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Turning Productivity Improvement Programmes on their head

A puzzle piece to show what we are missing by not looking at SME productivity on a business level

A unique academic and business solution to drive SME Productivity Improvements.


A key priority of West Yorkshire Combined Authority is boosting business productivity, which, if increased to the UK average, could result in the local economy being boosted by £8.5bn. This resultant increase would have a positive effect in regional living standards.

Utilising funds allocated to them from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to support the UK government’s Levelling Up agenda, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority selected Exemplas and our partner Leeds Beckett University (LBU) to provide expert productivity improvement support to 185 SMEs as a key part of their Business Productivity Service, which aims to tackle the productivity gap locally.

New Approaches to Improving SMEs Productivity:

Exemplas’ delivery takes a unique SME-centric approach to productivity improvement.

Traditionally SME productivity support programmes focus on macro policy-level factors that impact on productivity such as:

  • Innovation
  • Digital adoption or
  • Investment (particularly capital grants).

Whilst these are relevant to improving SME productivity, they ignore the micro-level productivity factors and drivers that operate at the firm level. These micro-level factors, if understood, addressed, and aggregated up at regional or national level, will drive productivity growth and rises in living standards.

A unique academic and business approach to productivity improvement:

The approach we are pioneering in West Yorkshire in partnership with Leeds Beckett University (LBU), and the Combined Authority reflects this ‘bottom-up’ approach to improving SME productivity.

Central to this is a Productivity Improvement Framework developed by academic researchers at LBU, in collaboration with local business leaders. This validated Productivity Improvement Framework is being deployed by Exemplas productivity experts to a critical mass of (185) local SMEs.

At the heart of this Framework is a unique Multi-Factor Diagnostic that looks at SME productivity across five high-level ‘factors,’ driven by 30 interlinked areas /measures.

In working with an Exemplas Productivity Expert, businesses are:

  • Provided with a structured approach to understanding and measuring productivity across the 30 interlinked measures.
  • Helped to identify those areas which are likely to have most impact on productivity in their business.
  • Helped to develop robust, validated Productivity Improvement Plans, focussing on key areas and actions to be undertaken.

These Productivity Improvement Plans include quantitative Productivity Improvement Indicators to enable the measurement of progress. The support from the Exemplas productivity expert builds the firm-level management practices capability and capacity to understand, monitor and improve their business productivity over the longer term, so has a clear benefit into the future.

A template for the future of Productivity Improvement:

The programme incorporates a number of unique features which provide a template for future provision including:

  • Research informed approaches to delivery, in this case through the practical deployment of a research tested and validated Productivity Improvement Framework developed by academic and business experts,
  • Successful knowledge transfer of academic expertise and understanding into a practical delivery programme for SMEs. This involves a ground-breaking collaboration between a leading business support provider with 30-years’ experience, Exemplas, and productivity experts, from Leeds Beckett University.
  • In-depth firm level insights into productivity dynamics across high-level factors and interlinked productivity drivers enabling insights at a firm and regional level on the productivity issues and needs of local businesses to inform business policy and practice.
  • In-depth support for each firm from an Exemplas productivity expert which enables the business to develop their capability and capacity to carry on and take responsibility for their productivity journey into the longer-term
  • Focussing of Productivity Improvement Plans on a small, or single area that is likely to have the greatest impact on overall productivity in the business. This ensures effective deployment of limited SME resources for maximum return.
  • Inclusion of quantitative Productivity Improvement Indicators and forecast outcomes in implementing plans which give firms ownership, a genuine metric for benchmarking productivity improvements, and business case for investing limited resources.


This Productivity Improvement Framework helps raise awareness and instil good management practices in SMEs to make sure that the productivity plans are effective, efficient, and done consistently. The data points from baseline to delivery, allows us to measure, monitor, and manage the productivity gains driven by these plans.

The programme in West Yorkshire represents a proof of concept for effective productivity advisory support to SMEs for commissioners and policy makers, addressing the widely acknowledged ‘Productivity Puzzle,’ and regional productivity gaps holding back the UK economy.

If you are a commissioner or policy maker interested in finding out more about Exemplas’ productivity work, please e-mail us at