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Ian Dodds Consulting’s (IDC) Monthly Best Practice: August 2015

By Ian Dodds – The Inclusion Builder

Delivering high productivity by developing engaging managers

Recently I attended an IPA conference about the productivity puzzle. We learned that Britain’s productivity gap with other G7 advanced economies has widened to its largest since 1992. The OECD has drawn a link between Britain’s poor productivity record and the squeeze on living standards over recent years. Its report into the UK says that “income and wealth are below the G7 average and real earnings have been exceptionally weak as they have continued to reflect poor productivity.” At the conference the various speakers emphasised the importance of engagement in raising productivity in organisations.

My experience is that high employee engagement is critical to deliver high productivity levels. I learned this over 35 years ago when I was appointed HR Director to a large chemicals factory in the North of England. This had an appalling productivity record and working with the managers to change this made little impact. It only changed when I persuaded the factory director that we needed to engage the whole of the workforce in making that the best factory in the Group. Five years later the Group’s CEO came to visit the factory to congratulate it on becoming one of the best and most productive factories in the Group worldwide. We achieved this remarkable success by developing engaging managers who enabled the employees’ voices to be heard and acted upon.

Engaging managers are critical to productivity and yet Ian Dodds Consulting’s research on management behaviour has demonstrated consistently that engagement skills are the ones they are often least good at: listening to people; empowering them; helping them identify their talents and develop them. I contend that the principal factor which is generating uncompetitive international levels of productivity in the UK is a low managerial capability in engagement. So how do organisations change this? Well, regarding the factory described above, we:

  1. Developed a vision of success for the factory in 5 years’ time, involving high levels of productivity, and communicated this across the factory. Furthermore, we asked each manager and team leader to ask their teams what will kelp and what will hinder us from delivering this vision. These views had to be recorded on flip charts and fed back to the Executive Team which took these into account in developing a strategy for delivering the vision.

  2. The strategy required managers to be good at consulting their teams about improvements that could be made to the way things were done on the factory. The methodology we developed for this is powerful and highly practical. It was based on research carried out by Terry Morgan and Neil Rackham which has shown that any conversation can be categorised into around 15 different interactive behaviours. These fall into 2 types, which are concerned with ‘advocacy’, e.g. giving information, making suggestions, summarising, etc, and ‘enquiry’, e.g. seeking information, seeking suggestions, checking understanding, etc. It is the ‘enquiry’ behaviours which managers almost always need to develop to interact more effectively and enhance their teams’ problem solving capability by: listening to others; exploring differing points of view; checking understanding; building on suggestions; etc.

  3. We also trained all of the managers to empower people by:

    • Ensuring people were clear about the responsibilities and accountabilities delegated to them;

    • Ensuring they had the information they needed to deliver on them;

    • Coaching them to be competent to deliver;

    • Giving them feedback, both positive and negative, on how they were performing.

This is a process I have used successfully in many different organisations to develop engaging managers to release the power of employee voice and, as a result, generate high levels of productivity. Please get in touch with me if you would like to discuss how you could adopt this approach in your organisation to deliver high productivity.

Dr Ian Dodds, 29 July 2015





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