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Unlocking potential - a new era for UK management

8 July 2024

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Unlocking potential - a new era for UK management

Reported by  Jacob Bradbury, CSaP Policy Intern (April-July 2024).

Anthony Painter, Director of Policy at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), delivered the lunchtime session of the Centre for Science and Policy’s (CSaP) 35th meeting of the Policy Leaders Fellowship. Anthony’s presentation was followed by a round table discussion, chaired by CSaP’s Executive Director, Dr Rob Doubleday.

Middle management is important

Painter opened his talk by highlighting the important and often unrecognised role of the middle managers, describing them as the ‘unsung heroes of our time’. He highlighted a recent report by CMI and YouGov that found that the impact of an ineffective manager is deep and broad, with 28% of workers citing a negative relationship with their manager contributing to them leaving a previous job.

Measuring management

A separate CMI report found that the UK has a lower management score than other countries such as the US, Japan and Germany, which is estimated to cost the UK economy over £100 billion across recent decades. However, this picture in improving, with the UK’s score improving due to a change in employment practices. Specifically, this is because firms have shifted their understanding of employee demands and productivity. It is also noteworthy that firms with higher management scores generally are firms that use Artificial Intelligence more often and have managers with formal training. However, managers are still the workers most likely to identify as having the biggest lack in skills.

Rapid returns on investment

Work from the CMI shows that implementing good management leads to a clear impact in measurable outcomes. Most obvious was an improvement in conflict resolution, team motivation and work-life balance. However, Painter stressed that management training gave horizontal soft skills, and were not a substitute for deep domain knowledge. These learnings had been developed into new ‘Civil Service Line Management Standards’, which were launched in April 2024.

Policy also matters

Painter emphasised that a culture of strong management is lacking in the UK. Looking to other nations, it was clear that the strongest management practice emerged when the following ingredients are present: access to global markets, a culture of management and good institutions to upskills managers. Painter also made three recommendations to an incoming government to protect what works, embed managers development in critical government strategy and incentivise culture change around management.


"An uneven, new equilibrium is emerging, accelerated by pandemic disruption. Once we appreciate the degree to which the best management is an enabler of better performance and greater well-being we might embrace it properly."


Management in the Civil Service

The group then began a roundtable discussion which continued to explore the culture of management in the UK and its policy implications. One common theme throughout was the reflection of management practice within the UK Civil Service, recognising that sometimes the Civil Service failed to get management right. Painter reflected that workers in the Civil Service are motivated differently, but the Civil Service still risked wasting talent due to poor line management, as well as losing personnel to the private sector. In addition, the complexity of the Civil Service management structure often impairs productivity.

Homeworking

A common discussion point was the increase in home working post COVID-19, and some examples of firms reverting to policies to return workers back to the office. Painter cited a recent paper published in Nature that found hybrid working improves retention without damaging performance. Painter argued that firms ordering workers back to the office were short sighted and encouraged these firms to follow evidence over their instinct. Furthermore, since so many workers expected flexible working policies firms that pursued this policy were likely to see a drop in retention.

International Trends

Finally, the group asked questions about trends observed abroad, and whether international firms had similar culture at their UK offices. Painter began by stating that the skills investment in the UK was very different to elsewhere, with UK investment often lower than other countries. Countries that exceed at skills development, such as Ireland and Singapore, often have higher Skills Levies, buy in from firms and workers, and a ‘whole system approach’ to management. Thinking about international firms that locate to the UK, Painter offered one possible explanation that these firms often adopt a UK style of management at the detriment of their productivity.


By Henrik Dønnestad on Unsplash.

Jacob Bradbury

University of Oxford