Poor middle managers paralysing UK economy

Feb 07 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Far from being the backbone of the modern workplace, hapless middle managers have been castigated by Britain's company bosses as the single biggest impediment to success and greater productivity.

More than a third of British directors believe their organisation is "paralysed" by ineffective managers, with underperforming middle managers costing the UK economy a massive £220 billion a year.

A study by management consultancy Hay Group has placed the blame for Britain's productivity malaise squarely on the shoulder of middle managers, long considered the backbone of the modern workplace.

Moreover, four out of 10 directors believe their middle managers are the single greatest barrier to achieving their company's objectives.

More than half of the senior managers polled felt middle managers were not committed to achieving their company's strategic goals.

And nearly two thirds bemoaned their lack of management and leadership skills among modern middle managers.

There was also a worrying perception gap in how middle managers viewed their performance and what their bosses thought.

While nearly three-quarters of middle managers believed they could do their boss's job, according to senior managers just a fifth of middle managers had the talent to become an effective senior manager.

Giles Walker, senior consultant at Hay Group and author of the report, said: "Our research reveals an alarming performance gap at middle management level.

"British business leaders are struggling to compete in a challenging global economy because middle management lacks the skills to make business strategy happen.

"Unless UK plc takes action to address the skills gap, this productivity erosion will only continue," he added.

Even more alarming, he argued, was the cost of ineffective middle management to the UK economy.

Senior managers believed that, given appropriate training and development, middle management could be up to a third more productive.

But their main concern was the impact of these managers on the rest of the workforce, with half of senior managers complaining middle managers failed to address underperformance in their teams.

Middle managers themselves confessed that, with better training, their frontline teams could improve productivity by the same 29 per cent.

Such a productivity increase at middle management and frontline levels would represent a staggering £220 billion additional annual output in the UK service sector alone, calculated Hay.

"With the impending retirement of the baby boom generation from UK plc, developing middle managers into tomorrow's leaders is a business critical challenge for Britain's senior management," argued Walker.

Yet the report also found that the fault may not lie entirely with middle management, however.

Senior and middle managers alike diagnosed a lack of training and development opportunities and ineffective performance management as key causes of middle management underperformance.

More than two thirds of senior managers admitted that their middle management colleagues had not been adequately trained for their current position.

Similarly, more than half of middle managers felt that a lack of training was preventing them from performing effectively.

Senior managers stated that, on average, it took a newly recruited or promoted middle manager more than seven months to perform their role effectively, compared with a target of three months.

Fewer than a quarter of senior managers believed training was a high priority for their organisation.

And the research found that the average British middle manager had not taken part in any formal training for an average of 17 months.

Tellingly, almost two thirds of business leaders, along with a similar number of middle managers, described their companies' systems of performance evaluation and feedback as "inadequate".

"Rather than expressing frustration over middle management capabilities, business leaders must implement effective training and development programmes and performance management tools to enable them to improve skills and enhance performance," pointed out Walker.