A modern approach to people management – the UK Industrial Strategy and the Taylor Review

The recently published UK industrial strategy is undoubtedly ambitious in its aspirations: for the UK to become ‘the world’s most innovative economy’. It rightly recognises people as one of the five foundations for productivity, along with innovation, infrastructure, business environment and places. However, the white paper approaches each of the five pillars independently, instead of recognising their interdependence and in particular the importance of people in driving innovation within the business environment and their community.

Adjusting to new expectations

The role of the technological revolution in the British economy extends far beyond the tech industry and impacts all aspects of how we work, live and consume. Technology is not only responsible for changing the way we do things, but also for changing our perceptions and expectations. To continue to be relevant, businesses must understand both the changing aspirations of their workforce and of their customers.

The latest Mercer global talent trends study (2017) highlights that health and well-being are now bigger considerations for employees than wealth and career. Other motivations include the ability to grow and make a tangible contribution to the organisation they work in, as well as a sense of belonging, drawn from the cultural values demonstrated by the organisation. To last, the relationship between employer and employee must bring mutual benefits. It is all the more important to get it right when there are skills shortages and strong competition for talent.

Skills training is not enough

According to the 2015 CBI UK survey of business leaders and HR directors, training and development opportunities are the third biggest drivers of employee engagement, after personal interest in the work and ability to progress. Employee engagement is a key factor in addressing the productivity gap, and was highlighted by Matthew Taylor at our event in November 2017 when he said that ‘organisations that engage their employees are more productive, more successful organisations’. He feels that encouraging companies to adopt best practice employee engagement will result in positive outcomes for workers and companies alike.

However, recent policy announcements appear to equate ‘good jobs and greater earning power’ with technical skills training and retraining programmes in STEM (science, technology engineering and mathematics). Although we recognise that the Industrial Strategy was focusing on this industry sector and responding to its well documented skills shortage, it misses the opportunity to open the debate to the business environment as a whole. If companies facilitate and nurture their people’s desire and capability to develop in-demand skills, the companies will remain relevant in their sector and make the most of new technological advances.

To reach their potential, businesses must:

  • have a clear people strategy that identifies the skills that they need now and in the future, how they can be developed, and who in the organisation is most suited for the task;
  • have a growth mindset ie cultivate a culture where development is encouraged as well as valued, and where staff can create as well as take advantage of learning opportunities; and 
  • develop and execute pro-active management practices to ensure employee engagement, commitment and motivation.

Without it, businesses cannot innovate and effectively respond to change.

Development as a measure of job quality and success

The need for everyone to benefit from the technological revolutions is acknowledged in the paper’s section referring to the Taylor Review but the white paper goes no further than offering a commitment to developing ‘a set of measures against which to assess job quality and success’. It is to be hoped that in its response to the Taylor Review the government goes further and takes the opportunity to broaden its people agenda and champion people management practices that enable flexibility, give workers a voice and promote an environment where doing the right thing pays off for businesses.

People development should become as a key measure of ‘employee participation, progression and satisfaction’. The government should ensure that the criteria to access financial incentives for training and retraining don’t simply focus on skills, but on what organisations need to build a culture where staff are empowered to take ownership of their learning and are supported in acquiring what the business needs to succeed.

Not only would this support Matthew Taylor’s objective of a fair and decent workplace but it would have a wider reaching impact on productivity.