Four business leaders share their expert advice on how to boost productivity

Whether UK businesses see the decision of the British public to leave the EU as an opportunity or a disaster, one thing that is guaranteed over the next two years is uncertainty. Until a deal is finalised and the repercussions (good and bad) of Brexit are known, businesses both big and small will face a period of uneasiness.

In this environment, it is more important than ever to focus on the basics – how to operate efficiently and find ways to increase your organisation’s productivity. Here, we speak to business experts who share their advice on how to achieve this.
1. Understand your business and use that knowledge
“It is incredibly important to understand your niche,” says Alan Jones, founder and chairman of Mustard Advisers, which focuses on supporting high-growth companies. “You can’t be all things to all customers, so understand why people deal with you. If you know this, you can keep the important cogs in the machine and cut waste elsewhere.”
It’s important that all parts of a business – from sales to procurement to engineering – has a clear understanding of an organisation’s key processes. “It’s vital that your processes are clear, polished and easily transferable for new starters,” says Jones. “Knowing your product or service, knowing how it can help your customers, and being aware of how your business interacts with stakeholders is very important.”
2. Know your ideal customer
Many organisations find that their productivity suffers due to poor clients. “We call them D-class clients,” says Alan Jones. “They often tend to have the same characteristics; they’re poor payers and they take up a lot of time, which leads to over-servicing and most importantly – they drain energy. It’s harder to service them and often results in little reward.
“An accountancy firm we work with prides itself on efficiency, yet it can only achieve if its clients provide all the necessary information promptly. The business promises to produce accounts within 30 days of receiving them, and to ensure this high level of service the company is upfront with new clients, providing them with everything they need and within the timeframe that they need it.
“Clients that agree to this are A-class clients, who work in partnership with a business, allowing them to produce a high-quality service in rapid time, enhancing their reputation.”
3. Set clear expectations for your team
A key element of productivity is ensuring that all parts of an organisation are working efficiently towards an overall strategy. As research by RS has shown, for example, most organisations can make significant savings in MRO procurement by aligning several departments (not just procurement) to work together.
“Even if you have carefully selected a trusted team to work autonomously, people tend to work best when they know what’s expected of them,” says Douglas Haig, MD of Seraph Property Management. “Sales people need clear targets and to know what happens if they haven’t hit them. Administrators need to know what their priorities are, and everyone needs to know when tasks are expected to be completed by.
“By giving your employees a clear understanding of where the organisation will be when targets are met or lost, without confining people to a tiny box, allows them to be comfortable with what they are supposed to achieve. Staff will then prioritise their own workloads and find the best way they can to meet objectives.”
"If you really want to improve productivity, you need to look at your processes"Mike Bourne, Professor of Business Performance, Cranfield School of Management
4. Trim your processes
“If you really want to improve productivity, you need to look at your processes,” states Mike Bourne, professor of business performance at Cranfield School of Management. “There is always fat that can be trimmed off, particularly where you have multiple sign-offs from a variety of departments – which causes delays and can incur unnecessary costs.
“I’ve worked with two types of different mortgage centres; the first was set up so that departments sat close to each other and discussed cases as they came up and made autonomous decisions,” he says. “The second had departments that sat in silos and used an overcomplicated system to pass documents back and forth.
“Not surprisingly, productivity in the first company was two to three times higher than that of the second company, simply because they worked in a more productive way and didn’t stick to a set of ‘standard processes’, which often aren’t necessary.
5. Have the awkward conversations
“Possibly the most important piece of advice I can give to a business is to have the awkward and difficult conversations as often as possible,” says Gareth Jones, CEO of the Welsh Innovation Centre of Enterprise (ICE). “Many organisations are afraid to look at their weaknesses, but this is the key to growth.”
Jones believes that increased productivity comes from identifying what isn’t working in an organisation and taking steps to change this. Get your team together and without fear, draw a list of as many problems and weaknesses with your business as you can,” he explains. “Work through the list, learning and adapting as you can. A business that can do that, and remain motivated and confident will be more productive in the long run.”