Climbing the stairs

'Levelling up How to foster a more productive work culture' - Iain Moffat FIoD, Chief Delivery Officer, MHR International

‘Levelling up’ continues to be the buzzword of the news agenda and, almost a decade-long in its plans, the new UK policy is set to transform the UK. Looking to bridge productivity gaps between regions and social groups, this ambitious programme will aim to spread more opportunities equally for everyone across the UK to prosper.

While it won’t be until 2030 when these plans are fully realised, and after a two-year-long pandemic, UK businesses continue to feel the productivity dip. Even though revised OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) figures suggest the productivity gap with other leading nations is smaller than once thought, estimates still indicate the UK is 15 per cent behind the US and France. So, business leaders need to look at how they can create a more inclusive and collaborative culture in the workplace that will drive productivity upwards and unleash a new lease of life for employees.

To do this, businesses need to be extracting value from all their resources, and this is no different when it comes to their people – arguably the most valuable assets of any organisation. All too often, however, businesses know little of their employees’ capabilities, as they lack meaningful HR data strategies. Even if HR departments do collect data for reporting, they struggle to extract insights or share them in a form the wider business can use.

At the same time, many organisations have so neglected soft skills, undoubtedly at the hands of forced remote working early in the pandemic. Effective communication, creative thinking, teamwork, problem-solving, and solution mindset are key skills any leadership team should have, but without them, they’ll lack a truly collaborative culture unable to maximise the full talents of their workforce at all levels.

Companies need effective HR data that supports the business strategy

What businesses need is an HR data strategy aligned from the outset to the business strategy, creating meaningful insights for business leaders. A defined data strategy ensures insights flow up and down the organisation, turning able employees into their own teams’ analysts –  to make decision-making faster and more effective. At the boardroom level, an effective data strategy gives the leadership near-real-time information about how employee behaviour, performance, attitudes and capabilities are affecting the business now and in the future.

In the UK and Ireland, however, most businesses are still operating without the necessary workforce. Research by MHR in the two countries found 86 per cent of organisations fail to use HR data insights to inform their crucial strategic objectives. Only 50 per cent of HR departments share their data with finance and senior leadership teams. Among the organisations surveyed, only 15 per cent of HR departments report on absence, despite its high cost to any business.

Spreadsheets remain dominant in many organisations, eating up the time of skilled professionals. The research found more than 60 per cent of businesses rely on exporting HR information on overheads and performance into spreadsheets before they can use it.

Investment in analytics and a more engaging culture

It is easy to see how organisations would benefit from investment in more advanced analytical solutions that automate data collection and analysis to provide real-time reporting and detailed insights. In HR this includes many data points alongside performance metrics. Solutions will inform when key people are likely to retire, the emerging skills gaps that result, and where teams or individuals need additional support.

Organisations should have the technology to map the skills of their workforces more effectively and interactively, making it easier to fill vacancies or to select candidates for training and promotion with higher levels of success. If they have predictive capabilities in their people analytics, they can see who is most likely to leave, or anticipate events that could trigger an unwelcome exodus, enabling them to plan ahead and overcome such challenges to avoid further productivity pitfalls.

It’s not just about the data – you need to rev up the soft skills

Alongside the data should come a renewed emphasis on soft skills. Organisations need a vibrant and engaging culture that makes for better employee retention and higher productivity. But this will not happen by accident. Businesses need to be better at fostering soft skills and harnessing their impact. They need to have the right platforms and forums to stimulate more effective teamwork through better communication and the ability to listen and learn from peers and more junior employees. Work needs to be more inclusive and captivating.

To develop employees, HR needs to nurture their organisational abilities, reducing internal friction by increasing the conflict resolution capabilities of managers. Nobody should assume that a work ethic and common sense of purpose are a natural consequence of employment. These all must be actively inculcated.

A platform for training and soft skill development

Training and development have also become critical. Businesses need to use HR technology to ensure training opportunities are easily accessible – a key point for younger employees who arrive with the expectation they will acquire more skills. Companies that want to supercharge training should implement learning management systems that contain the full range of materials, including video, on one platform. Where necessary, this should be where employees start learning the soft skills they need to progress, boost collaboration and become more capable of sharing insights and positive lessons higher up the chain of command.

Of course, alongside the emphasis on human interaction, transparency, and workplace diversity, businesses still need to set targets and make demands of their employees. But if they know more about them and have invested time and effort in developing the organisation’s soft skills, they will be acting on insights and real knowledge, not guesswork, gut feeling or personal requirements.

In other words, while effective HR data must help power the boardroom’s business strategy, the development of soft skills will improve decision-making throughout the organisation, and most importantly, increase productivity.

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