Senior leaders score badly in people management

UK employees give their senior leadership low marks on key aspects of people management, such as developing future leaders, gaining trust and confidence, and demonstrating sincere interest in employee wellbeing.

That’s according to research from Willis Towers Watson, which also found that employees’ immediate line managers fared better,  although research shows significant room for improvement.

The Global Workforce Study found that 49% of UK employees have trust and confidence in the job being done by their organisation’s top leaders.

US employees shared a similar level of confidence (49%), but their counterparts in Germany were significantly more positive about the ability of their leaders to meet changing business needs (65%).

Just 41% in the UK believe their leaders have a sincere interest in employee wellbeing, while only 35% think their organisation is doing a good job of developing future leaders.

Yves Duhaldeborde, director at Willis Towers Watson, said: “With today’s dynamic business environment and the changing nature of the new world of work, the need for strong, effective corporate leaders and managers working together is at an all-time high.

“The fact that a significant percentage of workers don’t believe their leaders are as effective as they can be is a concern, given that strong leadership is a key driver of employee engagement and improved performance.”

Employees globally view immediate managers more favourably. In the UK and Germany, more than seven in 10 say their managers treat them with respect, while this is true for over 80% of employees in the US.

The fact that a significant percentage of workers don’t believe their leaders are as effective as they can be is a concern, given that strong leadership is a key driver of employee engagement and improved performance” – Yves Duhaldeborde

More than 60% of employees in the UK and Germany say managers assign them tasks that are suited to their skills and abilities, compared to 81% of  US workers.

The research, however, shows that immediate managers in the UK have much room for improvement. Less than half of employees (49%) believe their managers communicate goals and assignments clearly.

Even fewer say their managers make fair decisions about how performance is linked to pay (40%), while a similar number (44%) believe managers have enough time to handle the people aspects of the job.

According to Willis Towers Watson, one of the key leadership tasks requiring strong people skills is performance management. The research indicates poor scores in this area, with less than four in 10 (38%) UK employees saying their managers coach them to improve their performance.

“Given the increasingly important role that managers and supervisors are playing in defining the work to be done, motivating workers and ensuring a sufficient talent pipeline, many organisations are taking a keen interest in how manager behaviour affects engagement and how managers can build more engaged teams,” said Duhaldeborde.

3 Responses to Senior leaders score badly in people management

  1. Avatar
    James Pepitone 23 Jun 2017 at 6:53 pm #

    The fact that the senior leaders have risen to their positions of great responsibility suggests that this criteria — scoring highly in “people management” in the eyes of employees — may not be as important as we have been led to believe. Do we need to reexamine how business organization’s function to understand what really matters in the real world? Seriously, it may not be the popularity contest some imagine. Perhaps the governing nature of organizations is based on some other principles. The fact that so many organizations are performing so well financially while also exhibiting low employee engagement is another curiosity. Just saying that maybe we’ve been looking at the wrong factors, thereby asking the wrong questions, and ultimately accumulating largely meaningless data. Where did we first get the idea such things were important? Maybe the people who told us made a mistake. And then we would all be fussing about the wrong things, and bewildered when the leaders do them poorly and yet the organization still succeeds. It could easily happen.

  2. Avatar
    Yves Duhaldeborde 29 Jun 2017 at 3:49 pm #

    Thank you for your comments James.

    I agree that leadership teams should use several sources of information in a balanced way to evaluate their collective effectiveness. It wouldn’t be sufficient to rely on employee feedback alone to measure leaders’ technical, analytical, problem solving and risk management skills, as well as their ability to imagine a future, seize commercial opportunities and drive change. At the same time, leaders who actively listen to employee feedback get invaluable insights on their ability to mobilise employees around ambitious objectives, to give them a sense of purpose, to build trust and shape a spirited, involving company culture. And leaders who take action on the basis of those insights get improved business performance in return.

    As far as the idea that companies can deliver excellent results despite low levels of engagement, my question would be ‘For how long?’ Given the impact of employee attitudes on company reputation, customer satisfaction, safety, innovation and quality to list just a few, and considering also the competitive challenges that exist in most industries, it is difficult to imagine how a low engagement organisation could retain talents and consistently deliver strong results in the long run. And even if it managed to do so, the key question is – how much stronger would results be if its leaders focused on lifting levels of motivation across the business?

  3. Avatar
    Monika Götzmann 13 Jul 2017 at 7:23 am #

    Some really great stats to ponder over as they uncover some uncomfortable conclusions, especially for the UK and German leaders. Without their staff’s confidence, leaders will struggle to achieve optimum results and attain his business objectives.

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