The quiet crisis of the reluctant manager

Nov 25 2009 by Philip Whiteley Print This Article

Let's imagine the story: 'Two out of every five finance managers have no head for figures, and two thirds say they "fell into" the role. Only a tiny proportion has accountancy qualifications.'

One would expect collective financial management to be abysmal Ė with accounting errors, missed tax revenue deadlines, widespread expenses fraud and other symptoms of an unqualified and largely uninterested population responsible for fiscal stewardship.

So the findings of a UK survey by the Chartered Management Institute that such proportions hold for the managers of the country ought to command attention. The human capital in each organisation is usually the single biggest asset of the company.

More fundamentally (and this obvious point is rarely grasped) it is responsible for generating all the others. Responsibility for the vast bulk of an organisation's assets is typically in the hands of people without the aptitude, desire or capability for the task.

Does one find collective people management to be poor, with retention and skills difficulties, and widespread failure in mergers and project management? Yes, we do. The same CMI survey showed that nearly half of employees have left a post owing to poor management.

Do employers care about this quiet, hidden crisis? Yes, but they often describe the failures in dehumanised ways; referring to structures, processes and the accounts, rather than the failures of leadership that underlie them. This reflects the bias within business and politics that management is a side issue, and the pretence that economics consists of money.

This is a British survey, but my research for international management books would indicate that while some countries would perform better, the pattern is not uncommon.

We say 'people are our greatest asset', and they are. But we don't act as if it's true.