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What to do about underpowered management

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

So what are the top five issues facing HR? What are the big challenges that organisations must over come? What is the new normal and how should it be addressed? Is it the hybrid worker, is it managing home based staff, is it a workforce that wants more from the job but wants to put in less or is it a greater awareness of the need to address employees well being. Maybe it’s not about people it’s about AI. Perhaps it’s non of these “ new” issues but old favourites, lack of candidates with the right skills set, difficulty of attracting the best talent to unfashionable sectors and a whole range of equality and diversity issues which never went away but are , “ enjoying” one of their periodic revivals of interest? Maybe as unpressidented heat waves, fires and flooding occurs it’s about business ethics, responsibility and sustainability and being part of the solution not the problem?

It’s  all of these and non of these. The number one issue, the biggest challenge, the one thing that if an organisation gets right everything else will fall into place is….. Improving the quality of management. I know it’s not a very exciting rallying cry. But the real hard stuff rarely is. Look at the reality and tell me it’s not staggeringly obvious. All organisations suffer from bad managers. All organisations would benefit from better managers. Poor management is so common that employees come to expect it and organisations learn to tolerate it.

Whilst there are too many bad managers in organisations their businesses can still operate, all be it below their potential, because what needs to get done gets done despite not because of managers. Of course every organisation has some exceptional people at every level who inspire and champion,  these people are admired and respected but not expected to make a real or lasting difference.

So what would happen if we raised the quality of management? Most if not all the issues and challenges facing organisations are to a great extent about managing people. Yes there are issues around finance, buildings, equipment/technology , information/data and communications but it is people management where the biggest skill gap is( just ask HR) and the area that would offer the biggest return if addressed.

So why not simply dismiss all the bad managers. If we are honest we know who they are. Not practical and not desirable. Not practical because they are at every level in the organisation, there are a lot of them and HR will point out that suddenly telling people they are incompetent and sacking them when no one has previously challenged their performance is a recipe for unfair dismissal. Not desirable because this is just the type of bad people management the organisation wants to avoid.

So how do you improve the quality of management across an organisation. Answer by making changes to how and who you recruit and by a comprehensive investment in management development starting with aspiring managers and going all the way up to executive coaching and mentoring. Of course this is time consuming, expensive with no quick returns which is why organisations prefer to address other issues and tolerate poor managers.

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