UK line managers on the brink

Line
managers are the vital link between HR and strong business performance. Yet, as
our exclusive research shows, many are woefully short on key skills and if action
is not taken, organisations will suffer

The
UK’s line managers do not have the skills needed to drive productivity
improvements, exclusive research by Personnel Today reveals.

The
survey, sponsored by Computers In Personnel and produced in association with
Richmond Events, shows that only a quarter of HR professionals think their
managers have the necessary skills to take the company forward in the next
three to five years.

Three-quarters
of almost 700 senior HR professionals polled are concerned with their line
managers’ overall capabilities.

The
survey shows significant skills gaps at line manager level in areas critical to
productivity and competitiveness, including people management, leadership,
communication, performance and absence management.

Between
66 and 76 per cent of respondents rate their line managers as poor or fair in
these skill sets.

In
addition, line managers’ abilities in counselling, coaching and mentoring was
rated as fair or poor by 76 per cent of respondents.

Linda
Holbeche, director of research at Roffey Park, said the findings came as no
surprise and called on HR to play its part in addressing the problem.

"Line
managers are not strategic, and they are not good at getting the best out of
their teams and it’s up to HR to address this."

"HR
needs to make sure that the people who get promoted have the potential to lead,
and offer them support," she added.

Meanwhile,
Maureen Macnamara, HR director of Computers In Personnel said: "HR really
has to influence the board in getting the investment needed for the future
training of line managers."

Despite
the shortcomings identified by the survey, almost half (46 per cent) of the
respondents believe their organisation fails to allocate an adequate budget to
the developing line managers.

Other
significant barriers to having effective line managers highlighted by the
research are that technical skills are considered more important than
managerial skills (67 per cent). There is also a lack of good role models,
mentors and leaders (60 per cent).

Three-quarters
of respondents believe ineffective line managers lead to poor morale and 58 per
cent think they contribute to low job satisfaction.

According
to the survey, poor line management also contributes to recruitment and
retention problems, low productivity, weakened competitiveness, a lack of
innovation, and slows business change.

Stephen
Bevan, the deputy director for research at The Work Foundation, called on
organisations to reward managers with good people management skills.

"We
have to build these measures into line managers’ performance targets. We won’t
get change unless we do," he said.

Jane
King, editor of Personnel Today, believes the research is a wake up call that
should spur HR into action.

"If
the profession does not act swiftly, it will be storing up problems, which will
hinder any organisation’s future performance," she said.

"It’s
very difficult for progressive HR policies to have an impact if line managers
and team leaders are failing to apply them in practice. HR has an obligation to
sort this out urgently," she added.

By
Quentin Reade

What
HR can do to close the skills gap

HR
professionals are taking action to deal with the shortfall in line management
skills identified by our survey.

More
than 80 per cent of respondents report that their organisation will be
investing in developing their line managers over the coming year.

A
quarter of respondents identify improving the quality of training given to line
managers as the key to increasing their overall abilities.

Coaching
was seen as the next most important development activity with 13 per cent of HR
professionals highlighting this as important.

The
need to recruit better managers was seen as key by 9 per cent of respondents,
followed by improved performance management (8 per cent) and improved
communication (5 per cent).

Keith
Luxon, HR reward and policy manager at the Laurel Pub Company, said it was
vital that HR helps line managers reach their potential.

"Staff
who manage and motivate people well are of far more value to an organisation in
terms of retention and performance than just paying more money.

"When
we promote people we put them through development centres to make sure they
have the performance, people and communication skills to enable them to manage
effectively. We are aiming to help our managers become leaders rather than just
managers," he said.

The
survey also reveals that almost a fifth of respondents plan to implement a
management development programme in the coming year.

Managerial
development activities planned for line managers over the next year include:
the introduction of appraisals/360 degree feedback (12 per cent), leadership
training (10 per cent), absence management (9 per cent), employment law (8 per
cent), recruitment training (6 per cent), and discipline and grievance training
(5 per cent).

Feedback
from the professionals:
Coaching and mentoring are the keys to developing the leaders of tomorrow

Health
Mike Griffin, HR director at Kings College Hospital NHS Trust

"Generally,
organisations get the line managers they deserve. If an organisation’s board
pays lip service to the belief that people management is a value driver, then
line managers will recognise that. This is where I think HR’s presence at board
level becomes critical. There is no doubt that people management is of
fundamental importance to large, people-driven organisations such as the NHS.
Good quality people management practices have a direct impact not only on staff
morale and job satisfaction but also patient care and other services."

Local
government
Mary Mallett, president, Society of Chief Personnel Officers (Socpo)

"Socpo
has published what we believe should be HR managers’ priorities and these
include leadership, people management and good performance management, which
were three of the problem areas highlighted by the survey. There is a huge
emphasis in modern local government on leadership development and training
because, to a large extent, the employee view of the workplace and how to behave
is taken from their line manager."

Construction
Stephen Hall, group HR director, Costain Group plc

"If
we have weaknesses, we drive them out through training and development,
coaching and mentoring. We are increasing our management training budget alone
by 25 per cent over and above the £500,000 already allocated to it. Our
performance review system is geared to key competencies, and salaries are
linked to individual performance. The only asset Costain has is its people –
and that is a business not an HR comment. Without quality line managers, we
will not hit our turnover target of £1bn by 2006."

IT
Debbie McCallion, HR director, Intentia

"Line
managers have to believe that people are as important as all the other things
in the business. We assume they have the knowledge, but that is not the case.
We have to train them and give them feedback – especially from the people they
manage. To increase awareness HR needs to make noise about the importance of
managers’ skills. We need to stop people aspiring to be managers for the wrong
reasons. You have to value other skills as highly as management."

Utilities
Saudagar Singh, HR director, Npower

"Businesses
need to position people so they are ready to move into line manager roles. For
example, too many move the best sales rep into a line manager role with no
training or development. And people who don’t want to, move into line manager
positions because they are attracted by the money. Why not pay the top sales
reps more than the sales manager if that’s what they want to do? It’s
frightening that many line managers don’t have the skills, but I would ask HR
‘what are you doing about it?’."

UK
Line Managers – Are they good enough?
is exclusive research by Personnel
Today, sponsored by Computers In Personnel and conducted in association with
Richmond Events. The report costs £25 and is available from Esco Business
Services 01371 810433, or click here to order online.

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