At The Way Ahead, our team’s experiences of training and developing people, spread over the past 30 years, endorses the trends we now see in the reduction in quality of many managers today. What do you think of this article, and more importantly, does it apply to your business? If it does, then please let us help you to address it.
Managers are vital to the success of any organisation with numerous studies showing that line managers have a huge affect on company profitability.
However, CIPD research published last year revealed that the quality of managers has not improved significantly for 10 years.
An exclusive survey by People Management found that the majority of HR professionals recognise the problem, with 57 per cent reporting that ‘improving the quality of line managers’ was a top three priority for their organisation.
More than a third of PM survey respondents admit that the quality of management at their organisation has grown worse in the past five years, while just a quarter say management capability has improved.
And when PM asked readers for examples of the worst management behaviour they had seen the anecdotes came flooding in. One manager had head butted an employee ‘because he was annoying’, another planted drugs on a staff member and then reported them, and another told an employee with cancer to use annual leave rather than sick leave (read more anecdotes in the April feature).
Bad managers are in our midst, and with the trend for encouraging line managers to take on more HR duties, confirmed by two-thirds of PM survey respondents, HR is trialling innovative ways to support and develop them.
Christoph Williams, strategic content senior manager, HR Europe at Sony Europe, is looking at a way to change the mindset of managers to increase ‘leadership empathy’ to improve the way they manage staff. But “don’t call it brainwashing”, he says.
A manager’s personal mindset is key because managers have a disproportionate impact, Williams says. “If they’re demotivated or have a negative mindset it affects a much wider number of people.”
And not every manager views their role in the same way, he explains. “Some are driven by a desire to help others get on (altruism), while others can be driven for their own personal success and see the job as a step on the ladder to the top.”
The approach Williams is developing with academics and sports psychologists concerns tried and tested techniques from a range of sources. They include sport, the army, religion and even cults, and techniques such as hypnosis, meditation and neuroscience. He says that if it’s ethical, useful and proven to be a successful performance driver in another context then they will consider it.
The programme recreates various experiences with managers to help them understand and feel what it’s like to be led, for example, by an autocratic leader versus a more empathetic one.
But to really change someone’s thinking you need to help them shift their physiological reactions as well, he says. This means learning to become more aware of and able to regulate your physiological levels of arousal when presented by a stimulus. For example, when an employee asks a difficult question, viewing it as a ‘challenge’ rather than a ‘threat’.
“In sports psychology we know that people perform better when they’re in a challenge state rather than a threat state,” he says.
“If you do the physiological at the same time as the cognitive (psychological) and emotional (growing through experience), you’re more likely to create that shift in personal identity in people so they want to manage and want to lead more than they might have done previously.”
Another method for improving management capability comes in the form of maximising access to people data.
Adam Burden, a consultant at Hay Group, explains: “HR is eager to make sure everything is carried out according to company policies and procedures. But that eagerness hamstrings them in a way because managers feel they need to check with HR what the right policies and procedures are.”
He says that this means HR is overwhelmed with questions from managers, which prevents the function from doing more strategic things.
When managers cannot get information from HR in time they can turn to alternative sources, which are not always legitimate or in line with the company strategy. Hay Group research revealed that 42 per cent of managers turn to Google for HR advice.
So what can HR do?
“There’s an opportunity to put more info in the hands of managers via their smart phones,” says Burden.
Hay Group has developed apps for their clients that give managers access to salary and grading information, training, HR policies and leadership development.
And the consultancy is currently developing a job description app. Burden says: “Ask any organisation what they really struggle with in the relationship between HR and line managers and the answer is ‘job descriptions’.”
The app asks managers the most pertinent questions and gives them information options to drag and drop into a template. This puts the responsibility to type up a job description that is appropriate and usable into the hands of the manager. It makes the process quicker for managers and ensures HR receives robust details.
However, Burden adds that HR needs to maintain control of people information. The function can do this by adjusting access to information via smart phone to suit different cohorts of mangers. For example, limit the access to pay information to budget holders, he says.