Will report prove link between UK productivity and poor management

Tomorrow, US management guru Michael Porter will publish his
much-anticipated report into the effect of poor management on productivity for
the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI).

Announcing the study in October, DTI secretary Patricia Hewitt blamed
management as one of the main reasons why the UK productivity lagged behind
competitors such as the US and France.

Porter will reveal his findings in a lecture at the London School of
Economics.

His study will feed into work being done by the Government-backed Advanced
Institute for Management, set up to identify and promote effective management
in the UK.

Whether the Porter report can make a positive contribution to the debate on
the link between management and productivity remains to be seen.

Personnel Today asked four experts about their views on the Porter study,
and the issues they think need to be addressed.

John Philpott
Chief economist, CIPD

John Philpott, chief economist for the CIPD, would like Porter to help
identify why managers fail to introduce policies known to boost productivity
such as performance-related pay, auto-nomous team working, ongoing learning and
continuous appraisal.

He said: "The real problem is that there is an implementation gap.
Despite all the evidence of what needs to be done, getting the message home and
getting managers to act on it still seems difficult.

"If Porter can help highlight this issue and address it, then it will
have been a positive exercise. If it is just another academic exercise designed
to make a couple of headlines and create a bit of a stir with nothing for
people to act on, it will be disappointing."

Philpott wants Porter to produce some pragmatic guidance for employers.

"We need a do-tank, not a think-tank," he said.

James Foster
Senior HR policy advisor, CBI

James Foster, senior HR policy adviser for the CBI, said it was important
Porter’s study did not take the Government’s eye off other factors affecting
productivity in the UK such as transport infrastructure, regulatory environment
and planning laws.

He also stressed it was important to recognise that there are many companies
in the UK which are already extremely well managed and productive

"Porter’s study can be useful as long as it does not focus on the
belief that there is a nationwide productivity gap. I hope Porter highlights
existing good practice in this country," he said.

Foster said focused learning, which has direct relevance to managers’ jobs,
is most likely to improve their performance and help them boost productivity
within their organisations.

He highlighted mentoring initiatives, schemes that allow managers to learn
how things are done in other companies – such as the DTI’s Beacon initiative –
and work shadowing as examples.

Andy Westwood
Head of policy research, The Work Foundation

Andy Westwood, head of policy research at The Work Foundation, would like
Porter to stop talking about management in "the second paragraph" of
his report.

Westwood said there are too many managers in the UK and too much emphasis on
academic management qualifications, which are not always relevant to the
changing modern workplace.

He said: "There are some serious concerns about management, but I think
cultural issues – such as the way we manage and our approach to the workplace –
are more relevant.

"We have to find ways of getting people working at what they do best
and making the most of their abilities, and that might not be in the
traditional management role.

"We have 4 million managers, the most in Europe, and the least skilled
managers."

Westwood thinks this is because the UK’s management structure is still based
on the early 20th century command and control approach to the workplace.

"Traditionally, if we want to improve productivity we stick a few more
managers in and get them to work people harder."

"In the past, the human element was not as important as capital and
machinery. You just had to make sure there were people at work, however, we
need to understand that has changed," he said.

Linda Holbeche
Director of research, Roffey Park

Linda Holbeche, director of research at Roffey Park, hoped Porter would
highlight the importance of leadership in good management.

"I think there is a strong link between leadership, effective
management and productivity," she said.

Holbeche thought this lack of leadership has resulted in managers being
allowed to become too ‘head-down’ in their work.

"They [managers] don’t understand that just being busy, and the volume
of activity, does not equate to being effective. They are putting themselves
under pressure because they are not giving themselves time to provide their
teams with a sense of direction or support and coaching," she added.

Holbeche said initial findings of new research by Roffey Park into UK
management reinforced her concerns over leadership.

"Managers are doing the wrong things and not encouraging people to show
initiative and outperform themselves.

"There is a lot of micro-management, where managers are doing other
people’s jobs and not letting their staff get on with their jobs.

"They are failing to offer a sense of direction or proper leadership.
This is the antithesis of empowerment."

Holbeche said as a result of this leadership shortfall, too many people are
scared to stick their necks out or be proactive.

The productivity gap

Get stuck into the debate.  Let us
know what you think are the real management issues affecting productivity and
send us any examples of best practice.
E-mail: Ben Willmott

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