Management Futures: Why do so many employers still neglect management?

03 October 2013

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You have to be qualified to handle money, but not the people who create it. Only around one in five managers has a qualification in management skills, and CMI’s research shows some 43%of managers are rated as ineffective or very ineffective, yet more than a third of managers have had no training at all in how to supervise people, according to a CIPD study released last week.

Surely this is cause for real concern. Would we be happy with a ‘poor’ rating on 43% of doctors, architects or IT professionals? Yet only 45% of employers offer any management training, according to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.

Clearly, management is key to delivering results. Just consider the difference between management at its best (think most aspects of London 2012), and management at its worst (the one major glitch at last year’s Olympics, G4S’s failure to provide security staff in time). The economic cost of low worker engagement, weak skills and industrial action are colossal; the economic benefits of good people management are commensurately high, as a report for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills acknowledged last year. The same analysis indicated that the UK is only mid-ranking when it comes to standards of management, compared to international competitors.

At a practical level, one possible explanation for this neglect is that employers are uncertain over the extent to which management is teachable. A worry sometimes expressed is that, because everyone has their own leadership style and personality, training for a qualification in handling people may be an attempt to create Identikit managers. Operating to a set of defined ‘competences’ forces people to leave their individuality at home.

Certainly, the style of performance depends more upon personality than with other disciplines. If 100 expert surgeons perform an appendectomy, there will be only small superficial differences in the techniques used and the outcomes, whereas if 100 experienced managers seek to enthuse their team members there will be 100 markedly different approaches.

This does not mean, however, that we can safely let leaders and managers find their own way and assume that the best will rise to the top – as that 43% figure shows, the laissez-faire approach isn’t working. Almost everyone has worked with the ‘accidental manager’ – someone who was highly competent in a technical field, was promoted to manager, often because they wanted a higher salary rather than had a desire for management, and really struggled with handling people. The same CMI survey showed that the number of highly-rated managers leaps to 80% in high-performing businesses – another indicator of the economic contribution of strong management.

Management involves a blend of craft and personality. Empirical evidence by Daniel Goleman and others encourages self-awareness and tapping individual attributes, not striving to be like someone else. The same research indicates how leadership/management is difficult: often having to marry apparent contradictions, such as the simultaneous need to encourage enthusiasm while retaining discipline.

CMI is absolutely clear that core aspects of management and leadership are learnable. Essential disciplines such as managing people, giving appraisals, building a team, or managing resources, are at the heart of the management profession. Far from ruling out the personal touch, it provides a bedrock of basics which managers can build on in the context of their own teams. 

How then can we promote a more professional approach to management? Of course, we work closely with employers and with individuals to support their CPD.  But we’re increasingly looking at new areas, including the world of higher education. In November, we’ll be running the first workshop in a joint project with the Association of Business Schools aimed at boosting the ‘real world’ skills of graduating managers.

Critical as higher education is, we also need to look at how younger people see management. CMI is part of Professions Week, which kicks off on 21st October. Alongside 14 other professional bodies we’ll be using the week to increase awareness and interest among young people in following careers in the professions.

Many CMI members will have read about Campus CMI, through which we offer 14-21 year olds an introductory qualification in management or team leading. The Campus community continues to grow and provides some fantastic success stories, like Mario King, a Campus alumni who has gone on to secure an Apprenticeship at Visa UK – and who features in the Professions Week.

Making sure young people understand management and how they can enter the profession is not only critical to social mobility. It’s imperative for all employers to make sure the profession has the best and brightest to meet the ever-growing demand for managers.  Already the largest occupational group in the country, it has seen 10% growth according to the latest Jobs Audit, published in September.

Growing awareness of the business and economic impact of management begs some big questions – for employers as well as policy-makers. Are we promoting the right people into management roles? Should we be creating career progression for technical people outside of management? Could we do more to train managers before they start the role?

The best solutions may be open to debate, but the benefits of improvement are not in doubt. We ought to have a much higher figure than 57% of managers who are competent. UK plc has to do better.

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Submitted by Philip Wood

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