Monday, May 23, 2016

Productivity, Fairy Dust and Developing Effective Managers

Rachel Burnham writes: One of the major challenges facing the UK economy is the low level of productivity in the UK compared to other economies.  This is has been a long standing and growing concern, so I won’t rehearse the data around this – but do take a look at the reports and articles on my Productivity Puzzle Pinterest board if you want to find out more.

It is linked to many other important issues for the wider economy, organisations and individuals such as levels of low pay in the UK, the mix of businesses working in the UK (manufacturing, service, relationship with growth, etc) and skills agenda topics such as the skills mix available in the UK workforce.   I find it interesting that we don’t spend more time focusing on the contribution of L&D to raising productivity within organisations.   One of the challenges is that often these topics are discussed in different forums and with different groups of people – economists focusing on productivity, ‘training providers & colleges’ on the skills agenda and so on.   It would be good to get more cross-over in these discussions.

Back in February of this year, Sukh Pabial wrote about productivity and the contribution that modern workplace learning could make to that.   I want to follow that up in this post by focusing on the development of management skills.

One of the ways in which L&D can make a contribution to improving productivity and therefore the overall effectiveness of organisations is by focusing on the development of managers.  Acas has identified 7 levers that contribute within organisations to raising productivity and one of these key levers is ‘skilled managers’.  Acas have produced a helpful tool to encourage organisations to reflect on where they are now in relation to each of these levers and take action.  

We know how damaging an ineffective manager can be to the performance of the staff they manage and how the ripples of ineffectiveness can spread through an organisation causing damage to engagement, trust, communication flows and of course performance.   Yet many organisations still pay insufficient attention to developing effective skills and behaviours amongst their managers.

I remember a group of students, on a CIPD course, discussing the management development programmes within their organisations, some years ago.  One student described their organisation as relying on ‘magic’ weekends for management development – I was puzzled, I hadn’t come across this development tool before – use of horse-whispering, juggling, orchestra’s for team development, but magic for management development? Then she explained that when a manager was appointed from within her organisation, they left on a Friday as an experienced and competent team member and were expected to start back on a Monday morning as a fully competent and effective manager – as though they had been sprinkled with fairy dust over a ‘magic’ weekend!  

I have subsequently heard the CIPD’s Peter Cheese use the same phrase when arguing that ‘we have not done enough to train and support line managers’ (A20:20 Vision Joint Acas/CIPD Manchester Conference 2016).
So we need to make sure that every manager has access to the learning they need to develop the skills they need – whether it is as a first time manager in their first few weeks, a long-term manager recognising the need to improve and further develop their skills or a more senior manager taking on new responsibilities and needing new perspectives.   And we can’t rely on a one-shot development programme to achieve that or even a series of development programmes at each at key stages of a manager’s career.   
Managers, like other staff, will need support and access to relevant learning when they need it, at the point they are facing an issue, a difficulty or a new challenge.

Which brings me to the new report, ‘Inside the Heads of UK Managers’ published today by Good Practice.  This examines what it is that managers find the most challenging aspects of their role.  Perhaps unsurprisingly dealing with organisational change was top of the list of the most challenging, with managing conflicts and maintaining a work-life balance also high up there.   I found the break-down of the information into sub-sets most fascinating – for example within the respondents maintaining work-life balance was higher up the list for men than for women and coaching/training my team higher for more senior managers than for lower management.

The report encourages you to do your own research, to identify what would be the biggest challenges for managers in your own organisation and then compare this with your existing provision. It suggests using the methodology they have developed to enable you to do this.  This echoes a point made by Nick Shackleton-Jones, at the recent CIPD L&D Show, when he talked about identifying what bugs people and addressing these needs.

It is time for us, in L&D, to get real about supporting managers to be effective in their work.   I’m all for fairy dust, but let’s keep it for bedtime stories and out of management development!

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

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