The Pro50: Our pick of the UK’s most productive companies
In the latest issue of Professional Manager we take a look at 50 thrilling examples of productivity in action and what makes the companies listed in the Pro50 so successfulMatt Scott
The story of British productivity has long made sorry reading. For years, our output per worker has lagged behind that of our economic rivals.
In September 2015, the Office for National Statistics reported that it was, shockingly, 20% below the G7 average. No wonder Chancellor George Osborne made productivity his top economic priority as soon as he was re-elected.
But, while the wider economy may be struggling, under the surface there is a thriving group of businesses that are taking productivity to the next level. Through a combination of inventive business structures, unique, innovative products and outstanding management, they’re showing the rest of British business how it should be done.
The Pro50 has been created to identify examples of highly productive UK companies. Compiled in partnership with information provider Jordans, we’ve focused on companies showing a consistent level of profitable growth, and where there is a notable level of output per employee. (See right.) Then, through profiles and interviews, we identify some of the management and business factors behind their success.
Productivity shows itself in many ways, and we don’t claim that this is a definitive list. Instead it’s a fascinating series of snapshots of productivity in action. There’s a particular spotlight on manufacturing and construction companies (18 of our list); agriculture and farming add a further four.
Creative, brand-led and technology companies also feature highly. Carnival Films and TV; Fever-Tree; The Leisure Pass Group; Pitch International and others are all lean teams building sustainable international brands. (For the purposes of this study, and because they often show intrinsically high turnover, we excluded financial, broking, wholesale and similar companies – that’s for another day.)
One notable thread running through the Pro50 list is inspirational leadership and a dedication to management best practice, all while maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit.
Professor John Van Reenen is the director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and Political Science; his research confirms a strong correlation between management and productivity.
“For a long time, economists have ignored management,” he says. “But we looked at core management practices... and found a very strong relationship [with productivity].”
There are steps you can take to boost productivity. Van Reenen advocates constantly monitoring performance and continuously improving it via feedback and long- and short-term incentives.
“These management practices are of the kind that lead to more output from what you are already using,” he says. “They don’t need a lot of money to be spent on new technology or expensive buildings. They’re about taking what you’ve got and using it efficiently.
“In principle, these are things that can be done in almost any company but, in practice, it is harder if people don’t have the right skills. You will be asking middle managers to do more, so, if they haven’t got the right skills or are poorly equipped, that makes it much harder.”
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Flexible working can also be productivity-enhancing. Van Reenen worked on a research project in China that found that letting call-centre employees work from home led to less absenteeism and boosted productivity.
Pro50 companies also excel in using advanced technologies to improve efficiency. G’s Fresh and Helix Well Ops have come up with inventions to help solve problems and increase productivity, while Schilling Robotics has improved its manufacturing techniques.
But technology alone is not enough.
“It is about using it efficiently,” says Van Reenen. “That requires managers and workers to work in new ways. If you don’t make these changes, you get very little benefit.”
Illustration by Charles Williams