Quality of UK management has failed to improve in more than a decade

The report ‘Are UK organisations getting better at managing their people?’ is the latest chapter in the CIPD’s Megatrends project which explores the economic and social trends that are shaping the world of work now and in the future. This latest report reviews the available evidence on people management practices and how these have changed since the 2003 Government-commissioned report by Michael Porter and Christian Ketels that identified quality of management as an important determinant of economic performance.

While people management practices do change with the times, the CIPD’s report found little evidence of underlying improvement over the last decade. There appears to be room for improvement in the amount of time that managers are spending with their direct reports and the quality of coaching and career development advice they provide. Management processes are also not always applied consistently or fairly and this is one reason why there is a lack of trust in senior leadership. These are deep-rooted problems and the solutions are largely down to organisations, but the CIPD is urging the Government to consider ways in which it can raise awareness of the challenges and potential approaches to tackling them, not least in its capacity as an employer.

Mark Beatson, chief economist for the CIPD, comments: “Over the years we’ve seen successive governments put a lot of effort into changing the regulations that help to determine how organisations work – sometimes more regulation, sometimes less regulation – but they’ve typically shied away from getting involved in how well businesses are managed, filing the issue in the ‘too difficult’ drawer. With UK productivity falling even further behind our competitors since 2008, it’s essential that we move the debate on from talking about low-pay and low-quality jobs and look at the root problem of poor productivity. Government needs to get behind innovation in workplace practices with as much vigour as it, quite rightly, does for technological innovation.”

“Most businesses say they want to make innovation, quality or customer service their competitive advantage but not all of them will have the resources, capability or knowledge to achieve this. We think that Government, business and employee representatives all need to be engaged in a collective effort to find ways of making this journey easier.”

The report identified a number of challenges in the area of management practice:
• Management practices in the last decade have only served to keep pace with the international competition, rather than making up ground. The UK continues to lag behind other economies such as the USA and Germany
• High-performance working practices* designed to utilise workforce skills are spreading amongst organisations but are still not the norm
• While 65 per cent of employees are generally satisfied with their line manager, and largely trust them and value their honesty, only 33 per cent say they trust their senior management
• Less than 5 per cent of a manager’s time is spent in formal or informal discussions with the individuals they are managing about work issues and just half of employees are satisfied with the amount of time their manager spends with them
• 1 in 5 employees say they have never had a formal meeting with their manager
• Organisations where trust between employees and managers was low were more likely to have been weakened by the recession
• Private sector firms pursuing high-quality and innovation-based strategies were more likely to invest in their workforce through training and the implementation of high-performance working practices

Beatson continues: “Our research shows that anywhere between 30 and 45 per cent of employees have some type of managerial responsibility, so small improvements in the performance of each manager can make a big difference. There are small steps that businesses can take to address this, by putting high-performance policies and practices in place and by ensuring that individuals get the training they need to be effective managers. Employers should also consider providing alternative routes to higher status and more pay that don’t necessarily involve management responsibility, as some employees may be more valuable in a position making full use of their technical skills than they are in a management role. This would reinforce the message that management is a skill in its own right, not something that comes with a promotion. There is also evidence that managers themselves don’t always spend enough time on their own development. Given its importance for both our productivity and well-being, we need to raise the performance of our managers across the board.”