motivations

What motivates your employees?

If you think it’s as simple as the carrot-and-stick approach where you offer them the occasional bonus or annual pay rise, it’s not quite so simple.

The psychology of motivation suggests we need to first understand that people are motivated by different things. For some, competition motivates them, while others are motivated by learning. Ultimately, motivation is personal. We’re motivated by things that connect with our values and sense of being.

To truly motivate employees and make work better for them, we need to understand them as the unique individuals they are and adapt to meet those motivations.

Emotional Intelligence

There is a stereotype of UK management that is most easily summarised as The Office’s David Brent.

So often, management is thought of as inept administrators instead of the motivational coaches they actually need to be to make work better.

Part of this stems from a lack of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence isn’t taught, or valued within our current management practices, but it needs to be.

It’s a vital skill that helps us better understand why people behave differently and how to relate to those different behaviours.

Internal Communications

Businesses also remain bogged down by lacklustre internal communications. Information doesn’t flow freely between departments and those who need it are often left wanting.

Often this is because there are no designated leaders of internal communications. It’s done on an ad hoc basis, with no clear goal or purpose.

Ultimately, decisions are often made without all the necessary information needed available, leading to complications and delays down the line. Improving internal communications makes work better by allowing for better business decisions for everyone.

Collaborative Decision Making

Let’s say you need a new CMS. Who picks the new platform?

Logic might dictate it should be your IT team. They have the most technical knowledge regarding the different capabilities of the various platforms available after all. You let that team’s management choose and it’s rolled out between various departments.

Then the issues become apparent. They might have had the technical knowledge, but they don’t actually deal with your customers. Other departments are saying the new CMS doesn’t do what they need it to do. Your frontline staff are saying it’s making their job harder. Your IT team is demotivated from all the complaints. Everyone loses.

This is why decisions shouldn’t be made by one person or even one department. To make work better, decisions need to be made collaboratively between employees for the best results for your staff and your customers.

Assessments and Appraisals

When you have a problem in your personal life, when was the last time you thought, “I’ll not deal with that right now. I’ll just assess it in 6 months”?

It’s a bizarre thought for our personal lives, but it’s even more bizarre that it’s a common work practice. Annual appraisals and assessments achieve very little. They don’t deal with issues surrounding training or support as they arise.

Worse yet, they don’t actually do anything to motivate your staff. In fact, more than 60% of employees say they’d move to a new employer that didn’t have formal performance reviews.

It’s become a tickbox activity indicative of the lacklustre management style the UK is stuck in. Instead, to make work better, businesses need to support and train employees as issues arise and motivate through better understanding of intrinsic motivations.

Team Building

When we say team building, your mind probably drifted to some strange corporate event like paintballing, scavenger hunts or go karting.

We do not mean this.

Think about your team as a different kind of team, like a football team.

You spend your weekdays training; working on defence, attack and strategy. You do this every day of the week, all year round, so you can be better at what you do.

Then once or twice a year, you go paintballing on a random Saturday.

What value has it added to your team? What skills has it taught them?

None is the right answer.

This is because team building isn’t something you look at once or twice a year and ignore the rest of it. Team building isn’t about trust fall exercises, it’s about your daily practice and everyday work. It’s the communication, trust, value and inclusion you have as a team.

This happens from the moment you hire a person and continues every day they’re part of that team. To make work better, you need to be hiring to build better teams, as well as continually improving your team every day.

Time Management and Flexibility

A vital part of how to make work better comes from time management and flexibility. How successful your teams are depends on how well they manage their time.

Businesses can benefit from adopting flexible working practices, based on performance for your teams.

It’s well-known since the pandemic that working remotely can increase performance by up to substantially, by up to 13% some studies suggest. Employees also prefer the option to work remotely and to move hours around when needed to avoid using holiday for things like appointments.

For some teams, this will create great teams with better productivity. But this needs to be reviewed and monitored to ensure teams continue to thrive.

Workplace Design

Let’s travel back in time for this one to 1924, Illinois at the Hawthorne Works electric power plant.

Researchers had been trying to figure out how to increase employee productivity in the vast, dark factories of the era. They hypothesized that if they turned the lighting up in the factories, productivity would go up and they were right! Later, they theorised if they turned the lighting down in factories, productivity would also go down.

A logical conclusion, but it wasn’t the case. They turned the lighting down and productivity went up. As it turned out, the fact that anyone at all was paying attention to their environment affected productivity

All this to say, it’s well known how our environment affects productivity, but companies who show an active interest in making work better by improving workplace environments will reap the rewards in employee well-being and engagement.

Make Work Better

Ultimately, addressing all of the above aspects helps to transform your company culture and make work better.

For employees, work is better because they feel valued and recognised and their personal motivation and self-esteem is higher.

For organisations, work is better because business productivity and profitability have increased. They can improve working conditions and offer better paying jobs to attract better talent.

For societies, making work better helps improve the welfare of people. Higher wages means we have more money to do things we love with people we love. Higher profits means more taxed income to help fund the services we value.

This is why our mission is simply to make work better. We believe by making work better, we can make things better for everyone.

We make work better, one behaviour at a time, through our Business Operations Improvement Programme.

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