UK productivity gap – what could you do with 1.5 days extra a week?

As h2h launches a major new survey looking at the challenges first line managers face and how they could be supported to be more productive, founding director Susan Binnersley considers the impact of the productivity gap facing managers in the UK and what can be done to overcome it. To take part in the h2h Managers on the frontline survey, click here.

The UK productivity gap is well-documented. Recent figures have again shown our European cousins are proving to be far more productive with their time than we are in the UK – in some cases they could finish on a Thursday and still deliver more than we could in a full week. While I’ve seen some dreadful working habits on the continent and wouldn’t have any desire to work there, it still shows that the UK is missing out on major opportunities by failing to be as productive as we could be.

My own experience has shown that there is a real issue with productivity at management level – particularly among first line managers who are taking on a leadership role for the first time.

We run a range of leadership development programmes for managers and leaders in major corporates around the UK. At a recent training event with a leading food giant, time emerged as a clear concern for the managers we were working with. At the start I asked them to put that concern aside and helped them develop a range of tools, tasks and practical skills to help them in their role.

We then worked to create an action plan using this new toolkit for their role going forward. It was at this point I asked them to consider how much time these new skills and plans would save them. The average result across the business was a saving of 1.5 days a week for each manager.

I was staggered.

New managers don’t understand their leadership role
This incredible loss of productive time among first line managers is largely, I believe, down to the fact that most are poorly trained and simply don’t understand the new dimension of their job – which is management and not task.

Nobody has actually sat down with these new managers and said this is what you need to do when you walk in to the business tomorrow morning.

For example, in a manufacturing setting, new team leaders will be expected to manage a small team but will still be expected to work on the machines. In my experience, they rarely know what the content of their new role is and how they will be expected to spend their day.

The expectations of new managers are usually very poorly communicated. In one session I led, someone who’d accepted a manager role was told exactly what was expected of them and they instantly realised they didn’t want to lead. A lot of time was wasted.

This lack of communication and clear definition of what is expected means many new leaders are failing to manage their time and their team’s time effectively. As a result, productivity is hit.

Focus on your role as a manager
That new dimension of management is all about getting the best out of yourself and your team. All too often I see people returning to their old jobs and failing to effectively lead their team and I believe this is down to a lack of support and communication around what is expected of them.

With little idea of what to do, people slip back into what they’re comfortable with – the tasks they used to perform. Many will argue that by mucking in with their team they are leading by example. I’d argue this culture of getting involved in your team’s tasks needs scrapping.

In most instances your people will have developed their own way for tackling tasks and your involvement will only upset that process and/or make them think you don’t trust them to do the job. Your team doesn’t need to know you can do their job, they’re only interested in you doing your job properly.

This is why we have launched the survey to investigate the challenges facing first line managers and understand how every business in the UK can boost productivity by giving new leaders the tools, support and guidelines they need to help deliver growth.

With little or no support, new managers cannot effectively drive and make their team efficient. Crucially, they also won’t have the time to develop new ideas and find efficiencies.

How do we close the UK productivity gap?
So, what could you do with 1.5 days extra a week? If we develop the skills managers need, this extra time can be diverted to strategic and business planning objectives. It frees them up to focus more time on getting the absolute best out of their team.

Managers with more time can focus on medium-term planning, they can develop their external networks for identifying more opportunities for the business and they can really focus on how they can make processes more efficient and help deliver the overall company goals.

The result of this extra time is increased productivity, efficiency, engagement and profitability. Ultimately, it provides them with the space they need to get more clarity on their role and where it can add value to the business.

The benefits of this time will be different for all – but 1.5 days extra productivity out of nowhere has the potential to not only transform a business, but also dramatically grow our economy and close the dreaded UK productivity gap.

Please share your thoughts on the productivity gap and the experiences of managers by completing the h2h Managers on the Frontline Survey or by leaving a comment below.