A new campaign has launched to turn around the UK’s flagging fortunes in the productivity leagues. Unveiled on 11 July, Be the Business is brainchild of the Productivity Leadership Group (PLG) – a think tank comprised of bosses from some of the UK’s most productive firms.

In a statement, Be the Business warns that the UK “suffers from a serious and long-standing productivity gap, currently standing around 35% behind Germany, 30% behind the US and 9% behind Italy”.

Central to the campaign’s efforts is a benchmarking tool that “will allow business leaders to create their own personalised dashboard and confidentially analyse their own organisation for digital maturity, talent management, leadership and future planning – the four key drivers of productivity”.

Sir Charlie Mayfield – head of Be the Business and chairman of the John Lewis Partnership – says: “We are changing the pitch and the tone of the language that most often accompanies ‘productivity’. This has to move from being the preserve of economists to entrepreneurs. That’s why this is a movement, not a programme. It’s a long-term mission for everyone who wants to be the business. It’s open, inclusive and all about aspiration.”

With all this in mind, what are the fundamental interpersonal and strategic approaches that bosses can take to embed the ingredients for productivity into their organisations?

The Institute of Leadership and Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “The key to improving productivity – which is often defined as going the extra mile – is engagement, which means that people must care about what they do at work. The way you lead people towards that outlook is to care about them; to understand what motivates them, what encourages them and to appreciate whole individuals, not just see them as pieceworkers. So the wellbeing agenda must be hugely significant here – and work-life balance, too. We will also benefit from equity, in terms of rewarding people financially and non-financially, and fairly, for the contributions they make.

She explains: “in our own research, the Institute has found consistently that people really value autonomy over their working day, and in exchange are likely to give more loyalty and commitment to the organisation that allows or encourages such autonomy. We also find that authentic leadership – being able to trust your leader – is so important in terms of engagement. How can you be engaged if your own line manager, or the leadership team that you’re closest to, are not?

“When you come to work there must be an element of fun and enjoyment. Part of the responsibility of leadership is to ensure that their employees have a meaningful experience – inasmuch as they understand that they’re making a contribution to something bigger – but also it’s an enjoyable experience. And employees must know that they’re entitled to enjoy their work.”

Cooper adds: “Productivity is a marginal excess of effort. But what is almost impossible to measure is any discretionary under-effort on the part of employees, which normally stems from a misunderstanding or lack of curiosity about why one is being expected to do something. What I’m talking about here is the whole problem of employees not being able to see themselves as part of the wider organisation, and understanding that everyone’s actions can contribute to goals. That really damages productivity, because it erodes the top-end effort margin.

“Staff have to understand what you are trying to do. So you must recruit and develop people who will understand what your mission is, believe in it and want to make it happen. If there’s a lack of belief in what you’re doing, or within the leadership team, then you’re not going to get an improvement in either engagement or productivity.”

For thoughts on inspiring your staff, check out these resources from the Institute