Working ‘on’ the business not just in it

“Work on the business not just in it” – that was the key message that Sir Charlie Mayfield delivered as part of his keynote speech at The Productivity Institute’s inaugural business conference.

The former Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership said creating the space and finding the support to focus on this was key to unlocking both the vast economic potential from boosting productivity and the benefits that flowed from that for society in general.

Sir Charlie shared his experiences as Chair of Be the Business, a not-for-profit organisation established in 2017 designed to help UK firms improve their performance and productivity. Over the course of the last three years, Be the Business has worked directly with 11,000 companies whose leaders are accountable, committed but busy people. So busy in fact that they rarely have time to talk about their business to employers or mentors.

How to get from here to there

Sir Charlie Mayfield talked about leadership, tech adoption and urged business leaders and entrepreneurs to move beyond the analysis of the UK’s productivity problem, to finding and implementing practical solutions in their industry.

Accelerated digital technology caused by Covid has changed employer’s attitudes in both the private and public sector. According to Office for National Statistics data for the first quarter of 2021, UK investment in machinery and in information and communication technology rose 3.2% compared with the last quarter of 2019 — the last three-month period before the pandemic hit Britain.

Companies are now having to be more competitive in a digital market due to the pandemic in order to survive and keep growing. Therefore taking the time to ‘see’ opportunities is now more important for SMEs (small to medium enterprises). However these companies are the ones that often don’t have access to the support needed to realise these opportunities from universities and business schools in the UK – something that needs addressing as their impact could be significant.

The potential of smaller is also the reason why the CEO of Be the Business, Anthony Impey, says how frustrated he is by the term ‘SME’. It is used so often to classify a vast array of hugely varied businesses, and in doing so does every one of them a disservice.

Figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills showed that there are about six million SMEs, accounting for 16.8 million employees (or 61% of the total employment) and around half of turnover in the UK private sector.

Therefore the contribution that SMEs make to society, income and living standards is huge – which is why it is so important for universities and business schools in the UK to support them.

Be the Business have also completed what they believe to be the largest and most robust study of this audience, seeking to identify attitudinal and behavioural differences to explore how best to engage different groups outside and within these businesses. Be the Business has uncovered six distinct personalities that exhaustively describe different leader personas – find out which one you belong to through this link.

Get stuck in

The last message Sir Charlie Mayfield left us with was, “get stuck in.” The most complex and difficult issues businesses face are often those that require the most collaborative response. And if we don’t engage with that, taking advantage universities, colleges, entrepreneurs and mentors, we’ll all be poorer for it.

The full recording of Sir Charlie Mayfield’s keynote speech: Productivity in a post-pandemic UK – how to go from here to there? can be watched below.