Lord Michael Bichard, crossbench life peer, recently delivered the first in a new series of lectures called the Aston Distinguished Address. The talk explored the subject of low workplace productivity in the UK. Prior to his talk he gave an an interview with Aston Business School summarising the arguments in his talk.


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Solving the UK's productivity puzzle

Lord Michael Bichard

Aston Distinguished Address - Lord Michael Bichard - Highlights

“Britain’s productivity has stagnated following the financial crisis and is now so far behind other advanced nations that is takes a British worker five days to produce what a German and French worker can do in four.”

With productivity only increasing by 0.1% in the last published quarter, Lord Bichard emphasised how this level of current performance threatens the UK’s ability to build a successful economy post Brexit.

He argues that the UK has failed to focus on measures that will improve productivity such as skills and lifelong learning, citing 43% of young people aged 17-23 do not believe that their education prepared them for the world of work.

The growth of an enterprise culture, academic research, business support and improving the quality of UK management and leadership are areas that require significant attention.

“One of the most important influences on productivity will always be the quality of management and leadership.”

What needs to be done to tackle this deep-rooted problem? Lord Bichard shared ten ideas for improving UK productivity:

Top ten tips for improving UK productivity

 1.  Taking clear accountability and responsibility
Lord Bichard notes; “It is quite difficult to identify just who is primarily responsible for delivering outcomes. At the same time, clear accountability enhances performance and productivity; therefore, we need to be clearer about individual roles and responsibilities."

2.   Having less misguided optimism
We must set and honestly monitor milestones so that any bad news is apparent and tackled quickly and adequately. Bichard comments; “There’s a sense of optimism which is corroding good leadership and good management.”

3.   Establishing a clear sense of purpose and direction
Staff members must be given shared ownership on where the company is going otherwise they won’t be bought into the vision and will be unclear of what success looks like for the overall organisation.

4.   Valuing and building creativity
Valuing and building creativity can be done by developing a climate where creativity can thrive which will lead to innovation and enhanced productivity. We need to be employing new people with new ideas and rewarding creativity.

5.   Avoiding the ‘silo mentality’ in business
Bichard says; “We’re all inclined to work in silos defined by our organisation’s structures, by our professional groupings or by the ways targets are expressed. What can help is if these were instead defined by the needs of clients and our desired outcomes."

6.   Realising and capitalising on the digital potential
Understanding the power of how digital will enhance our communications. We must identify the strategic possibilities and master the basics of web design.

7.   Being more self-critical of our output
“We have a tendency to over hype the successes, when instead, we must focus on being more self-critical and demanding of our services."

8.   Valuing the power of design
We are a nation that has produced some of the world’s greatest designers and must utilise design to reshape services around clients, integrate technology and enhance creativity. Design is not merely an aesthetic, it is a tool that can transform lives and productivity.

9.   Ensuring a greater emphasis on the development of talent
Developing talents through lifelong learning and training will continually enhance the value of our workforce.

10.  Equipping workers with the skills to improve personally
This will help workers adequately contribute to the overall performance and success 

Watch the Aston Distinguished Address talk in full:

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The Aston Distinguished Address with Lord Michael Bichard

Lord Michael Bichard delivered the first Aston Distinguished Address with a focus on the reasons behind and potential solutions to the UK's low productivity.

About Lord Michael Bichard? 

Lord Michael Bichard is a crossbench peer in the House of Lords. He has worked at senior levels in local government and was the chief executive at both Brent and Gloucestershire. Bichard worked in central government as chief executive of the Benefits Agency and then as permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Employment. He was the first speaker at the Aston Distinguished Address series in January 2020.

Lecture series 1 - Michael Bichard, Alec Cameron2

What is the Aston Distinguished Address?

The Aston Distinguished Address is an event series that sees some of the UK’s most influential business leaders deliver insightful and thought-provoking talks to an audience of West Midlands business leaders.

The events are designed to inspire and provoke through the discussion of critical business issues, as well as providing an opportunity for networking.

Aston University’s commitment to improving productivity

Aston University is committed to supporting efforts to improve productivity. Here are a few examples of our work:

Improving leadership and management
Aston is a pioneer in the development of degree apprenticeships. Companies can now access degree level qualifications for their staff using the apprenticeship levy. Businesses can even support their staff through our Executive MBA which has been aligned to the Senior Leader Degree Apprenticeship. Aston also offers customised leadership programmes and open programmes like the Aston Professional Managers Award.

Supporting SMEs
Aston’s Centre for Growth delivers a range of proven business growth programmes and support for SMEs looking to scale up their business.

Developing new business models
Aston’s Advanced Services Group is supporting manufacturers to transform their businesses through the adoption of advanced services.

Impactful research
At Aston we conduct research into business and management which can be applied by organisations.