Return to National productivity plans

Action needed – Overall

1. Establish a National Productivity Centre – NPC:

  • Clearly, all governments should take national productivity improvement very seriously – the potential benefits are £300 billion per annum for the UK alone!

  • Each NPC should be independently funded so it cannot be swayed for any party political reasons – and it should be staffed by top businessmen, academics, trade union officials and consultants who represent all sectors, public and private 

  • National governments to have done this already include:

    • Australia and New Zealand who actively support their Productivity Commissions – Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull immediately appointed a Minister for Productivity on his accession

    • Japan and the USA have their JPC and APQC 

  • A glaring exception is the UK – a BPC (British Productivity Centre) was set up in 1948 to help British industry recover from WW2 by learning from the practices of successful organisations in America:

    • The BPC organised visits for over 50,000 UK business executives to the US

    • They also produced thousands of reports on these ‘study tours’ to help disseminate lessons learned to other managers unable to make the trip

  • The BPC’s success at the time led to other NPCs being set up all over Europe, many of which continue to thrive

  • As a result, the EANPC – European Association of National Productivity Centres – was set up in 1953, in Paris, to assist in restructuring national economies through NPCs sharing their productivity information and experience – many local UK productivity associations followed – nevertheless, the UK government of the day disbanded the BPC in 1969

  • In the early 70s, a UKPC was set up, headed by Professor David Bailey but, again, the UK government allowed it to fold in the late 70’s

  • In the early 80s, I invited Professor Bailey to join the Productivity Services Division of PA Consulting Group – our intention was to set up a new version of the UKPC, sponsored by PA and linked to the American Productivity Center (since renamed APQC) – I had earlier visited their HQ in Houston to learn how they were organised – however, despite the obvious UK need for such a body plus the huge potential for extra consultancy sales ‘across the board’, my efforts were thwarted because company priorities lay elsewhere so the idea ‘withered on the vine’

  • Hence, it was very welcome to find that a new powerful TPI – The Productivity Institute – had just been set up, sponsored by the ESRC – Economic and Social Research Council – and others to the tune of £32m for at least five years :

    • The institute is led by Professor Bart Van Ark from the University of Manchester but mostly staffed by academics

    • Currently, it appears to be more research-based, nationally focused rather than on ‘what works’ and best practices for managers at organisation level – as per the APQC

    • However, it does have within its structure a separate Productivity Commission to help guide policymaking for national growth and productivity improvement – so maybe help for lower levels is forthcoming

2. Establish a National BSC – National Balanced Scorecard:

  • In the UK, public satisfaction with their government’s performance is only debated and tested at ‘general elections’ once every four or five years – it should not be so

  • A national set of performance measures is needed covering what the public want to know at any time

3. Promote widespread innovation:

  • For innovation, a Technology Strategy Board has been set up, funded but not controlled by the UK government – it alone chooses where and what to invest in e.g. high value manufacturing, cell therapy, satellite applications, offshore renewable energy, transport systems, future cities and the connected digital economy – and there is also a ‘Catapult programme’ ongoing where the government pumps money into leading academic research 

  • However, the UK needs to generate many more big ideas for innovation and productivity growth – at present, global patent filing is growing exponentially and most nations are in danger of being left far behind – last year alone, China filed well over 1.3m, the USA about 250k, Japan/ South Korea/ Germany/ Taiwan and Russia over 30k each, France over 10k and the UK a mere 6k

  •  An NIC – National Ideas Centre – should be established to trawl, assess and decide on anyone’s improvement ideas for any sector, with big prizes on offer to attract inputs from budding entrepreneurs – the NIC would need experienced people to sieve and rate those ideas plus a list of approved business angels, venture capitalists, private equity managers and the like to offer funding and support

  • However, patent filing is not enough – the UK has a great record for inventiveness but a poor record for taking commercial advantage of them:

    • Monoclonal antibodies, developed in the UK, are the basis of blockbuster cancer drugs such as herceptin and avastin but most profits from them are being made abroad by foreign producers

    • Computers were conceived by Charles Babbage, a Brit – the first working model was made by Alan Turing, another Brit, in WW2 – yet not one of the world’s top 15 IT companies is British

  • Hence, the NIC should also offer experienced mentors to entrepreneurs to help bring their ideas to markets 

  • For extra wisdom, each nation should make better use of its retired Silver Army:

    • Governments aren’t moving fast enough to produce workers with the skills needed to meet the productivity imperative, and businesses can’t afford to wait

    • That means companies must be much more innovative at sourcing talent, whether by tapping global labour markets, building part-time workforces or making better use of older workers

    • The wisdom of retired successful managers should be harnessed to promote growth, both at home and abroad, with them acting as advisors/ mentors for managers at all levels – they’d be unthreatening to those managers as they climb career ladders and so more likely to be listened to

    • N.B. The brain doesn’t shut down at age 70 – Archimedes, Da Vinci, Edison & Einstein were older and in their prime whilst famous leaders who were older and in power include Chou en Lai, Churchill, Deng Xiaoping and Mandela