Six ways that better management benefits society

Written by Ann Francke OBE Tuesday 06 October 2020
To mark CMI’s Investors in People ‘platinum’ status, and to discuss the role of management in the post-Covid rebuilding process, I spoke to IiP’s chief executive Paul Devoy
Ann Francke OBE, CMI's CEO

I bring good news! CMI recently achieved Investors in People (IiP) Platinum status. Only three per cent of IiP-accredited organisations achieve this highest level of IiP accreditation, and we’re incredibly proud to join this exclusive club.

Building on the accolade, I spoke to Paul Devoy for the most recent CMI Better Managers Briefing. Paul is chief executive of Investors in People and, as such, understands the importance of making managers as good as they can be. In a fascinating conversation, we covered the mental health ramifications of poor management, how increased flexible working might be a boost to diversity, and the manager’s role in providing a sense of security in uncertain times.

Poor management has mental health implications

First, Paul explored the correlation between ineffective management and employee mental health. “Unless we can help people be better managers, we are not going to address the mental health problem in the workplace,” he warns. Paul recalled a conversation with a GP friend who told him that up to 80% of people who present with a mental health issue do so for work-related reasons. Further unpicking of this data shows that the majority of those cases relate to the relationship with their line manager and poor management.

Flexible working ups the ante for manager-employee dialogue

Flexible working has gained gradual traction over the last ten years. Then lockdown suddenly made it mainstream. That makes 2020 a management turning point. “Unless we help our managers to adapt to this new way of working, we won't get the benefits from it,” says Paul.

Specifically, the Covid-19 experience has shown the importance of regular manager-employee dialogue – in contrast to cumbersome and irregular appraisal processes. Video-technologies mean there’s no excuse for managers not to have regular interactions and rich conversations with team members. And cost needn’t be a barrier.

“In our organisation, the level of engagement across teams has improved significantly over this period because they've utilised the technology in a much deeper way than before,” Paul says. But he urges people not to neglect the human element of management.

Flexibility should drive diversity and better work-life balance

With more flexible working, managers need to structure work and create the conditions where people don't feel that they have to do a robotic nine-to-five: “This crisis should be the beginning of a revolution. If we do it well, it should create a better balance between our home life and work.”

Flexibility should also allow organisations to recruit people from more diverse backgrounds because it doesn't matter where they are located. Paul encourages all organisations to be “more open to look at different ways of finding that talent and nurturing it.”

An uncertain world requires ‘antifragile’ survival strategies

The intrinsic things that motivate people haven’t changed, Paul insists. Despite Covid-19, people still need a sense of purpose in their work.

But they’re looking for purpose in a very uncertain world. Paul referenced Antifragile by Nassim Taleb (also author of The Black Swan) in which he talks about creating an ‘antifragile’ - a blueprint for surviving in a black swan world. This isn’t just important for organisations but also from the perspective of individuals and society.

“Having the inherent ability to respond to that means that you're going to be adaptable and survive no matter what comes down the track,” Paul says. “To create an antifragile organisation, you've got to invest in your people and your managers and you've got to make sure that you can pivot your core competence to whatever the world throws at you and galvanise the team to respond, whatever the changes that’s coming.”

Managers have to provide a sense of support and security

Leaders must find ways to provide people with support and encouragement: “As human beings we are hardwired to create safety and certainty, and that’s in pretty short supply at the moment.” While you can't make promises about what the future is going to hold, building trust helps you deal with things when they go wrong.

“You can have open and difficult conversations as long as there’s mutual trust and respect to support that individual to be the best version of themselves.” In practical terms that means involving employees in all the difficult decisions and challenges that you face. “That way they feel like they've got some sort of control and influence,” Paul says. At the same time, we have to continually look for opportunities in the situations that we are in. Even in a crisis, there can be opportunities, he adds.

Only the highest standards of management and leadership will do

Paul regularly cites CMI’s estimate that there are over two million accidental managers in the UK – that is, people who end up in management roles simply because they’re technically proficient. “Just because someone is a great engineer or a great salesperson doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to be a good manager, he warns. “Some people are more predisposed to be good at it than others, but everybody can be trained to be competent.”

IiP’s Platinum framework is based on its research into the ingredients that make up a high-performance workplace together with a review of more than 300 academic papers and a year-long consultation exercise across 1,500 organisations. It highlights the importance of engagement with people and excellent leadership and management.

CMI recently joined this exclusive club. “To be at the highest end of the highest possible quality standard is an absolutely enormous achievement,” Paul explains. “It shows an organisation that's committed to high values in terms of leadership and people management over a long period of time.”

You can watch our conversation in full here.

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