Let’s add value to leadership skills

Business success is reliant on leaders gaining a philosophical edge to
foster good staff relations, argues Jo Parker

With the “balance of power” set to swing back towards employees, courtesy of
Europe and the Labour Government, employers need managers in place who can meet
the new workplace relations, without taking a defensive stance and ensuring
they are of benefit to the business as well as employees.

Many employees have had to adapt to the flexible labour market and behave as
if they are "in business for themselves", acquiring the relevant
acumen and confidence as their skills portfolios have grown. Unions too are
changing their profile in preparation for working in "partnership"
with employers and are intent on becoming more business-focused in their
approach to employee relations.

At the same time, managers seem to have fallen behind in personal
development. As one HR consultant puts it, "They start off well but soon
find themselves locked into stressful, hierarchical ladder climbing which
compromises their integrity."

Any initial enthusiasm for the job is soon replaced by an unbalanced focus
on self-interest which ensures the short-term mind set of senior management
hears what it wants to hear. Meanwhile, beneath middle management level,
respect from increasingly sophisticated subordinates may be negligible; labour
turnover and recruitment costs high – with employees staying only long enough
to make it worth their while; and workplace relations poor with a growing
division between managers and those they aim to manage.

For employers with long-term vision, this isolating division is ultimately
damaging to the business. But who is to blame? Is it possible for middle
managers to demonstrate anything other than a survival instinct to
"process manage" when they have to work under such conflicting
expectations from above and below?

The Roffey Park Management agenda, Learning Through Shared Experience,
published earlier this year, showed that managers have become increasingly
cynical as they realise espoused organisational values do not match the values
dictated from superiors.

Dismissive management styles easily become the norm for junior managers to
mimic, causing workplace relations to suffer with the consequential loss of
competitive advantage.

The solution is simple but hard to accept because it does not involve the
implementation of yet another involvement scheme. It is managers themselves –
not employees – who need to work differently. For the majority of employers who
at least appreciate the equation of business success in relation to involving
and treating employees as a valued resource, it is time to pay more than lip
service to "paper values".

Managers who are capable of contributing to the organisation’s growth need
to be developed with the right type of "philosophical" leadership
skills which give them the confidence to be themselves and work
"with" rather than "react to" subordinates and superiors.

With the emerging HR interest in "spirituality at work", the
historical development of societal behaviour facilitated by the employment
contract is being questioned.

Individuals in a position to make a difference must start to realise that the
acquirement of managerial status at work does not give them rights to indulge
in bullying behaviour and encourage inequality. They have instead the
responsibility to create a collaborative, productive working environment which
enables staff to retain their dignity and contribute positively.

Senior managers also need to be seen to actively encourage this behaviour,
rather than merely signing a piece of paper to endorse their approval. If
managers cannot keep up with the changes that employees and unions are
undergoing, new-style unions could well evolve to fill the gaps, and the skills
necessary to maintain success will become increasingly hard to come by.

Unless corporate values genuinely allow middle managers to demonstrate the
personal credibility necessary to foster good working relations, they will
continue to become self-sufficient only at surviving in the organisational
melee at the expense of long-term corporate success.

Jo Parker is an employment law consultant at Pharos Learning

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