Link theory and practice to boost competitiveness

The Advanced Institute for Management should be locked firmly on your
corporate radar as it takes on board strategy guru Michael Porter’s
recommendations and searches for ways to boost the UK’s future productivity.
Ben Willmott reports

Many business people have never heard of Professor Anne Huff – which is
surprising considering the potential impact her organisation could have on the
UK’s future competitiveness.

Huff runs the Advanced Institute for Management, which will assess US
management guru Michael Porter’s report on Britain’s productivity and decide
which of his findings shall be analysed and translated into digestible guidance
for employers.

She was impressed by the initial findings of Porter’s report, but stressed
that it will only provide a starting point for much more detailed research
aimed at linking theory and practice.

AIM was set up last year to carry out quality research into how management
can improve organisational performance, but just as importantly, to produce
tangible and pragmatic conclusions that business leaders can understand and

Huff agreed with Porter’s assessment that UK plc will have to become more
innovative as its traditional competitive advantage of providing cheap labour
is lost to developing countries.

"A strategy that has worked well in the past, in a European context for
the UK, has been providing cheap labour. This has run its course with the
increasing strength of developing economies, such as India," she said.

The growing number of companies outsourcing services to India or moving
manufacturing plants to Eastern Europe – such as Dyson, for example –
illustrates the challenges UK employers face, said Huff.

AIM is currently appointing a team of research fellows, who will work
closely with the DTI and employers on specific research projects to help
identify new ways of increasing competitiveness in this changing global

These will be centred around the three themes of sustained innovation,
productivity/performance, and adapting promising practice.

Huff said that although many UK companies are good at innovation, they are
not so good at developing and marketing new products, and the profits are often
made in other countries.

"We need to answer the question of how you can be a continually
innovative company that also meets the other pressures of competition,"
she said.

In terms of performance and productivity, Huff believes organisations must
encourage and enable individuals at all levels to work more productively, by
giving them freedom to put ideas forward and into practice.

"Companies have their research and development labs, but they have to
go further. They have to capture ideas from throughout the organisation,"
she said.

"Managers and individual workers have to recognise this, and think
about what they can do to innovate to be more productive."

Huff said the area of adapting promising practices will provide the final
basis for research. This element is about helping employers identify examples
of best practice, which can be adapted to meet the specific demands of their

"We know that what is recognised as best practice for some
organisations, does not fit everyone," said Huff. "We want to try to
help establish what is the applicability of best practice in one place to

Huff said when organisations do adopt new best practice policies, it is
important that they stick with them and allow them time to work.

AIM is jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, and the
Engineering and Physical Science Research Council. Huff hopes the research will
help to improve the quality of management data.

She said: "Management is quite a young science, and the quality of the
research effort is often lacking. One reason that AIM exists is to help create
the research skills needed in this community."

Huff said new growth in the UK will be based on the next scientific
developments, but only if a proper link is developed between business and innovation.

"AIM is trying to help science reach society, and management is a big
part of that story.

"It is possible to do astonishing things with miniaturisation these
days, but how quickly these developments will affect your life has a lot to do
with organisations and how they are managed.

"The science now exists to put a small box on the desk of a Boots
pharmacist that can manufacture toothpaste – which is currently made in huge

"We want to help provide a smoother link between innovation and

To try to achieve this link, AIM researchers will work together with
business and the DTI’s innovation unit through management forums, and an
internet portal allowing people to access and share information.

There will also be networks established for specific research projects,
which include representatives from research fellows, management and government.

Huff said that once the various research initiatives are up and running, she
would be interested in hearing feedback from the HR profession on particular

Personnel Today will be following AIM’s work, and will highlight
opportunities for readers to become involved in its research when they arise.

By Ben Willmott

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