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There’s an app for that – how to measure your firm’s productivity and then improve it


Alastair Williamson-Pound
Alastair Williamson-Pound

Since Be the Business is here to help you increase productivity, we thought it only right to give you a way to measure it first. That’s why I’ve spent the last year helping develop an online tool that allows you to do exactly that.

We’re still tweaking a few things under the bonnet, but I’m proud to say it’s launched, live and ready to use. It’s what the digital industry calls an ‘app’. Not the kind of app you’re used to seeing on a smartphone, but a web-based app. Ultimately it can be dropped into any website. For now, it’s on ours.

You enter a few basic numbers (revenue, costs, staff) into the tool and it uses official government data to tell you how productive your business is compared to other UK SMEs of a similar size and sector (here’s example score below).

It then helps you break that score down into specific areas of leadership and management strength and weakness, along with some practical steps for how you can improve your score. If you sign in, you can save your results and go back in every now and then to reassess yourself and track progress via your dashboard – most people are doing it monthly.

But before you go and have a look, I want to tell you a bit about:

  • How we built it (collaboration collaboration coffee collaboration)
  • Why I personally wanted to be part of the team that built it

And a bit of a quandary over what we should call it. Maybe you can help us come up with the right name. (Please email me any suggestions!). At Be the Business HQ, we’ve been referring to it lovingly as “the benchmarking tool”. After all, it does exactly that: helping you measure the quality of something by comparing it with something else of an accepted standard. However, the word “benchmarking’ comes with a few myths attached to it which don’t really do this tool justice.

  • Myth 1: Benchmarking is for big businesses with deep pockets… Actually this one technically isn’t a myth. To create a solid benchmarking system with a clear UX and reliable data requires some serious data and development skills. My background is in digital product management (I’ve helped build a new identity checking tool and a digital pension planning website for the government). For benchmarking, I collaborated with Beyond Digital and EY, both of which offered their expertise without charging a penny. All in all, this tool was not cheap to build, but for you, it’s free – and that’s why I was so keen to be part of it. (You might already know we’re a not-for-profit, but here’s how we’re supported and funded)
  • Myth 2: Benchmarking is about abstract industry data not action… They say that what gets measured gets managed, but I’m not sure this is true. What use is there in giving you all a benchmarking score, good or bad, unless we help you work out how you got that score and how you can improve it? Let’s say you do the assessment and it tells you you’re 75 per cent less productive than other businesses in your sector. Without the breakdown into skillsets, without the practical steps, it is just a number. Without action, advice and support, benchmarking scores are abstract, flat and unsatisfying. We’re building more support content into the tool – make sure you’re subscribed to our monthly newsletter five small things so you don’t miss out on updates
  • Myth 3: You can’t benchmark among smaller businesses, we’re all different. Yes you are. You all have different reasons for running a business, different aims and ambitions, different challenges and opportunities. But, unless I’m very much mistaken, you are all humans. And that means that the most powerful asset we can help you develop is yourself: your ability to run your business, lead your team, make decisions, get the best out of the resources you have. And that’s what we’ve embedded at the heart of this tool – you. It works because it gets behind the productivity figure to help SME leaders do more of what you do best
  • Myth 4: Benchmarking is just for comparing yourself to others and I’m not into that. Me neither. But I think of it another way. Lots of business leaders I speak to just aren’t sure about how ambitious they should be. Everyone’s always telling you to work on your business, but there are only so many hours in the day. Benchmarking is a good way of knowing whether the effort you’re putting in is giving you the best results. Our tool tells you what you can realistically expect and how to nudge things in the right direction. Ultimately, it’s comparing yourself to yourself: how you are doing vs. how you thought you were doing, how you could be doing, how you might be doing next month or next year

Like “productivity”, I think “benchmarking” is a bit of a dusty corporate word for something that’s actually quite simple but quite urgent.

So as I continue to work on this tool – app, widget, website – whatever you want to call it, it’s my ambition to make both benchmarking and productivity more accessible, practical and actionable for businesses that need it most. After all, improvements don’t need to be earth shattering, just a small five per cent bump in SME productivity would have huge benefit not just for the wider economy, but for you too.

Try the benchmarking tool

What does productivity mean to you?

Alastair Is a digital strategy consultant working with clients in recruitment, fintech, travel and the public sector. What motivates him is the chance to create tools that have a fundamental purpose and bring value to people who really need it.

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