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Productivity gaps are not just about skills but the failure of employers to ensure workforces are set up to succeed

While governments are often desperate to upskill workforces, in many cases these workforces are doomed to fail because they are not set up to succeed by their own employers

Engagement equals productivity success

Productivity. It’s the perennial problem for governments across the world – and especially in the United Kingdom.

Fix the foundations of our businesses, create a more prosperous economy and close the productivity gap between the UK and the US – this has been the mantra of many a British government, regardless of political leaning.

While the language is couched in many different terms, the overall plan tends to be the same: to nurture ‘a highly skilled workforce’. In the UK, the latest manifesto of this has been the introduction of a compulsory apprenticeship levy, requiring larger businesses to ‘invest in their own future’.

Too many employees in the UK are unable to use the skills they already have because of poor leadership and people management, inadequate work organisation and poor job design

The problem is that too many employees in the UK are unable to use the skills they already have because of poor leadership and people management, inadequate work organisation and poor job design. I am shocked that there aren’t more people leaders out there who believe this.

It seems that, while the Government is desperate to upskill our workforce, this very workforce, in many cases, is doomed to fail because it is not set up to succeed by its own employers.

Governments can only do so much when it comes to people strategy. They can incentivise employers to recruit staff; and they can put measures in place to upskill employees to make them more job-ready. Yet, it is ultimately up to employers to create roles, to recruit talented staff, to offer the right development for these individuals and to generate business success, growth and ultimately economic productivity.

It’s not about passing the buck – people directors have to take responsibility.

Let me give you an example. Back in 2013, when David McLeod and Nita Clarke (with government backing no less) formed Engage for Success and its employee engagement taskforce, the UK business press was buzzing with news of how employee engagement could lead to more productive, profitable people and business growth.

To me, this is a fundamental component of productivity. Skills can be taught, but engagement has to be felt and (sorry to burst the bubble if you disagree) engagement is more than an end in itself; it is more than having happy staff that like coming to work.

Engagement is based on talented employees, sharing a corporate vision, united in a company culture, prepared to go the extra mile for their business, who are empowered and enabled to innovate, create and delight customers and stakeholders.

A successful engagement strategy is based on more than moving up ‘best companies to work for’ rankings, or having increasing scores on an annual engagement survey. It should be at the very core of people strategy and all people initiatives should be linked to engagement.

Sometimes I think we people and HR professionals forget this and have come to believe that the growth and productivity prospects of our businesses lie with other departments, but it’s simple physics. Businesses can never be productive if people are not productive; people can never be productive if they are not genuinely engaged.

In the hospitality sector, we have to demonstrate excellent customer service to delight customers and keep them coming back to our hotels and restaurants. Bringing more customers into UK hotels not only bolsters tourism but encourages business trips, networking and conferencing. I believe for our economy to continue to compete on a world stage and increase productivity, it all goes back to motivated, talented and engaged employees. And, at the end of the day, that hinges on world-class HR.

Eugenio Pirri is VP HR and OD at Dorchester Collection and a member of The People Space Leadership Board

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