International Business Festival 2018

LIVERPOOL 12-28 JUNE

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EMPOWER EMPLOYEES TO INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY

12 May 2018

Productivity - a measure of output per unit of input - is something that politicians and economists tend to get worked up about. But as Cumbria Crystal MD Chris Blade writes, focusing on productivity makes business sense.

In a working week, the average German worker could go home on Thursday afternoon, and still have produced as much as it takes the average Brit a full week to get through.

No matter what the reasons – and they are myriad – that’s shocking. Yet the majority of business owners believe they are productive and not part of the problem – a view contrary to all the evidence.Chris Blade. [Photo: Cumbria Crystal]

Just a few years ago Cumbria Crystal was part of the problem. We didn’t even have an electronic till, or networked computers, for goodness sake.

That’s why I joined Be the Business campaign, an industry-led movement to solve Britain’s productivity puzzle. It aims to drive ‘bottom up’ improvements in businesses of all sizes though tips, tools and training.

You can’t encourage staff to work differently or do more without first taking a look at your own performance.  That’s why I enrolled on Lancaster University Management School’s Productivity through People course and committed two days a month for a year to study the issue. Time very well spent ON the business, not IN the business.

Run in partnership with world class manufacturers – BAE Systems, Siemens and Rolls Royce - it challenged me to analyse every aspect of the company with fresh eyes - be that our relationships with suppliers and customers, production methods, energy consumption, innovative thinking or R&D processes.A Cumbria Crystal employee at work

The most important lesson I took away was the need to empower employees. We have a small team of 22 people; I can identify every artisan involved in the production of each and every piece of our hand-made luxury crystal.

It really is essential that they understand the company’s vision, feel part of our mission and can positively influence it. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, so the saying goes, so it’s essential to focus on our biggest asset: our staff.

One of my most effective challenges to them was to think of small changes they could make to increase productivity, margins or efficiency by 1%. That sounds quite easy – and in fact it wasn’t that difficult. But add up those small gains month-by-month and you can create a big effect; 21% improvement in two years becomes very significant indeed.

Spurred on by a bonus scheme for hitting targets, our employees massively increased productivity, doubling our output, and increased our margins threefold. Their efforts set the UK’s last producer of luxury crystal on the path back to profit for the first time in years.

I hope my staff are now not only incentivised, but feel valued. They understand the importance to the company of every aspect of their job and are happier as a result.

Staying competitive will be more crucial than ever in the coming years. So I’d urge others to consider what they can do to improve themselves, empower their staff, enhance their company and play their part in giving Britain a £130bn productivity boost in the process.

The Productivity Puzzle, Futures Stage, June 20. Productivity Leaders Group chief executive Tony Dankers shares some surprising findings to help your business yield greater returns from your workforce.

Chris Blade is managing director of Cumbria Crystal

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