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Wallow with the hippos
Print – Issue 172 | Article of the Week

Phil Dunk


Each month we will be sharing four, carefully-chosen articles from the Latest Issue of our flagship publication ‘theHRDIRECTOR’ which exemplify the high standards we strive to achieve. We hope you find this in-depth article of interest and decide to become one of our valued Subscribers.

The UK is locked in a productivity crisis. Growth has been flatlined over the past decade, to such an extent that we now lag behind rates achieved before the financial crisis in 2008 (ONS). Following the publication of ‘Data, Collaboration & Continuous Improvement’, it is clear that workplace collaborative creativity must be adopted to overcome the challenges stifling business ambition. 

Article by Phil Dunk, CEO – River

Since the global financial markets crashed in 2008, businesses in the UK have fallen victim to labour hoarding – the holding on to unproductive workers – and the consequence has been chronic employee inertia, whereby the productivity levels of unproductive employees are accepted within the business. This has caused a ripple effect throughout middle management teams, as unproductive workers find themselves promoted within a business, owing to their ability to follow a process – dampening productivity and deepening the labour hoarding crisis. Those leaders who have risen through the ranks, despite their uninspiring and process-driven management style, have been promoted into positions where they encourage others to follow those same productivity-stifling processes. So the crisis in productivity is a crisis of leadership – unproductive managers and senior leaders are propagating an environment of hierarchical disengagement – making business decisions that are not based on collaboration amongst teams throughout the business, but are instead informed by process and outdated data. The consequence is that businesses become victims of the HIPPO – highest paid person’s opinion – effect, hindering productivity and disengaging those individuals in the workplace that could otherwise be empowered to solve or influence business challenges. 

The end to the productivity crisis requires systemic changes to be made to the hierarchy and mindset of those leaders that perpetuate the cycle of poor productivity. Boosting productivity will require business leaders to create an environment conducive to team empowerment. Success is infectious once it begins to spread throughout a business. To cultivate success employees must be able to trust that they can make and action decisions in an open environment whereby they can collaborate on ideas. This collaboration will take on a creative flair once employees know that their collaborative efforts will not be stifled by management decisions from above. Managers and senior leaders should foster these creative contributions from autonomous teams and recognise and share their successes – when teams perform to their potential, everyone wins. 

“Businesses become victims of the HIPPO – highest paid person’s opinion effect – hindering productivity and disengaging those individuals in the workplace that could otherwise be empowered to solve or influence business challenges” 

In building an environment whereby a culture of collaborative creativity is the norm, employees will feel empowered to be creative in finding solutions to business challenges, boosting productivity in the process. This environment offers employees a new-found freedom to explore innovative ideas. Most importantly, it removes the risk of employees feeling afraid to fail, knowing that it is their merits, not their ability to follow process, that will ultimately see them succeed in the business. Fundamentally, creativity drives productivity, stifling this hinders business development. It is not enough to build an environment of creativity and collaboration unless everyone within the business steps forward and engages with their colleagues. This means that those at the top of an organisation need to come out from behind their desk and work amongst their teams. It is the job of the C-suite execs, and the members of the board, to be aware of the issues affecting the business – this cannot be done if they are locked in an office, protected by their receptionists. To be an effective leader, doors must be open and workplace environments must be free of hierarchal structures that inhibit business productivity.  

To escape the productivity crisis that has kept the UK shackled for a decade, leaders need to proactively understand what makes teams work effectively and have the humility to admit that even they can be wrong. Poor leadership from managers, and workplace environments that keep employees bound to process are exacerbating the UK’s productivity crisis. Those at the top of the business structure need to believe in their workers and let them demonstrate their value by allowing them to explore creative solutions to business challenges. Afterall, it is the team closest to the problem that is in the best position to solve it. Better informed leaders, and a culture of collaboration could be just the solution that drags the UK out of a productivity rut, allowing employees to feel valued and begin effecting positive change. 

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