Unlocking the Productivity Puzzle

Career Innovation: Unlocking the productivity puzzle

Jonathan Winter, Founder of The Career Innovation Company, weighs in on the debate about UK productivity, and describes a new pilot using career development as a way to unlock talent, motivation and results.

Talk about UK productivity and people’s eyes will either glaze over, or they’ll have visions of inefficient car making in the 1980s – before ‘just in time’ dawned, and the robots took over.

It’s surprising then that the UK professional services sector has been identified as in need of a tonic. According to the Financial Times, law firms, accountancies and consultancies lie “at the heart of the UK’s productivity problem, explaining almost a quarter of the shortfall (in productivity growth) since 2008.”

Productivity is a slippery fish. Like many of the broad measures used by economists, when you try to define it in a universally comparable way it becomes less useful and arguably less meaningful for an individual business or sector. That makes it harder to understand and explain whether the UK’s shortfall is real, and to what extent. According to the OECD, our productivity gap has just been halved by changing the way working hours are measured[1]. But the gap remains.

Various explanations have been suggested. Be the Business, a government-funded initiative, has identified a whole host of factors, many of them relating to people-management.

“Regular performance reviews, target-setting, and engaging employees in identifying improvement opportunities (have) a transformative effect on business and productivity.”

These are obvious areas in which career development can help. It is the top reason why people leave or stay with an organisation.

Engaging people to prepare for the future

There are wider strategic reasons for an employer in search of productivity improvements to talk with people about their career. One managing partner commented: “We are rolling out new case management software, and we need our staff to engage fully with it, and to recognise the impact on their work.”

The challenge of any change – including new technology – is how to involve and motivate people. Introducing new technology impacts people’s work, requiring new behaviours, working practices and even new roles. Legal services are at the bleeding edge of this change – automation and AI are replacing humans in certain repetitive tasks: smart forms, document assembly and workflow, and modelling compliance with regulation like GDPR[2].

Innovation: Career development as a productivity tool

To better understand the impact of career development on productivity, we’re evaluating ‘Be Bold in your Career’, an online career development programme from The Career Innovation Company, in twelve UK professional services firms. This is supported by the UK government’s Business Basics Fund.

Employees join a structured online career development programme. At the same time their managers are supported to prepare for resulting conversations  – and actions –  around people’s current work and future career.

The programme is being carefully evaluated with the Institute of Employment Studies (IES) before potential scale-up as a tool for productivity.

Will people be more engaged? We’re confident of that. The Be Bold in your Career programme has already demonstrated impact on motivation and engagement. Will it help accelerate adoption of technology and organisational change? That is the additional purpose of this proof-of-concept programme.

The role of professional bodies

There is widespread concern that employers and employees are not responding quickly enough to change, including new technology. Today, membership organisations have both a responsibility and an opportunity. To help members identify how their careers will be shaped by rapid technological change, and provide a rallying cry – and support – for members  to consciously manage their careers:


  • Which areas will be superseded?
  • What freedoms will automation bring?
  • How can they futureproof their professional capabilities?

By investing in the career development of their members, professional bodies advance their profession.

The Career Innovation Company works with membership organisations worldwide, putting in place large-scale online support for professional and career development. Their flagship services www.careerinnovation.zone and Be Bold in your Career empower members to futureproof their careers and build their personal brand within their professional community.

For help on creating career strategies, online career development courses, tools and resources, please go to www.careerinnovation.com, or connect with us @careerinnovator or LinkedIn.

© The Career Innovation Company, 2019


[1] Financial Times, Dec 10th 2018.

[2] https://londonlawexpo.com/news/5-ways-knowledge-automation-can-benefit-your-firm/

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