Ruth Spellman: UK Management is Broken

Last Updated Nov 11, 2009 9:53 AM EST

It's been said a lot lately: people don't leave a bad job, they leave a bad manager -- and UK business bosses could be driving their people out in droves, according to the Chartered Management Institute. Nearly half of employees have quit a job because of bad management, according to a CMI survey of 3,000 people. And half believe they could do a better job than their boss.

Put simply, employees no longer trust their managers -- a summer survey by the CMI found that 85 per cent of employees doubt the information being delivered to them by managers or leaders.

This is not just a blip that will right itself with recovery from the recession, says CMI chief executive Ruth Spellman. Here, she explains how the CMI hopes to right UK leadership wrongs by persuading private and public sector organisations to sign a Manifesto for a Better Managed Britain.

BNET: Why have you drawn up the manifesto?
RS: Management is pretty broken. The credibility gap that managers face is not just a hiccough. The UK's behind the game on developing managers and leaders as professionals.

BNET: What's gone wrong?

RS: People are often thrown into jobs with scant training. We're failing to provide a job ladder and set clear standards and expectations. We don't look enough at practical skills and how we can marry technical abilities with managerial competencies. Look at doctors: they need a high degree of technical skill, but they must also be excellent communicators and team leaders. That's management.

Companies aren't making their senior leaders accountable enough, either. If someone falls off their perch at the top, you need to accept that they may no longer be right to manage or lead. We need to consider whether we've been promoting the wrong people and making people accountable enough for their generous rewards.

I'd like to transform the negative perception of management as a meaningful profession and one that can make a difference.

We need to begin preparing people earlier, too, rather than training being a matter of accident. We all learn from the early examples and some of the ones that entry-level employees encounter are really bad.

BNET: So how do we fix the problems?
RS: We need to prepare managers better. There doesn't have to be a unique career path, but people need to be better prepared for management roles. That means setting standards at each stage of their development -- creating a structured 'ladder' of qualifications.

There's a common core of management training that ought to run the gamut -- from technical specialists to administrators.

The CMI is also demanding that people adhere to a code of ethics (and we've been known to strike people off). This is an increasingly relevant issue -- seniority brings with it a need to understand reputation, risk and your environmental imprint.

BNET: What are you asking of employers and employees?
RS: For individual managers, signing the pledge means promising to demonstrate professionalism, being aware of the example you're setting, and agreeing to update your skills at every stage of your career.

I'd also like to encourage younger people to do what they do naturally by extending their online networks to build a peer group around them to influence them positively. Connecting with people outside of your organisation can transform what you do.

For employers, it sets an expectation: the organisation develops professional managers and leaders and fosters a culture in which they are competent and accountable -- and receive the recognition and rewards to match their performance. The CMI will act like a consultant to evaluate the impact of measures -- because organisations need to know the programme is working or they'll just give up.

The aim overall is to raise the norm, which is too low. Too many are unprepared. Middle managers should have a portfolio of skills that are regularly reviewed and updated.

BNET: Couldn't leaders just do an MBA?

RS: While MBAs offer a lot of the things the CMI's Manifesto demands, there are a lot of people struggling at the coalface for whom an MBA is inappropriate. A modular approach is better suited to the working British manager. It doesn't negate the purpose of an MBA -- but there's an urgent need for professional, accountable managers now.

BNET: What if your business isn't big on training and development?
RS: Employees with talent have a lot more power than they might think. I've never encountered a company that frowns upon skill development. Your boss may not be aware of what you want. You can also develop skills within the scope of your own job -- gaining practical skills by doing tasks well.