British management 'failing to deliver'

Sep 02 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Britons have little confidence in the ability of their management to raise productivity. In fact, while seven out of 10 believe they are more productive than they were five years ago, they attribute this to their own efforts, not that of their managers.

A new report by the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) and Management Today, 'From Bottlenecks to BlackBerries', surveyed 1,200 employees across the country and concludes that Britain's managers are heading for trouble.

Seven out of 10 of those surveyed believe they are working harder than they were five years ago, but attribute this gain to their own efforts rather than to their managers' help.

In the most damning part of the survey, employees make it clear that their managers aren't delivering – and are unlikely to in the future.

Asked what they thought managers should focus on in the future, two-thirds of respondents said that they should concentrate on developing their teams. But only 16 per cent actually thought that they would do this in practice.

The report also found that half of employees are more productive only because they are working longer hours. But half also felt that they achieve more than they used to because there is less hands-on-management to hold them back.

Meanwhile, employees in large organisations are more than twice as likely as those in small companies to be cynical about their managers.

If this tension is not confronted and resolved, it will prompt people to start questioning why they work in an organisation at all

Fiona Czerniawska, Director of the MCA Think Tank and author of the report, said: "There's a tension here between what individuals are prepared to do and the way in which organisations treat them.

"The more people give in terms of effort, the more they expect – not just in terms of money, but job satisfaction, flexible working and a whole range of other benefits – but the less organisations appear to be delivering.

"If this tension is not confronted and resolved, it will prompt people to start questioning why they work in an organisation at all."

The MCA report follows hot on the heals of research by Sirota Survey Intelligence which revealed similarly ingrained beliefs among employees in some of Britain's best-known companies that their managers, far from driving the business forward, actually hamper progress.

Bosses are excessively bureaucratic, blame people wrongly and are inconsistent when it comes to making decisions, Sirota found, and often just get in the way, hindering the natural enthusiasm of their workers.

The MCA report suggests that a number of inter-related forces that bring organisations and individuals into conflict are responsible for this growing cynicism.

Prime among these is outsourcing and the continual redefinition of what constitutes an organisation's core business.

This blurs the boundaries of organisations and causes two-thirds of those surveyed to spend a significant amount of their time working with people outside their company. But the distribution of work across people, organisations and locations also makes work – and social bonds - more fragmented.

According to Sylvia DeVoge of consultancy Hay Group, an MCA member: "We often assume too rational, even robotic a view: what can we outsource? What are our core skills?

"Yet every study has shown that human interaction and physical contact makes a difference, it creates the social capital that enables, for instance, the best performing teams to be 30 per cent more productive than average teams.

But we don't attach a value to this social capital: we don't measure it and we certainly don't consciously try to increase it. Why? We're just not used to thinking like that."

Changing demographics and expectations are another factor in the changing psychology of the workplace, creating an employees', rather than employers' market.

Finally, technology is also a double-edged sword, the report argues, enabling people to do more but tempting organisations to do too much.

Email is a classic example of this, it found, now exceeding working with colleagues as being the single most important factor in allowing people to do their jobs. But at the same time, it is a serious dampener on productivity, with more than half of employees saying that their time was wasted by receiving too many messages.

"Technology has produced a lot of talk about changing working styles, but technology only tells organisations what they can do, not what they should do," said Richard Coughlin at PA Consulting Group.

"Organisations need to understand where technology can make a valuable difference and distinguish this from the temptation just to follow the latest trends.

"Some organisations work well in a dispersed, networked environment in which rapidly changing technology and intellectual capital form part of their competitive advantage, but others don't."