The puzzle of productivity: companies say leadership matters most

How can workplace productivity reach the next level? A new report from Fourfront Group with The United Workplace and WORKTECH Academy polled 120 organisations worldwide to explore key drivers of performance in the workforce

Since the 2008 financial crash, the global workplace has been trying to recover from a steep dip in productivity. Companies have searched for new ways to reboot employee performance.

There have been debates on how to define productivity and what are the right influences and measures to stimulate it. Despite this, progress in moving the dial on productivity has been patchy over the past decade, as employee performance is influenced by a complex web of physical, social and psychological factors.

Now a new report – The Puzzle of Productivity, which is launched this month at WORKTECH London – highlights quality of leadership as the defining factor in driving up performance in the global workplace.

The report is based on a short international study led by Fourfront Group and The United Workplace in partnership with WORKTECH Academy. The research involved analysing online questionnaire responses from 120 companies in the UK, USA, Australia, South America and UAE as well as via WORKTECH’s global network; a literature review of workplace productivity and performance; interviews with end user clients; and a discussion of the findings by international academic panel.



Inspiring leadership matters most

More than half of the survey named leadership as the most important factor in raising organisational performance. Less than a fifth of respondents named environment, technology or wellness as being the most important factor.

Asked to name the best way to motivate staff to improve performance, more than half of the survey voted for ‘inspiring leadership’, comfortably ahead of a ‘well designed workplace’ in second place with less than a fifth of the votes.

Organisations continue to define performance in terms that belong to the industrial era. More output/productivity and profit accounted for half of survey responses – softer business measures such as a satisfied workforce and client retention scored lower in the rankings.

But hard metrics to define performance at work are not matched by rewards for employees who raise their game. More organisations offer communication and praise to high performing employees than give financial incentives.

More planning on tech

Interestingly, evidence emerged on the survey of a mismatch between how highly the work environment is rated in terms of raising performance (second among the factors) and a lower state of preparedness among companies to implement changes in workplace design. Conversely, new technology scores lower as a general factor in raising productivity but there is evidence of more planning ahead to install tech upgrades.

The goal of the research was to obtained feedback from organisations on the frontline of change and use it to shape a constructive ongoing discussion about how to raise productivity. The report is the first step in a series that form a chain focusing on performance in the workplace and providing practical recommendations for organisations to implement.

Integrating key factors

A key message of The Puzzle of Productivity is that companies should do more to integrate the different factors that shape productivity, with greater collaboration between IT, HR and corporate real estate functions a priority. In particular, the fit between workplace design and leadership strategy should be closer.   

Aki Stamatis, chairman of Fourfront Group and The United Workplace, explains: ‘What’s clear from our research and the interviews is that whilst leadership is conclusively regarded as a dominant factor in raising performance, not enough attention is paid to it by those of us working within workplace. We need to allow leadership to forge a deeper understanding with workplace design because one cannot deliver what organisations need to improve their productivity without the other.”

WORKTECH Academy director Jeremy Myerson adds: ‘Leadership has to be integrated with other major drivers of productivity, such as environment, technology and wellness. To achieve that integration requires key decision makers in the market to adopt more holistic and joined-up thinking in workplace strategy. That’s why we’re setting up an annual Forum on Workplace Performance. But first we want to hear reactions to the Puzzle of Productivity. This is the opening shot in a debate that is set to run and run. We invite you to join the conversation.”


The Puzzle of Productivity report was launched at WORKTECH 18 and Workplace Week.