Why better management could unlock the productivity puzzle

"Bad people management often comes down to conflict between different personality types."

UK productivity is still lagging behind that of other countries, and bad people management is often to blame. How can we unlock the best manager behaviours and get the most out of employees, asks Andy Campbell?

We all know bad people management is a workplace issue, but we are only now becoming aware of how big a problem it has become. Not only does it affect the fortunes of employees and the companies that they work for, but it also adversely impacts the UK’s national productivity.

The Economist recently uncovered that while American workers’ output per hour has increased by nine per cent since 2007, and French workers’ by two per cent, productivity in Britain has stagnated. The UK continues to lag behind its G7 counterparts when it comes to post-crunch productivity performance.

A 20-year investigation into this issue by the London School of Economics revealed that poor management has been one of the main reasons for the UK’s productivity woes.

Further research from the Warwick Business School also found that small and medium-sized businesses in the UK have been unable to achieve their growth potential due to poor internal management.

As companies continue to recover from the recent economic downturn, this issue has never been more important. The good news is the productivity challenge is not insurmountable.

Andre Spicer, professor of organisational behaviour at Cass Business School, provided some insight into how this can be achieved when he spoke at a recent Oracle event.

Conflicting personas

Spicer has defined six personas that define mangers’ approaches and behaviours and six alternative personas for employees. Bad people management often comes down to conflict between these different personality types.

An employee who is, by nature, one type of person may well be managed by an individual of an altogether different mindset – which can lead to clashes over the right and wrong ways of working.

On a larger scale, this mismatch can impact the entire business. The danger is that an “us vs them” mindset will take hold between managers and employees – so great is the disconnect between what both “sides” view as good leadership.

In truth, this is a problem of misunderstanding on both sides; managers are not always able to see things from an employees’ perspective and vice versa.

The good news is that some companies are taking measures to bridge this gap and boost productivity by improving the way that talent is managed in the organisation.

The key to success lies in taking a behaviourist approach to people management, and the good thing about behaviour is it can be measured and recorded.

And the more behavioural data a business collects, the more accurately managers can respond to the needs of the employees on their team.

Such behaviourist tactics have already scored big wins for marketing departments, where teams have proven adept at using data analysis to map customer behaviour, model their actions, quantify their responses to particular campaigns and ultimately predict what action they are likely to take.

Data-driven approach

The future of talent management lies in a similar data-driven approach based on drawing insights from measureable human behaviour.

It is about taking a more scientific view of management and listening to what the data tells us about how people will respond to a certain strategy rather than relying on hunches, best guesses or ingrained beliefs about what does and does not work.

Yet a large proportion of HR professionals view employee behaviour as a completely different beast to customer behaviour. Because they treat it as more of an art than a science, many do not believe that technology can help them understand complex issues in the organisation such as cultural change and employee engagement.

In reality everyone is a consumer, including every employee and manager. Therefore, the principles of analysing how employees engage with their work environment are the same as those that apply to learning how a customer interacts with a brand.

In both cases, this comes down to developing a better understanding of a group of individuals in order to improve engagement and deliver more value to the business.

While the UK’s current productivity situation is certainly in need of improvement, this is not a far-off dream.

The tools for employers to get deeper, more meaningful insights about their employees are available today and companies that make use of this will quickly find ways to get the best out of their workforce.

But first, managers will need to overcome their biases on what it means to measure employee engagement.

Andy Campbell

About Andy Campbell

Andy Campbell is senior director of HCM strategy at Oracle UK.
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