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‘Change in people and processes’ needed for productivity improvement

Speakers at The Productivity Journey conference at the University of East Anglia. (L-R) Simon Coward, director of Hethel Innovation; Peter McLaughlin of Cranfield University; Antony Howell, former chief operating officer at Hamlin and now chief executive at TradeBee; Jamie Thums, chief operating office at Lintott Control Systems; and Justin Coote of Rockwell Automation. Picture: Bethany Whymark

Speakers at The Productivity Journey conference at the University of East Anglia. (L-R) Simon Coward, director of Hethel Innovation; Peter McLaughlin of Cranfield University; Antony Howell, former chief operating officer at Hamlin and now chief executive at TradeBee; Jamie Thums, chief operating office at Lintott Control Systems; and Justin Coote of Rockwell Automation. Picture: Bethany Whymark

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Productivity improvement in East Anglia will require changes in organisational behaviour as much as mechanical processes, a conference has heard.

The Productivity Journey welcomed companies and people who have been “at the coal face” of productivity improvement and public sector leaders assisting businesses to be more productive.

Poor productivity is thought to have held back UK economic growth since the financial crisis, and addressing it to bring the country in line with its European neighbours continues to occupy businesses and academics.

Simon Coward, director of Hethel Engineering Centre, told the conference at the University of East Anglia (UEA) that it was time for productivity to be put “centre stage”.

Before coming to East Anglia he worked in chemical plants in the Midlands, focusing specifically on driving up productivity.

“It is very important that we identify the opportunities and exploit them,” he said.

“We have launched benchmarks, one of them with [US software company] Autodesk, so you can self-assess where you are on the productivity journey, where your gaps are and where you can achieve the greatest benefit from investing.

“But this has to be led from the top – it is very important that our leaders are on board.”

Patrick McLaughlin of Cranfield University said more attention should be paid to “organisational culture”.

“It is known about but not talked about. We ignore it in many companies and don’t try to understand it,” he said.

Jamie Thums, chief operating officer at Lintott Control Systems in Norwich, said he and his business partner had to completely overhaul the firm when they took it over in 2012.

He said continuous people development and strengthening the leadership were as critical to success and sustainability as its pioneering digital technologies.

“If you have a strategic narrative, good leaders and the ethics for people to work to you can do great things, and we know this because we are working with the same staff, they have been incredibly loyal,” he said.

Justin Coote, UK OEM sales team manager at global firm Rockwell Automation, said a main driver in the government’s industrial strategy – which Rockwell helped to inform – was “to have innovation not just in regard to product but in how we do business”.

The road to greater productivity

Antony Howell learned important lessons about leadership while spearheading a productivity improvement drive at a global manufacturer.

Before founding his home maintenance firm TradeBee Mr Howell was chief operating officer and president at Hamlin, one of the world’s biggest air bag sensor manufacturers with premises in Diss.

In shaking up the “traditional” working processes he created a new business engagement team, formalised factory processes and implemented more analytics – “pulse reporting” – across the business to assess performance.

He said both leaders and employees must believe in the changes which are being made for them to be successful.

“These types of change have to come from the top. You have to lead in that vision, go out to every employee and let them understand what part they play,” he said.

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