The media often reports on how the UK lags behind a number of other countries with respect to productivity. The exact reasons for this would appear to be both varied and complex. There have been lots of suggestions from learned commentators regarding how to improve productivity. Some of these ideas have suggested that the government needs to invest more heavily in key infrastructure projects such as HS2, the road & rail networks and the creation of a third runway at a London airport. Others have concluded that improving broadband speeds, large scale adoption of the Internet of Things (IOT), Industry 4.0 and the embracing of latest technologies such as 3D printing and AI will help both SMEs and large scale multi-national organisations alike.

Whilst all of these factors have merit and may indeed improve productivity in some way I can’t help wonder whether some organisations are missing out on some of the easiest and potentially least expensive productivity gains that could be made. Indeed, I would go as far to suggest that some of these potential productivity gains are hiding in plain sight because in many organisations these opportunities go largely unnoticed because people and senior managers in particular are just too ‘busy’ focused on day to day activities and targets.

So, what are these potential gains and where are they hiding?

I am of course referring to the inefficiencies that lie in many of the processes operating within all organisations. To fully understand these potential productivity gains we first need to understand the relationship between two attributes that all organisations have in common whether they be from the public or private sector. The two attributes in question are people and processes.

People are often referred to as the major asset of any organisation but how many organisations can truly say that they fully utilise all of the skills and experience of the workforce at their disposal. People are engaged on a day to day basis in an organisation’s processes, as a result they get to know both the strengths and weaknesses of each process. In some cases they have even found ‘work arounds’ to make the parts of the process they are engaged in easier for them. These ‘work arounds’ can sometimes be very positive for an organisation albeit they are ad hoc, but they can also be negative because they may make another part of the process harder or worse still produce problems such as quality issues, health and safety concerns etc. As a result if we are to find a ‘standard way’ of operating each process which represents the fastest, safest, least expensive and most reliable way it makes sense to find a way of engaging with all staff so their ideas can be incorporated into the process where it makes sense to do so. This also encourages ‘buy in’ to the improved processes because their own ideas are being adopted.

It therefore also naturally follows that if we can get people working together across functional and departmental boundaries to optimise these processes we can then create a culture of team work and mutual understanding of each other’s needs. By making processes simpler to use and cognisant of what customer’s need out of these processes we minimise waste and optimise productivity.

So, how can Lean Leaders help?

If leaders can get their staff focused on removing the waste from their organisation’s processes by encouraging their staff to find smarter ways of working then sizeable gains could be made which will increase productivity.

Some of the most enlightened leaders realise that the many of the best ideas for improvements can come from within their own teams and they positively encourage this behaviour. It is after all part of a business leaders role to create teams working towards common goals and objectives. One of these objectives should be to create a culture where staff are encouraged to offer up improvement ideas routinely. If the ideas are deemed feasible to implement then the originator of the idea could also play a role in its adoption or implementation.

10 Tips for Lean Leaders to maximise Productivity

A leader can really help increase their organisation’s productivity by:-

  • Championing cross functional teamwork improvement initiatives and demanding the same from other senior managers
  • Holding regular performance reviews with their senior managers where continuous improvement is routinely discussed and measured
  • Making it part of their daily/weekly routine to talk to their staff to get a real understanding of the issues faced at all levels in their organisation
  • Making it known that continuous improvement is part of everyone role
  • Creating a ‘blame free’ culture where failure to make a success of every initiative is not seen as a negative but rather part of the learning experience
  • Providing the ‘time’ for cross functional improvement groups to meet to discuss and implement new ideas
  • Making a budget available to improvement teams
  • Giving their staff the necessary training on improvement tools to encourage continuous improvement activities
  • Ensuring success and knowledge are shared so best in class can operate across the organisation
  • Creating a kaizen culture where any improvement no matter how small is important. In other words a leader should encourage the philosophy of doing 1000 things 1% better, rather than 1 thing 1000% better.


There is often a lot of waste ‘hiding’ within processes which if reduced or totally removed can lead to major productivity gains. It seems to me that by using the skills and experience of the whole team to remove the inefficiencies in processes is an approach most organisations could use to help themselves unlock hidden productivity.

If you would like further information about how Leaders can create a culture of continuous improvement within their organisation please review our Lean Leadership course for full details.