Mark Williams: Employee alignment – overlooked in the battle against low productivity

Productivity remains a big headache in the UK, in large measure because companies neglect workforce alignment and operate more like parents towards small children rather than equals.

There is no doubt that productivity is a big problem. In July 2019 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced that UK productivity had fallen in the first three months of 2019, with output per employee dropping 0.2 per cent compared with the same period in 2018. This was the third consecutive quarter of decline and bookends an entire decade in which productivity has stagnated.

Globally, Gallup estimates $7 trillion in productivity is lost worldwide each year through poor employee engagement and workplace cultures that are turn-offs.

Alignment is overlooked

Much of the discussion around poor UK productivity tends to focus on the lack of investment in technology since the financial crash, and the continued uncertainty around Brexit.

Bizarre as it may seem however, many companies are failing to understand just how much they could benefit from a more optimised workforce. By investing in their employees, businesses are more likely to have an aligned and engaged workforce which in turn improves productivity and overall business outcomes.

But for this alignment to work both parties must bring something to the table. The problem however is that many firms still operate a more traditional parent-child model where the former dictates how work will be, while the latter has little to say in the matter.

Companies must understand each employee in an adult-to-adult relationship

For effective alignment, the company must capture the aspirations and personality of the employee, whose moral and personal values need to match the company’s. The alternative is to constantly suffer productivity-drag from a clash of outlook. At its worst it can lead to unrest as happened most spectacularly this year when employees at US online soft furnishings company Wayfair walked out over their employer’s sales to migrant detention centres.

Once the company understands each worker, this adult-to-adult relationship must be kept in place through continuing alignment so there is minimal friction.

Check-ins are a prerequisite

Advanced HR tools facilitate continued alignment between company and employee through regular one-to-one check-ins with line managers and provision of attractive options for skills upgrades, training and education.

Productivity is supercharged through an open discussion from the outset about what both sides expect of one another. In simple terms this can be about being happy at work and knowing that you and your work are valued to discussing any issues that may be impacting their work. More engaged employees make for more productive businesses. Gallup’s 2016 State of the American Workforce report found that engaged teams were 17 per cent more productive and experienced 41 per cent less absenteeism.

HR software is essential

But that alignment at the heart of effective engagement is hard for bosses and administrators to achieve – especially when motivation is about intrinsic rather than extrinsic factors (job satisfaction and creativity versus the chance to win a new car, for example). This is where HR technology comes in, because in a large organisation it is not possible to maximise alignment at scale without substantial additional resources.

Alignment gets workers into the flow

Alignment allows companies to get employees into the flow where they work at optimum efficiency and satisfaction. Almost all of us want a challenge to avoid boredom, but we don’t want to experience constant stress. How we achieve the balance and what we want from work will vary from employee to employee. The aim is for as many employees as possible to be in the flow, when work is interesting, time passes quickly, there are few distractions and we achieve the targets we are set. The key is not to spend more time at work, but to spend more time doing better work.

We can identify certain aspects of work in which staff become unproductive when they are not engaged, leading to higher absence rates, depleted product quality, more safety incidents, lower customer satisfaction and weakened profitability. Monitoring these is essential and will mean utilising analytics across business-related platforms, including HR software.

Insightful management plays its role in this, but so does the HR technology. Prompts from a personal digital assistant, for example, encourage employees to reflect on their day by answering a simple question. The employee can then add notes to offer some context to their answer, much like a daily diary entry.

It may seem like a chore, but it helps the employee understand what makes them tick and what acts as a barrier to productive work, which is something they can discuss with their manager during the regular check-in. Ultimately this knowledge feeds collaboration that allows the employee to spend more time in the flow, be happier and ultimately more productive.


Companies can boost productivity by taking their employees’ aspirations more seriously to achieve alignment. Check-ins is the key element here, fostering an adult-to-adult relationship based on a more level, negotiated relationship that takes personality into account along with the realities of the job market and the ambitions of the employee.

Businesses must avoid falling into the productivity gap by using all the tools available to ensure they have a workforce that is the most talented, engaged and fulfilled as possible.





Mark Williams is senior vice president of Product, People First.Mark is dedicating to re-humanising the workplace, feeding his passion to build enjoyable technology that actually helps people, inside and outside of work.
Mark has spoken at many industry events on topics spanning artificial intelligence, robots, chatbots and the future of work, and he is always keen to connect with enlightened leaders to continue the future of work discussion.