Recent research from the Bank of England into UK labour productivity shows that, before the economic crisis, the UK had the highest productivity growth in western Europe (and the US) at 2.4%. However, during the supposed 'recovery period' of 2009-2011, this productivity figure dropped to 0.5% -- below that of several of its main economic peers, including Spain and Italy.
Not surprising then that efficiency and productivity are two words that are being used more than ever before in the boardrooms of public and private organisations up and down the country as the UK looks to climb out of a double dip recession.
But whilst wanting to 'do more with less' is a noble business strategy, it sadly seems to be an idea that is often talked about, but perhaps not so often implemented as effectively as it could be. So, while efficiency and productivity may be overused phrases, they are frequently concepts that often don't translate effectively from theory to practice and are far too often simply interpreted as redundancies or job cuts.
The true definition of efficiency is getting the most out of the resources available and therefore more often than not, the key to efficiency really lies in optimisation: taking what you have and making it work smarter, and with less waste, to ultimately generate more output.
With the largest proportion of any organisational expense being its workforce, starting with this area is where an efficiency strategy can often have the maximum impact. Considering the technology available now, it is confusing as to why many organisations don't take advantage of what is available to them to optimise their workforce.
But what does it mean in reality once the efficiency orders have come from above?
Take an energy company as an example; it has thousands of engineers, visiting multiple customers each day, all with different jobs to be carried out and in different locations. At a simple level, each engineer needs to be at the right appointment at the right time. But with the right systems in place, this can be transformed to become a far more sophisticated process. One where each engineer's shift can be scheduled to ensure the right engineer is not only in the correct location with the right equipment and knowledge and at the right time, but that his or her appointments are planned to minimise mileage and enable more appointments to be completed per day and more appointments that are resolved first time.
For the customer, it means the engineer that arrives will understand the problem, have the skillset to fix it and will also have all the equipment required. The engineer will not waste time with having to return to jobs and will be able to complete more jobs in a single day. Those companies taking advantage of an efficiency drive will also benefit customer service through integrating SMS messaging into their systems to alert the customer that they are en route, meaning an end to morning and afternoon appointments which infuriate customers with their vagueness.
The UK lags behind the western world when it comes to technology. There is so much more that we could be doing to improve the economic outlook, but paying lip-service to efficiency is not going to have any affect, other than to put people in fear of their jobs. It is time that Britain re-examined its efficiency goals to truly understand what it can mean and the true impact it can make in practice on the ground. If we create slicker businesses, there is no reason that we can't leave these economic woes behind.