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Getting metrics wrong damages employee productivity

Managers and leaders need to engage employees to ensure businesses remain productive and competitive

Metrics are critical to engaging employees and upping productivity, but if the business is measuring the wrong things it will do more damage than good, agreed a recent panel at the Engage for Success Conference 2018: People at the Heart of Business.

“Businesses need to measure the right metrics or they will make things worse,” said Neil Carberry, MD of people and infrastructure at the CBI. “If sales managers are only targeted with measuring sales then they won’t care about other measures around employee engagement.”

"Businesses need a single version of the truth” to get the right data, explained Tony Danker, CEO of the Productivity Leadership Group. He highlighted a need to introduce shared assessments so that there is a “shared responsibility around metrics, and employee engagement is unlocked around common goals”.

Also speaking on the panel, Carol Black, principal at the University of Cambridge's Newnham College, agreed: “Data can be used to enable the workforce to feel part of the solution the business is looking to solve.”

Black went on to explain that giving employees more control can also increase productivity. Citing a time when she suggested changes to a train driver’s job, Black commented: “He said to me ‘I like what I do, so go away’, because I was suggesting changing things based on what I thought he would want, rather than giving him control and responsibility to change things himself.”

“Productivity stories all start with people engagement,” agreed Danker. “The most critical thing is to recognise that employees aren’t the problem with productivity but they do hold the solution.”

Danker pointed out that there is a “gap between personal productivity and corporate productivity” for many employees, with staff much more productive when it comes to their personal lives. There's an opportunity for businesses to bridge this, he said.

Giving this control to the workforce must begin with managers and leaders, to prevent tensions between an individual’s personal control and the control of their managers, the panel agreed.

“We need to equip middle managers and leaders with the capabilities and support they need to drive productivity in their teams,” said Black.

For Carberry this focus on management and leadership will require a shift for many HR functions. “Managers and leaders should be leading change in their teams. HR should support them rather than lead them,” he commented. “This is a big change for most organisations, where HR is used to taking the lead.”

The panel agreed that Brexit sharpens the need for UK businesses to boost their productivity. Companies will need to become more “match fit and compete better” after Brexit, commented Danker, and “employees must be part of this transformation”.