Lions led by donkeys

Jan 22 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Managers feel ground down by back-biting and office politics, don't rate their own bosses, are cynical about the constant treadmill of change ordered from on high and believe under-performance more often than not goes unchallenged.

Yet at the same time more than half have experienced a moment of intense clarity or enlightenment about their role within their organisation – and, no, it's not always to say "let's get the hell out of here".

Research by UK-based management training body Roffey Park has concluded that such experiences of "enlightenment" often come after managers have overcome a particularly difficult work-related or personal challenge.

For a third of nearly 500 managers polled, learning and development had been the prompt, it found.

Having such an experience – and recognising it for what it was – can lead to a significant improvement in team working and management practices, the report argued.

Nearly three quarters of managers polled said the experience had had an impact on how they worked within their organisation.

Some had reported it had led to more efficient team working, the development of new initiatives and greater creativity and clarity of purpose.

But beyond this, managers need all the enlightenment they can get, as for many UK managers it is very much a case of being "lions led by donkeys".

The Roffey Park Management Agenda report found that more than a third of managers felt the general quality of leadership within their organisation was poor, with many believing things could be improved.

Board directors, perhaps unsurprisingly had the rosiest tinted view of leadership within their organisation, as intriguingly did those who worked for the most successful organisations.

One in five managers believed that underperformance was not tackled at all within their organisation, with this figure rising among public sector managers and that the relationship a manager has with his or her direct line manager is a source of demotivation.

Organisations continued to experience high levels of change, but just two thirds of the managers polled felt these changes had resulted in high or improved performance.

Most organisations are effective at initiating change, the survey found, but then failed to maintain momentum or learn from the experience.

Corporate social responsibility emerged as a recruitment and retention tool growing in importance.

More than half of the managers polled said their organisation's interest in CSR had increased in the past two years.

Yet most were sceptical that this was little more than window-dressing. The majority of activities undertaken by organisations under this banner are peripheral, they pointed out.

More than two thirds of managers said they experienced stress as a result of work and more than half of those who did so attributed it to organisational politics.

Six out of 10 felt political behaviour had increased in their organisation in recent years, and again this was particularly apparent in the public sector.

More than four out of 10 felt internal politics was one of the main factors causing conflict within their organisation.

In fact the biggest issue affecting trust at work continued to be "hidden agendas", the survey concluded.

Flexibility of working, it was also clear, had become to be perceived as a "right" rather than a perk, with nearly seven out of 10 of the managers polled saying they would refuse an offer of promotion if it affected their work-life balance.

Part-time working (nine out of 10), working from home (nearly seven out of 10) and combined office and home-working (two thirds) were the most commonly reported flexible patterns offered.

Organisations were also becoming increasingly global in their business operations, the Roffey research found.

More than half of the managers said they now worked for organisations with a global or international market for their products and services.

Nine out of 10 said their organisations were involved in alliances with other Organisations, with strategic alliances the second most common strategy organisations were adopting for the future.

Just over a third were responsible for managing a virtual or remote team and just under a third were responsible for managing a cross-cultural team.

Looking to the future, managing change was still the biggest current challenge for organisations, the managers, particularly those in the public sector.

Other key issues were recruitment, retention, skills shortages and succession planning.

"The predicted economic slow down for 2008/2009 may well bring new challenges for organisations," the research concluded.

"However, a constant will be the need to manage all aspects of change more effectively," it added.

Managing change continued to be the biggest challenge for organisations, as well as a particular weakness when it came to consolidating and reviewing change.

"If organisations fail to adequately review and learn from current change programmes, how can they ensure the next change initiative does not make the same mistakes?" it concluded.