Economic growth and productivity have been central themes in ongoing discussions on the health of our economy.
The opportunity to set up a new organisation from scratch, whose mandate is to influence and help stimulate New Zealand's productivity, is an exciting story.
We are therefore pleased to introduce you to Murray Sherwin, Chair of the Productivity Commission.
Painting a Productive Future
By Murray Sherwin, Chief Executive, Productivity Commission
Every once in a while you are given a blank canvas which is yours to paint.
Mine came to me in 2010 when I was asked to set up the Productivity Commission in New Zealand. It was a gift, certainly, but one which carried tremendous responsibility.
Always give a tough job to smart women! And in this case, The New Zealand Treasury had in place two smart women who had already steered through the act of Parliament to establish the Productivity Commission, and the process to select the first chair – me. From that point, the three of us became the establishment team, working out of an office in The Treasury.
We had a clear political and social mandate to influence and help stimulate New Zealand’s productivity. We had a simple, clean act which made it easy to see what was required. We also had a clear image of what success would look like, with the Australian Productivity Commission having served as the model for the Parliament when our establishment act was written.
Most particularly, we had the great luxury of creating something entirely from scratch: a credible, professional and independent entity made up of top economists and public policy thinkers, with a shared vision to help improve New Zealanders’ productivity and well-being.
With no baggage, no history and no bureaucracy to negotiate, we could decide what kind of organisation we wanted to create. Our vision was for an organisation that reflected the best of New Zealand’s potential – highly professional and skilled, open, communicative, accessible, creating ‘grounded’ analysis and workable policy recommendations.
Values, integrity and identity matter. Those were the building blocks of the Productivity Commission. These informed our governance structure, the culture and kinds of people we wanted to attract, and the identity we wanted to project.
We hired people who were highly skilled economists or public sector experts, as well as proficient communicators. We needed people who could see the broader implications of their work and who could provide a breadth of interpretation and influence.
By bringing these kinds of people together, with the right leadership, we could create a mature, collegial and responsible culture where intellectual integrity and open engagement were prized.
We also gave careful consideration to our visual identity – not just our brand and design collateral, but our physical spaces too. We thought about where we wanted to be in the city (we chose bang in the middle of the CBD) and what kind of office we wanted.
We chose a modern, fresh identity, with a nod to our national sense of humour and optimism. This was greatly enhanced by the addition of numerous pieces of art from the collection of our first general manager – featuring themes of Kiwiana and some off-beat humour. Our space today reflects the efficient way we operate, and the quality of work we expect from our team.
Three years later, the identity and values we created in those early days are still fundamental to the Commission. We are an organisation that encourages people to take responsibility for their work, to feel able to ‘chance their arm’ with analysis and views, and to work within teams that are constantly forming and reforming as our work evolves. We are light on administration, hierarchy and bureaucracy.
I believe this has helped us deliver on our mandate to provide insightful, evidence-based analysis and advice to support a more productive country.
Since establishing, we have produced six inquiries and a number of research papers. Several of these, including our first inquiry into housing affordability, are still regularly referenced and actively influencing government policy and wider public views. Although it is hard to quantify, we believe our work is helping give New Zealanders more and better choices, leading to greater well-being.
The best analysis in the world counts for nothing if it is not effectively communicated. We work hard to turn complex concepts into readily accessible analysis, supported by graphics and the visual qualities of our documents, website and social media presence.
Our mandate is also evolving. More recently, we began a new inquiry topic in the social sector. This has introduced a different set of conversations and concepts, and has challenged all of us to engage more and to see the world through a different lens. This is what keeps our team excited and ambitious.
I am incredibly proud to lead a dedicated and inspired team producing top-quality work, within an appealing, modern and functional work environment. We aim to ensure that our people are engaged and committed to our work and our mandate; there’s a lot of hard work, but there’s a lot of laughter too.
Perhaps it’s the Mr 4 Square collage in the boardroom that’s making us smile.