Productivity is a key driver of economic growth and can also encourage innovation, create employment opportunities and enhance educational attainment. However, productivity is proving to be notoriously hard to improve. Since 2010, productivity growth has slowed across the UK, despite it being a challenge that’s influenced several political agendas for many years.
As the UK struggles with a crippling cost of living crisis and skills shortages across various sectors, it is more vital than ever to use agility to boost productivity across the public sector.
We recently published the Making Public Sector Productivity Practical report in partnership with The Productivity Institute in a bid to find practical ways to accelerate productivity and create a pathway to improve efficiency and opportunities for all. The report identified three key drivers of productivity:
- adaptive business design
- digital transformation
- agile workforce
Embedding agile ways of working
Agility has grown in profile considerably over the last few years. Although its origins are hotly disputed, there is broad consensus that it helps organisations to build adaptive capabilities that addresses client needs and maximises benefits, while minimising operational waste.
Amidst social, economic and political change, and the increasing expectations and needs of citizens, public sector organisations must look to build greater agility. Yet, many see agile as a prescriptive framework or approach, when in fact, there is no single answer or off-the-shelf solution to improving agility. No two organisations are the same.
Instead of seeking a precise framework, organisations need to focus on adopting agile ways of working and prioritise a pragmatic and solution agnostic approach. To do this, it’s crucial to analyse the factors that are stifling teams and preventing them from making progress. After validating the root-causes of these issues, the findings can be used to foster agile ways of working that are meaningful to employees. Importantly, these also need to be compatible with the organisation’s operating and governance systems. Taking this problem focused approach addresses the needs of the individual organisation and avoids the pitfalls of adopting a one-size-fits all solution.
Agility to address unique challenges
Local authority teams are rightly concerned about improving the quality of frontline services and employee working conditions. However, an IT team that is focused on digitalising recycling services, and a healthcare leader whose responsibility it is to improve access to vital healthcare services, will have completely different challenges. As it’s possible to continually adapt digital services, the IT team could form small agile Scrum teams with the skills they need to deliver iterative service improvements fortnightly, based on resident feedback.
On the other hand, improving delivery in a complex healthcare service would require a different approach and much more stakeholder engagement. Here, agile could be used to map the series of activities required to deliver the service, before pinpointing the bottlenecks that are stifling progress and affecting outcomes. Targeted interventions could follow, including critical chain theory, as well as other techniques to reduce backlogs and improve the flow of work.
Engaging the entire organisation
While leaders can use agile to shape and drive change initiatives in the early phases, it’s crucial that this is done collaboratively with stakeholders from across the organisation to foster an integrated approach. Failure to do this will prevent innovation, performance and productivity gains.
By bringing together those responsible for the delivery of outcomes, organisational siloes that inadvertently introduce waste and barriers to effective change can be dismantled. Improved engagement, empowerment and collaboration are critical to develop a strong agile culture. This must emerge from within and cannot be simply imposed from the outside. A workforce needs to understand the purpose and virtues of change to be fully motivated and engaged in it.
Agility is a powerful lever if you’re a leader who wants to improve productivity. However, before committing to an agile initiative, it’s important to carefully consider and shape the deployment so that it addresses the fully qualified needs of your organisation. You should select the tools, techniques and approaches that fit your unique environment. Doing do will help to foster the greater openness, collaboration and empowerment that is needed to gain the buy-in and motivation of your teams, and fuel sustainable change.
Learn more about the different approaches you can take to boost productivity within your organisation: