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Emma O'Connor


Last Thursday, the Employment Group held its first HR Conference of 2019 focusing on “unlocking productivity”. Emma O’Connor, Head of Training, shares her thoughts on what we learned and shared during the day and what takeaways you can share to unlock productivity in your own businesses.

Unlocking productivity was the topic under discussion for our Employment Group at the Madejski Stadium, Reading last Thursday.  Our invited audience heard statistics that on average, UK workers are working longer hours than their European counterparts which equates to roughly an additional 2.5 weeks’ work per year.  With these statistics as the back drop, how can we unlock productivity?

turning up productivity dial with hand

Recruitment and On boarding

The aim of the Conference was to encourage us to look within our own businesses and ask whether there are tools already at our disposal to unlock productivity? We began the discussion with myself and my colleague Andy Whiteaker, focusing on shaking up our recruitment and on boarding processes to help us get our new recruits more productive quicker.  With recruitment, we discussed the costs involved in the recruitment process – not just the obvious costs of agency fees – but lost management time, training time as well as lost opportunity costs.  I proposed simple changes like providing interviewing managers with an organisation “crib sheet”, not just a pro forma question sheet but with information that they should impart about your organisation – charity work, organisational structure and opportunity to be promoted – as a simple way to engage with candidates.  I also focused on our internal talent and asked whether organisations had an internal mobility strategy and what were the benefits of encouraging internal candidates to apply for roles and of having such a strategy in place. 

Andy developed the discussion to look at on boarding.  With a longer process being encouraged by many HR commentators, is the 3 month process outdated?  He also illustrated how orientation and on boarding were different. We also heard statistics that those organisations with a developed on boarding process retain their new recruits for longer. Andy also discussed how engaging with new recruits before day one can also have benefits as well as welcoming new recruits with excitement.

Finally, Andy discussed the “boomerang effect” and how attitudes to former employees returning to their old employer within the HR community are changing. 

We also discussed how training, especially manager training can increase knowledge and engagement, allowing this to be cascaded downwards to teams and wider employee populations. 

Changing the Productivity Mind-set

Our first invited speaker, Hannah Barker of Thames Water, shared her experiences of leading teams on new product, productivity and change programmes.  Hannah’s presentation was a fascinating discussion about what issues she had encountered whilst training to motivate teams, drive forward initiatives and develop projects.   Hannah’s focus was on how we must: 

  • excite our people – encouraging communication and individuals connecting with each other; 
  • encourage our managers to move away from their fixed mind-set, and
  • refocus our executives and senior leaders to become more “hands on” and engaged within the business.

Hannah discussed projects she had been involved with and how barriers to productivity were broken down by mixing project teams together, getting more collaboration within the business, helping those in other teams to understand issues and work through solutions in a collaborative way.  Another example, was a project where Hannah had shown visually to managers how many different areas of the business were involved in a process and how it could be simplified thus making it more productive – how could this help your business processes be more productive? 

Oh and don’t forget to say “thank you”!

Life Cycle of a Team

Does a team and our relationships within it develop and move through productivity cycles like a human? An interesting concept but one that was discussed with great enthusiasm by Marlies Butterworth of Spark Unlimited.  Do teams develop and grow through infancy to maturity, from being helped and encouraged to being mature and having independent thoughts and deeds.  How can we move through the team growth cycles? Marlies shared with us that most teams stay in infancy or “orientation” phase, rarely moving to self-managing.

We also discussed how we can misinterpret actions and how we confuse observable team behaviours with our own interpretations.  We did a really great exercise focusing on observable behaviours and how these differ to interpretative ones. 

Our takeaways were being patient and that if a team is going to grow and be more productive, we need to allow people to try new things – and make mistakes.  Marlies gave a useful shoe tying analogy which we could all relate to!  

We also learned that sometimes things we might think of as being “unproductive” were in fact “productive” activities. Taking time as leaders to get to know our people, simple 1:1s or chats around the coffee machine were useful ways to check-in, to make our people feel more engaged, valued and in turn productive.

My thanks to both Marlies and Hannah for their insights and sharing their knowledge.  

Learning from each other

Our HR Conference was also a great way for us all to learn from different sectors – technology, leisure and hospitality, retail, food, research and development – about what they are doing to be more productive and how we can incorporate such changes in our own businesses and sectors.

Where next in our discussion?

What we did learn was that encouraging and engaging our people, getting them to be more productive is complicated and encompasses a number of different themes and facets.  You will continue to see information about our programme of events and articles about productivity and engaging our people throughout 2019 (and beyond!).  Our next event in the theme of productivity is a webinar on 18 July focusing on how time and attendance impacts on people productivity. Book your place here.

Our next HR Conference – Achieving Sustainable Workplace Productivity – develops these core themes and asks how we can develop our strategies to avoid the peaks and troughs of performance? This Conference will have a particular focus on sleep and productivity – a fascinating discussion and development of our wellbeing initiatives.  Again, booking for our Conferences are oversubscribed so do book early here.  

Any questions about training, development and support for our “accidental managers”, or for more information about our Conferences or training events please contact me, Emma O’Connor [email protected].

I look forward to engaging with you all soon! 

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.


Get in touch

If you have any questions relating to this article or have any employment issues you would like to discuss, please contact the Employment team on [email protected]

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