Make the running now on UK competitiveness

We should not be pessimistic. Michael Porter’s assessment of UK
competitiveness was not as grim as some had feared and, as he says, industry
must build on past successes.

As befitting one of the world’s most admired management thinkers, Porter
delivered an impressive overview of the state of UK productivity and has given
government, business and economists much to think about (see page 3).

By pulling together the legacy of the past with the challenges of the
present, he has done the DTI and UK business a huge favour. He has outlined
what has to be done and brought a new focus to future action.

Raising the productivity stakes in line with the US, France and Germany will
be a long haul, but there is much in Porter’s study that HR can act on now.

He wants the private sector to drive the next phase of economic development.
His call for investment in innovation and labour force skills is music to the
ears. He wants business leaders to be in the thick of national competitiveness
initiatives, and he highlights the need for upgrading of skills among low to
middle managers.

Inevitably, Porter’s optimism cannot hide the depth of problems facing UK
manufacturing, but his remarks should provoke a practical response from the
DTI, and will certainly lead to yet more academic research.

But don’t wait for others to tell you what to do. In other dynamic
economies, it is business that has done all the running on competitiveness, not
their governments – we should do the same. And we should not assume that all
the answers lie in the US, Germany and France. They are not without their own
difficulties, as the feature on page 16 shows.

HR, as always, has a fundamental role to play in this. The Porter lecture
gives you the ammunition to lobby harder within the business for more progressive
people management practices, and to take the lead in designing and implementing
strategies that are hard for your competitors to copy.

While competitiveness and productivity are a hot topic, it is wise to
capitalise on it.

By Jane King

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