British managers dithering and incompetent

2007

Almost half of British workers think their bosses are incompetent, lack confidence and are poor decision makers.

The damning indictment of Britain's managers comes in a poll by performance body Investors in People, which has also suggested there is a yawning gap between how workers and senior executives view their management teams.

While workers are dismissive of their managers' abilities, more than eight out of 10 bosses believe that their managers - probably because they appointed them - are in fact good decision makers.

Of those workers who felt their bosses were poor decision-makers, nearly two thirds said their lack of clarity left them frustrated and angry, or caused them to lose respect for the manager.

They also slammed managers' poor decision-making as being detrimental to the performance of their business.

More than eight out of 10 claimed it damaged morale, more than half said it reduced productivity and nearly one in five feeling it allowed competitors to steal a march.

When asked why they thought their managers were so indecisive, half thought it was because they were simply incompetent at doing their job, a third thought they lacked confidence and more than a quarter said it was because senior managers tied their hands behind their backs.

More constructively, more than a fifth believed the problem was down to managers not being given adequate training to do their job.

Simon Jones, acting chief executive at Investors in People UK, said: "This is worrying problem for UK organisations. Effective decision making is a vital skill for any manager, and critical to the smooth operation of the organisation as a whole. Indecisive managers are a drain on the company and a major frustration for their teams, damaging employee motivation which can in turn undermine productivity and affect the organisation's progress."

Even when managers did make important decisions, employees more often than not felt their views were not properly considered.

And while more than half of senior managers surveyed thought management sought the views of others in their organisation before making a decision, only a fifth of employees believed this to be the case.

In fact, nearly half of employees claimed that when bosses made a decision they simply informed others afterwards, and a further 16 per cent said their bosses were secretive about the decisions they made.

"There are clearly a number of factors which can lead to bad decision making but it is particularly worrying that managers are failing to involve other people as they put plans in place," said Jones.

"Without employee input it is difficult to ensure that the team as a whole buys in to what has been decided and is motivated to play their part.

"Equally, decisions made in isolation are unlikely to take account of the full picture and may well not be in the best interests of the organisation. A participative, inclusive culture is key and presenting 'fait accompli' decisions is not the way to achieve this," he added.

Managers working in the retail, leisure and finance sectors were the most decisive, the poll found, but more than half of local government employees thought their bosses were indecisive ditherers.

The longer an employee had worked for the company, the less confidence they had in their bosses' decision making, the poll reported.

Nearly two thirds of people who had worked for their company for less than a year believed managers were good decision makers, but this plummeted to 40 per cent for those who had been with the organisation between six to 10 years.

Managers in the West Midlands were most likely to seek views from employees, while those in the North West and East of England, Yorkshire and Humber were believed to be the least collaborative, said Investors in People.

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The UK's poor decision-makers

The comments by Simon Jones, Acting Chief Executive at Investors in People, into their research about poor decision-making in the UK lends support to other, wider, research that indicates that our managerial skills are, indeed, less than optimal and the single biggest cause of poor productivity and competitiveness.

For example Capgemini, the consulting, technology and outsourcing services company, has found that one in four of the decisions made by managers and/or direct board report positions in companies turning over more than £200 million a year are wrong. The interesting feature of their research is that this is a self-admission. In the financial services sector, the figure was even higher ' nearly one in three. My own assessment is that this is probably an under-estimate.

IiP's remedy ' making employees more inclusive to the process ' is only part of the solution. On its own, it is virtually ineffective in our highly flexible labour market, where individuals ' including managers ' now stay with their employers less than five years on average. Such jobs discontinuity imposes on employers the phenomenon of institution-specific corporate amnesia and the inability to better benefit from their own hindsight.

To ensure that productivity is continually improved, it is necessary to get business schools to better teach and organisations to more effectively implement the wider discipline known as experiential learning, a field still largely misconceived, conspicuously absent and studiously ignored in the workplace. In a flexible labour market this would include the capture of departing knowledge and the critical reflection of an institution-specific evidential base by transient managers before decision-making. Only then will employee inclusion make sense. Sincerely, Arnold Kransdorff. author 'Corporate DNA: How Organizational Memory can Improve Poor Decision-Making' (Gower, 2006). www.pencorp.co.uk www.corporate-amnesia.com

Arnolod Kransdorff