The problem with management

“Why aren’t we a little bit angry that our management systems are more likely to frustrate extraordinary accomplishment than to foster it? (…)

One-fifth (21%) of the employees surveyed were truly engaged in their work, in the sense that they would ”go the extra mile” for their employer. Nearly four out of 10 (38%) were mostly or entirely disengaged, while the rest were in the tepid middle. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: this data represents a stinging indictment of management-as-usual. (…)


How do we account for this apparent disregard? There are several possible hypotheses.

1. Ignorance. It may be that managers don’t actually realise that most of their employees are emotionally tuned out at work. Maybe corporate leaders haven’t seen the many other studies that mirror the results of the Towers Watson survey. Or maybe they just don’t have enough emotional intelligence to recognise the low-grade disaffection that afflicts most of their workforce.

2. Indifference. Another explanation: managers know that a lot of employees are flatlining at work but simply don’t care, either because a callous corporate culture has drained them of empathy, or because they view engagement as financially unimportant. It’s nice to have, but not an imperative.

3. Impotence. It could be that managers care a lot, but can’t imagine how they could change things for the better. After all, a lot of jobs are just plain boring. Retail clerks, factory workers, call centre staff, administrative assistants — of course these folks are disengaged, how could it be otherwise? Like prison wardens, managers would be shocked if their charges suddenly started bubbling with joie de vivre.

Let’s evaluate these hypotheses. The first seems to me unlikely. Anybody who has ever read a Dilbert strip knows that cynicism and passivity are endemic in large organisations. Only an ostrich could have missed that.

The second hypothesis has more to recommend it. I believe there are many managers who have yet to grasp the essential connection between engagement and financial success.

Companies that score highly on engagement have better earnings growth and fatter margins than those that don’t —a fact borne out by the Towers Watson study, as well as by the work of Professor Raj Sisodia of Bentley College.

This correlation between enjoyment and profitability is likely to strengthen in the years ahead. (…)

In today’s creative economy, it’s the capabilities at the top of this list that create the most value. Audacity, imagination and zeal are the ultimate wellsprings of competitive differentiation. And there’s the rub. These higher-order human capabilities are gifts; they cannot be commanded. You can’t tell someone to be passionate or creative. (Well, you can, of course, but it won’t do much good.) Individuals choose each day whether or not to bring these gifts to work, and as we’ve seen from the data, they mostly choose not to. (…)


Instead of asking how employees can better serve the organisations they work for, we need to ask how do we build organisations that deserve the extraordinary gifts that employees could bring to work? (…)

Julie Gebauer, who led the Global Workforce Study, points to three things that are critical to engagement. First, the scope that employees have to learn and advance. Second, the company’s reputation and its commitment to making a difference in the world. And third, the behaviours and values of the organisation’s leaders – are they trusted and do people want to follow them? (…)

Only 38% of employees believe that senior management is sincerely interested in employee wellbeing. Fewer than four in 10 agree that senior management communicates openly and honestly. A scant 40% believe that senior management communicates [the] reasons for business decisions, and just 44% of employees believe that senior management tries to be visible and accessible.

Perhaps most damning of all, less than half of those polled believed that “senior management’s decisions [were] consistent with our values”.


Corporate faultlines

Nearly half of all managers consider their own line managers to be ineffective, according to a study into the business benefits of management and leadership development.

The research, by the Chartered Management Institute and HR consultancy Penna, shows organisational performance and management abilities to be clearly linked, with only 39% of managers in low-performing businesses deeming their line managers to be effective, compared with 80% in high-performing organisations.

Some 4,500 managers were canvassed in the study, which calls on the government to take a key role in improving management performance. Recommendations include:

Making leadership and management skills a key part of the “skills for growth” strategies.

• Giving young people earlier access to management and leadership development in schools and colleges.

• Actively promoting management education by helping employers to engage with university business schools and professional bodies.

• Investing strategically in the leadership and management skills of the public sector.

Published by aubertma

Digital Expert for Social innovation

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