We are living in and through extraordinary times. The true impact of Covid-19, in terms of population health and mortality are yet to be known, but one thing we do know is that businesses in every industry are struggling. 

The IMF and Office for Budget responsibility forecast that the UK is facing its deepest recession since the 1920s as a result of the lockdown, while the Office for National Statistics reports that in the two weeks to April 5, 25 per cent of UK companies temporarily closed. Meanwhile according to a report by insolvency firm, Begbie Traynor, more than 500,000 companies are in “significant distress” – the bulk of which are SMEs, the UK’s key economic engine of growth and sustainability.

The business landscape has shifted, quite how far it is difficult to judge, but the need to adapt to the new realities of a post-Covid-19 world are becoming more and more apparent, from the way goods are sourced, manufactured and delivered, to the way our workforces train and collaborate. In a recent podcast1 , CIPD CEO Peter Cheese and his colleagues discussed how well-designed organisations will increasingly need to respond flexibly and rapidly, rework their business models to deliver outside-the-box-offerings and give serious on-going consideration to the challenge of business continuity. The economy cannot handle another Coronavirus outbreak and yet, it is possible other viruses may have similar impact – back in 2015 Bill Gates warned about such potential in his now well-documented Ted Talk2 .

So, what does all this mean for business, many of which are pushing for a phased re-opening of the UK economy?

It’s vital that we look at and appreciate the success stories from this on-going disaster. The staff of the NHS, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, all the other supermarkets and at many other frontline organisations have been amazing. In our hour of need they have stepped up and delivered time and time again. This is the hallmark of engaged employees, David MacLeod at Engage for Success says it best: “Employee engagement is a workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of an organisation to give of their best each day, committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being.”3

MacLeod and his team have spent years analysing employee engagement and have been able to define the evidence that engagement brings – better revenue, happier customers, higher growth.  The numbers behind the evidence are compelling and analysis indicates that were the UK to move its engagement levels to that of the Netherlands, it would see an associated £25.8bn increase in GDP. 

So how do we engage our employees? Engage for Success have defined a blueprint for all organisations to follow. In simple terms there are four steps:

  1. Have a strong and compelling strategy
  2. Have engaging managers who focus on their people
  3. Ensure the employees have a say in how the organisation functions
  4. Have organisational integrity or in other words, keep your promises

What we’ve learned from the current crisis is that employees who feel they can contribute to the destiny of their organisations and its customers, deliver. They engage with the problems and find solutions, they keep going, but they’re not afraid to say how bad things are and what needs to be done, but they will find solutions.

‘Solutions’ is the magic word here. An organisation’s employees know it better than anyone else, especially those ‘on the shop floor’. They know what works (and what does not), they know what their customers (and consumers) need and very often they know how to meet the need and solve problems – they are the value proposition. Now, more than ever as they begin to consider what the future might look like, organisations need to do two things:

  1. They need to start listening; listening to the people who deliver value to customers and shareholders alike; listening to their employees.
  2. They need to be equipping their employees with the knowledge and skills that will drive the organisation forward. The technical skills that employees need to do their job are vital, but in today’s world equally important are Business Improvement Techniques (BIT). 

Designed to enhance business performance throughout an organisation, BIT are proven tools and techniques, such as lean process and quality improvement activities. BIT support continuous improvement by promoting effective team working, compliance with regulations and health and safety requirements, reducing operational costs, analysing and solving problems and applying workplace organisation techniques.

It’s no surprise that Cogent, the skills and talent partner for science industry companies, placed emphasis on BIT in its Cogent Gold Standard framework4, the industry skills benchmark for best practice. The four cornerstones of the standard are:

Several case studies developed by Warwick Economics and Development have quantified the economic benefit of investing in the Gold Standard. They include that for every £1 invested, companies see a return of £9.53 – ROI, Energy savings – £20 per tonne, Water Savings – £4.50 per tonne, High COD Aqueous waste reduction – £4 per tonne, Maintenance (parts & labour) – £250K, Quality Production efficiency – £500k, Reduction in near misses, Improved health & safety records, More efficient use of resources.

The case for developing engaged and business-aware employees is a strong one, so is it time for employees routinely to be involved in delivering an organisation’s vision and giving them the skills today to deliver the future?


  1. https://www.cipd.co.uk/podcasts/business-survival-coronavirus
  2. https://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates_the_next_outbreak_we_re_not_ready?language=en
  3. https://engageforsuccess.org/
  4. http://www.thegold-standard.co.uk/home/


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