On Management

When it comes to management in the UK, you cannot help but think of David Brent from The Office – “I suppose I’ve created an atmosphere here where I’m a friend first, boss second. Probably an entertainer third.”

A quarter of century of managing various teams in the social housing sector, I ponder how much difference my “management” style and approach really made in the end?

Two conflicting models dominate management theory:

  • Theory X (Taylorism), workers need to be measured on outputs, watched and controlled to increase productivity. Left to their own devices workers are idle; and
  • Theory Y, workers are free spirits, creative, good-natured and left alone will get on with the task at hand.

My personal observations of the workplace is Theory X only applies to about 5% of employees and probably sucks up 30% plus of management time. It’s this imbalance that often distorts management perceptions, practices and ultimately generalised responses to the majority of their teams.

Now as a management consultant I often observe “teams and managers in action” from the boardroom to the shop floor throughout the UK. Invariably, some managers are better than others. I offer a simple experimental challenge to all managers, which I call “management off”.

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I get two strong opposing reactions from managers who are prepared to switch to “management off”:

  • an extremely liberating experience i.e. have more time to think, be creative, interact more freely with other team members, observe team members becoming self reliant and relish their own new found freedoms; or
  • A truly frightening/unnerving experience i.e. loss of identity and control, realisation teams can function just as well without them and a wake-up call to the managers own real contribution to the business.

Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) reveals a “reality gap” in the capabilities of the UK’s eight million or so managers. Most managers overestimate their own leadership qualities and grossly underestimate employee dissatisfaction

Many people get into “management” based on technical ability or worst still on their longevity in the workplace. Managers often receive very little training (beyond technical matters) and understand very little on how their own conduct impacts adversely on others.

Windows on the workplace” a 2014 survey published by CIPD finds UK workers workload and deadline pressures above the European average. Forty-one per cent of workers feel ‘under excessive pressure’ at least once a week and thirteen per cent who feel ‘under excessive pressure” daily.

Good managers will know when to step back and let the team function and when to:

  • Prioritise time with the team for providing high quality feedback
  • Offer coaching and support to develop team members
  • Use the teams creativity and ideas
  • Deal appropriately with conflict, stress, disciplinary and grievances

Let’s finish with another quote from the legendary on management guru David Brent – “What upsets me about the job? Wasted talent. People could come to me, and they could go, ‘Excuse me, David, but you’ve been in the business twelve years. Can you just spare us a moment to tell us how to run a team, how to keep them task-orientated as well as happy?’ But they don’t. That’s the tragedy.”