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Agility leads to productivity; but only if you understand your people first.

The beginning of a new year often brings a fresh sense of hope, but you only have to watch the TV news or scroll online to see that hope and optimism are lacking in many parts of the public sector, including within the NHS and education.

The public sector has been grappling with a productivity problem for decades - it only increased by an average of 0.7% per year from 2010 to 2019 – and there is still limited understanding of how to improve it beyond attempting to do more with less. Resolving this in the context of industrial unrest, a demoralised workforce and cost of living crisis is no easy feat. 

Improved productivity is a key driver of economic growth; we need it to lift the UK out of recession and the workforce is vital to its success. 

To address the productivity challenge, we partnered with The Productivity Institute to find practical ways for public sector organisations to accelerate productivity and create a pathway to improve efficiency, opportunities and outcomes for all.

We discovered three key drivers of public sector productivity: 

The third driver - an agile workforce - is interesting because it relies so much on understanding the importance of the softer skills that are needed to improve outcomes. This is not about operating models or technology; it’s about people. At present, there is a perceived disconnect between government and public sector employees. Whereas, improving productivity can only be achieved when organisation leaders understand their people as deeply as the communities and citizens they serve.

Striking the right balance between hierarchy and flexibility, direction and autonomy can boost productivity and improve outcomes. 

How agile is your workforce?

An agile workforce is one that gets work done with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints. Not only is it more capable of adapting to change, but also tends to generate greater employee satisfaction and higher morale.

By building agility, organisations can become more responsive. An agile workforce has the capacity and resilience to reallocate resources and, in a crisis, with proper planning and flexibility, can adapt quickly by bringing in additional capacity. The NHS’ response to the coronavirus pandemic is an obvious example. The workforce was bolstered by civilians and retired health workers to help roll-out the vaccine programme effectively. 

Building an agile workforce requires leaders who can identify and acquire the skills they need in their teams. Ensuring that technology continues to improve outcomes and meet customer needs requires a mix of skills. While developing and optimising digital technologies required science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills, softer skills are key to truly understanding customer needs and their pain points. It’s also wrong to assume that the use of big data analytics and artificial intelligence only requires STEM skills, when in fact they need people who have the creativity and storytelling skills to see the bigger picture and understand what the data is telling them.

Soft skills, such as collaboration, creativity, adaptability, and conflict resolution are equally important in understanding customer needs and experiences, as well as being pivotal to driving continuous innovation. Where there is continuous innovation, there is also change, and an agile workforce needs to include people who can adapt to new ways of working and help shape them.

Why managerial talent matters

A 2022 study in Italy found that a ‘one standard deviation increase in managerial talent’ raises office productivity by 10% and that assigning better managers to the largest and most productive offices would increase output by at least 6.9%. Strikingly, this increase in effectiveness was primarily driven by the exit of older managers who retire. 

This could suggest that building an agile workforce to boost productivity requires digitally native managers who are adept at utilising new technologies and helping to drive innovation, combined with modern management methods of coaching and mentoring to drive success.

Managers are also key to prioritising and de-prioritising in equal measures to balance resources from less important bottlenecks and allocate them to key areas of improvement. Of course a hospital or prison cannot stop delivering their core services, but managers who can focus on outcomes, engage with staff and use the agility within the workforce to strive for continuous improvements can have a greater impact on productivity.

This is an approach we have taken with WithYouWithMe (WYWM), a social impact company founded by ex-military professionals. Together, we designed and delivered an innovative technology capability building programme for the Royal Lancers that could serve as a blueprint for how the British Army addresses its digital skills gap. This exercise helped the army to understand more about the potential of their teams and how they can boost their productivity and prepare for their future needs. 

By building agility into the way we work we can capitalise on our combined skills and experience and super-charge our support to public sector organisations to enable them to deliver more.

You can learn more about the different approaches you can take to boost productivity within your organisation by downloading our report.

 

Our experts have helped many organisations to enhance workforce agility and improve their productivity, performance and outcomes. It’s easy to access our services through the LGRP framework – Lot 3 HR Consultancy, visit here to find out more.

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Capita