Can PLG plug a big productivity gap?

Whilst investment, innovation, competition and luck all play a significant part in the performance of any organisation, public as well as private, it is its management that has the most influence

The same applies at national level with government ministers

And if managers and ministers, whatever their level, are to do their jobs well they must first be armed with good performance measures and then the knowhow to be able to change things when and where necessary

That said, one would expect there to be a multitude of suppliers addressing these fundamental management needs

Not so!

One struggles to find a good business school or management consultancy which offers specific advice on performance measures needed and ways to make big productivity improvements:

  • None focus on productivity per se yet the ultimate aim of all they offer is productivity improvement (some don’t even realise that) – it’s as if the word productivity was tainted by its original association with blue-collared workers and dirty fingers and so is not upmarket enough to interest academic minds or justify high fee rates – shame on them if so
  • Instead, the top boys address strategic rather than tactical issues – others specialise in separate functions such as marketing, production or IT – others say they offer a ‘one-stop’ service – all focus on latest management thinking (aka fads) – virtually all ignore the need to first measure ALL of an organisation’s key result areas and prioritise where action is sorely needed before deciding the action to take when – and they usually ignore simple, common sense and relatively cheap solutions, many of which their own crews have suggested, like cutting waste or new ways to make better use of existing resources
  • If that were not blinkered enough, most also focus their leading-edge wares on leading-edge companies, the top 20% in any sector who don’t wince at their fee rates, when it’s the other 80%, the laggards per sector, who have most need
  • Hence the gap between leaders and laggards widens and overall national productivity growth rates appear to be sclerotic


So where can managers and government ministers turn for good practical support given their training usually covers how to run things, not change things?

Libraries are full of business books but they’re either highly specialised or ‘dry as dust’ and so unread – ditto the internet – none look at organisations, and nations, ‘in the round’ and give a clear steer on where and how to act

National management organisations like the UK’s CBI (Confederation of British Industry) and IoD (Institute of Directors) offer no useful productivity pages on their websites despite their leaders forever emphasising the prime importance of productivity to the nation – their role is to represent managers, not teach them

Hence, at national level, most developed nations have a well-supported NPC (National Productivity Centre) to coordinate and push productivity improvement activities ‘across the board’ – they believe the likes of the APQC in the USA make a big difference – however, the UK government closed down its own UKPC some 40 years ago, clearly considering it to be a waste of money, and nothing well-known and well-supported has replaced it ever since

At international level, organisations like the UN, IMF, World Bank and OECD all offer splendid headlines and words about national productivity trends, gaps and causes but nothing of note for nitty-gritty practical support to individual nations or organisations

But hope is stirring

The UK recently set up a PLG (Productivity Leadership Group), a group of top business leaders, albeit no trade union leaders, consultants or academics, whose output so far has been:

  • An announcement that ‘if a lot (?) of companies do just a little better (?) then it could add £130bn to the UK economy’ – at least this total reflects the enormity of our claim that the UK wastes over £300bn EVERY YEAR
  • The launch of a movement Be The Business which they claim: “Will enable businesses to improve (?) their own operational processes and commercial excellence through benchmarking, collaboration, better leadership and talent management” – benchmarking and collaboration are difficult in the private sector and essential in the public sector so we wish them well – better leadership and talent management are but two components of management overall, the most important driver of productivity improvement, so again we wish them well
  • A claim that they will: “Inspire leaders with actionable insights that help businesses to set goals and measure progress, providing modern tools that enable businesses to work out how good they are compared to others and share best practice” – these are worthy goals and the PLG team will deserve many gongs if they realise significant success here but we suspect they may be offering unspecified measures and general solutions to organisations’ specific problems – hopefully, we’re wrong
  • A further claim that they will: “Enable businesses to confidentially analyse their own organisation for digital maturity, talent management, leadership and future planning – the four key drivers of productivity’ (they say) – and access webinars, case studies, examples of best practice and training options” – to do this well will be a massive exercise, taking years to become effective, so no significant national productivity improvement can be expected soon from this initiative
  • En passant, we have to admit thinking there’s seems more than a hint of the BEM (Business Excellence Model) in the above – and what happened to that?


At the end of the launch, Charlie Mayfield, the PLG chairman, described the whole venture as being: “Open, inclusive and all about inspiration”

So, given the national clout that Charlie and his chums have, we wish them well and eagerly await news of big productivity improvements which are clearly down to them

However, this may take time, years even

In the meantime, most UK managers and government ministers must continue to operate largely on their own

Only a few of them have access to the measures and knowhow they need – only a few know about the rare consultancies who could help them make big quantifiable productivity improvements (n.b. we’ve already reported on two with which we have no connection) – even fewer, dear reader, know about this humble website but then, it’s early days for us too




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