Managers lack the skills to thrive. Here's how HR can help

4 minute read

Good management is crucial to business performance. Yet more than a third of managers don't have the skills to thrive in today's working world and 60% rate their first year training as poor. So why are employers failing to give managers the support they need asks Mark Vegh, partner at Global Growth Institute/World Class Manager?

Managers lack the skills to thrive. Here's how HR can help

Good management really matters. When teams are led well, motivation soars. Engagement increases and productivity is high.

The alternative is bleak. Bad managers infect teams with demotivation. Staff turnover rises and productivity slumps.

In the past year the role of managers has become even more important. During the COVID-19 pandemic, countless managers became more responsible for staff wellbeing than ever before.

All of this might sound obvious. Textbook HR. But despite the crucial role that they play, employers are too often setting managers up to fail. At the end of last year, World Class Manager surveyed 300 managers from around the world. The results were not encouraging.

Managers lack the skills to thrive

People want to become managers. At least to start with. When first asked to assume management responsibilities, 65% were excited about it, our survey showed. But too few employers capitalise on this enthusiasm. During their first year, the training that managers received was either non-existent or underwhelming. Over 60% rated it as poor.

Insufficient training has consequences. Over a third (36%) claimed they simply don’t have the skills to thrive in today’s world. And on-the-job learning clearly isn’t cutting it. Over a quarter of respondents thought their own manager was a bad role model.

Bad management impacts the bottom line

Bad management costs employers £84 billion a year. according to research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It’s easy to see how this figure quickly adds up.

The behaviour of managers is one of the main reasons that people leave a job.When bad management is common, staff turnover increases and recruitment costs rack up. And of course, it’s almost impossible to calculate what a business loses in terms of knowledge and skills.

Bad managers demotivate teams. This harms culture and productivity. Customers quickly notice and revenue is at risk.

Ensuring managers get the support they need is not simply about being perceived as a “good employer.” It’s critical to business performance.

What should employers do?

Our survey suggests that problems with supporting managers are common across industries and countries. They will not be solved overnight. But there are things that employers can start doing now to begin the process of improvement.

Engage and listen. Our survey threw up some surprises. A similar exercise among their own managers will reveal hidden concerns to employers. Human resources (HR) and learning and development (L&D) teams cannot assume they know what the 'pain points' are.

Set out the vision for the role. As company strategies evolve to meet the needs of an ever-changing business environment, managers can grow confused as to what their role is in the 'new world'. Employers need to reset the vision and explain the crucial role managers play in it.

Teach adaptability and change management. Many managers are struggling with the speed of change. They worry that they cannot adapt quickly enough. But change is the new constant and managers must be able to help their people through it. Training will be required.

Role model outstanding management. Over a quarter of managers believe their own manager is a bad role model. Our survey showed that common complaints managers had about their own bosses were that they “didn’t listen to others”, “failed to give good feedback” and “don’t take responsibility.” This is hardly a good example of expected behaviour. Employers must demonstrate what good management looks like. This can be done through sharing stories of great leadership. Employers can introduce mentoring schemes and ensure that anyone entering a management role explicitly understands what behaviours are expected of them.

Delivering meaningful and practical training

Time is in short supply. Managers already feel they have far from enough of it. So how can the training which is so desperately needed be built into already crowded schedules?

We have a three-point plan that employers can adopt to ensure that managers get the training they need in the early stages of their management career.

The role of managers is changing. They must grasp new skills and behaviours to succeed in an evolving world.

But one thing hasn’t changed. Managers will continue to be essential to delivering future growth and productivity. They will determine the motivation and efficiency of teams and the ultimate success of the business.

Supporting managers has never been easy. Money is tight and time is tighter. But failing to invest in the skills of people in the early stages of their career will cause employers to accrue a long-term cost. Few can afford to pay it.

Mark Vegh, pictured, is partner at Global Growth Institute/World Class Manager. The World Class Manager report Management 2021 sets out immediate employer priorities to ensure managers have the support they need. Read the full report here 

Mark Vegh, partner at Global Growth Institute/World Class Manager

Published 7 April 2021

Despite the crucial role that they play, employers are too often setting managers up to fail

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