Weak leadership skills are undermining national success, say
government-backed experts. Now its time for you to have your say
How bad (or good) is British management? Are we short of business leaders?
Does it matter? These are just three of the questions behind a consultation
paper produced by the Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership.
The council was appointed by the Secretaries of State for Education and
Employment and for Trade and Industry in April 2000, amid government concerns
that the UK’s poor productivity performance was linked to weak management and
leadership across both the public and private sectors.
Meeting the Need outlines CEML’s findings to date and suggests some
solutions. These include the use of two tools developed by working party
members: the Business Improvement Tool for Entrepreneurs to help SMEs and a
Leadership Development Best Practice Guide for larger organisations.
While it does not provide definitive answers, the consultation paper seeks
primarily to put on the agenda the issue of the quality and quantity of
leadership and management skills in the UK and to generate a proper debate.
"I hope people will write to us, as a number have already," says the
council’s chairman, Sir Anthony Cleaver. "What we need is genuine debate
and some new ideas." CEML will present its recommendations for "meeting
the need" in April 2002.
Room for improvement
Few would disagree with Sir Anthony’s premise. "It seems to me that
British management is the same as British industry in general. I think the best
is as good as anywhere in the world, but there’s a lot that could be improved.
That’s the basis on which we’ve set out," he says.
Sir Anthony, who is chairman of AEA Technology plc, also highlights the
greater need for management and leadership skills due to changes in typical
company structures over the past 10 to 15 years. "We’ve got flatter
structures now and far broader lines of reporting. It means that what one
historically saw as leadership skills required by one or two people at the top
of the company are required by a lot of people much lower down. That’s
hopefully something that our work can help with."
Chris Pierce, professional standards executive at the Institute of Directors
and author of The Effective Director: the Essential Guide to Director and Board
Development, says, "We welcome the consultation document and think there
are still shortages in the quality and quantity of people with management and
particularly leadership skills."
The IoD has taken a very positive line on director development – CEML’s Bite
resource could be incorporated into its future development programmes – and now
operates a scheme for people to become chartered directors. Requirements
include 30 hours of mandatory continuous professional development each year.
Pierce points out that management and leadership is not just a UK problem,
but a global issue. The IoD has for the past year been providing training in
leadership and corporate governance to senior managers and directors in Japan.
"It’s a surprise to most people that the Japanese are coming to us for
help. Although we’ve a long way to go in terms of improving leadership, we’re
regarded globally as world class and other countries are coming to us to learn
from us," says Pierce. All the more reason for the UK to look at its own
performance, perhaps. But how do we define what is needed?
There is a problem in identifying what the key management and leadership
skills are, according to Ruth Spellman, chief executive of Investors in People.
"It’s a question of being analytical and pinpointing those things which
make successful managers and leaders, then deciding how we go about giving
people a chance to develop those attributes," she says.
"The issue is similar to when we started IIP – trying to get some
consistent approach and then being able to measure the impact so that people can
see there’s something in it for them. Then we need to provide some sort of help
for people to get there. Some of the ideas the CEML report has come up with are
really good ones."
Spellman supports the use of the Business Improvement Tool for Entrepreneurs
to help SME managers develop themselves and their businesses. It is a
questionnaire, designed for use as part of entrepreneurs’ normal interaction
with their professional advisers, which prompts them to consider their business
and their role within it.
Sarah Anderson, chief executive of Mayday Group and leader of CEML’s SME
working group, explains, "We spent a lot of time talking to people who run
small businesses to put together the questions on the management and leadership
"We were very keen not to impose a large-company or government solution
on SMEs, and the first issue was to stimulate demand rather than stimulate
supply," she says.
"If a bank manager, accountant, lawyer or Business Link contact could
ask a series of questions to a person who thinks they don’t need any
development and at the end of it have them think, ‘Well perhaps I do – if I
knew more about that maybe my profit would increase or my staff turnover would
go down’, that would stimulate demand for ‘What do we do next?’ It’s a means
towards satisfying a need that entrepreneurs feel able to participate in,"
Her group is now talking to organisations such as the Law Society, Institute
of Chartered Accountants and other small-business lobbying associations to see
how they could fit in. Seeing how the scheme could be funded is the next step,
before determining how to supply what is required in a co-ordinated way.
"It brings on the government agenda the much wider issue of workforce
development, which is a real issue for SMEs. I see it as essential to get
entrepreneur buy-in to learning and development," says Anderson. "If
we can get that, a lot of issues about workforce development will follow on
much more easily."
The same is true in larger organisations, says Spellman. She wants to see
CEML’s leadership development best practice guide give big-company leaders
opportunities to learn how to take people with them. "If you get leaders
of the company to recognise they’ve got learning needs, then you can go further
down and look at the development needs of everyone and get much more skill
development going on, so the whole organisation benefits," she says.
Spellman also picks up Sir Anthony’s point that management and leadership is
not just for the few. "Because the whole middle tier of management has
gone, you’re increasingly leaving it up to the team leader or the person who’s
making the decision on the desk to take the whole job in their own hands,"
Most people who find themselves in management roles have had little or no
formal training for the role.
"There are people who go straight into undergraduate studies or do MBAs
early in their lives, but that only accounts for about a third of those who go
into management and leadership," says Professor John Burgoyne, from the
University of Lancaster’s Management School and policy research consultant to
"One of our findings is that two-thirds of people who end up in
management and leadership do so as a form of second or ‘shadow’ career – like
the engineer who’s an engineer for the first part of his career and then gets
involved in project management.
"There’s a case for saying that management and leadership needs to be
much more pushed through continuous professional development. Many people slide
into management in mid-career and the education system isn’t geared to support
people who have learning needs arising from that situation. The need for an
infrastructure that supports CPD is part of the longer-term picture."
Also part of the long-term aim is to adapt the practices of business schools
and other parts of the education system to shape the next generation of
managers and leaders. Shorter term, however, Burgoyne believes that the best
practice guide will help companies benchmark themselves and reduce the
"long tail" of organisations that do not have in place the 10 broad
principles the guide contains.
The Leadership Development Best Practice Guide is to be launched at the DTI
conference centre in Westminster on 18 September. CEML is building a network of
users to provide opportunities for mutual benchmarking and sharing experiences
and resources and invites readers of Training Magazine to get involved.
Ultimately, CEML hopes to find ways of making it easier for individuals to
understand what is available and where they can go to enhance particular
skills. Ideally, this would be an online facility which signposts employees and
"Whether we can do any more than outline the form it may take and talk
to the sort of people who might provide it I doubt, in the time we’ve got
available," says Sir Anthony.
"But part of our role is to point out opportunities and try and find
individuals who can take them forward. We’ve got our work cut out to be ready
by next April."
Join the debate
To receive copies of the consultation paper or to respond, write to CEML,
211 Piccadilly, London W1V 9LD or telephone 020-7830 9780. See also the CEML
To register interest in the benchmarking project e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org