Why do we undervalue management as a skill?

2nd May by Karen Smart

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British managers are being held back by some employers. Held back by a lack of investment in proper training and understanding of what good management skills are. We need to raise the bar on multiple fronts if British management, and indeed business, are to keep up with the higher standards demonstrated by our international counterparts such as the USA.

British businesses need and deserve the best possible managers

These problems transcend the HR department or boardroom and represent a widespread problem. Always at the forefront of best practice, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) is lobbying Westminster harder than ever to make change to national policy.

In its latest report Management and UK 2030, it believes that poor standards in management are harming not just British plc, but the economy too. It looks ahead to 2030 and beyond and argues that “for the country to overcome its poor productivity performance, it needs more capable, robust and resilient management and leadership.”

Likewise, Be the Business in its Productive Business Index from Q3, 2022, asserts that “we are in no doubt that productivity starts with great leadership. Leadership and management skills are central to this, and the government does have a role in building on and supporting existing measures in place to ensure every business leader who wants to boost their skills has a way of doing so. The UK’s skills agenda needs to reflect the modern environment and arm our future leaders with the skills to capitalise on the opportunities of the future.”

Raising the bar on the quantity, quality and impact of training

We’ve talked before about the affliction of accidental managers in British workplaces and this is not a surprising outcome when British employers invest only half the EU average investment per training and development. As reported in the Learning & Work Institute’s Raising the Bar report, fewer than 20% of all employers provide management training which as it says quite rightly, has to raise concerns about the quality and impact of employer training.

There is also a long running misconception about the nature of management itself with it generally thought of as an innate quality and associated with delegating tasks or overseeing operations. In truth in can be learned at any age and, is a multi-faceted discipline that requires a delicate balance of leadership, empathy, emotional intelligence, communication, problem-solving and strategic thinking. It is about guiding teams towards shared objectives, fostering collaboration and nurturing talent. In essence, management is about empowerment and transforming individuals into a cohesive force driving organisational success.

Management is a skill like any other than can be honed through training and experience. It must be worked at and that means investing in professional management skills training is not just an option, but a strategic imperative for businesses looking to thrive in today’s competitive landscape.

Among the myriad of management skills, coaching stands out as a particularly potent tool for nurturing talent and driving performance. A good manager as coach not only imparts knowledge and skills where relevant, but also empowers team members to realise their own potential. By embedding a culture of coaching within organisations, managers can help unlock hidden talents, inspire innovation, improve morale and promote a sense of ownership among colleagues. This, in turn, leads to higher engagement, productivity and ultimately better business outcomes.

However, some UK employers still appear inclined to tread a narrow path when recruiting managers because they are not expecting their management capabilities to be sufficiently developed.

According to data referenced within the CMI’s Management and UK 2030 report, “the UK still requires 10% more management job adverts to require high level management skills if it is to close the gap with the world’s most productive economies such as the USA. Within the last year, only 32% of managerial jobs in the UK had defined the skill of management as a requirement, below the G7 average of 35%. In comparison, in the USA, 41% of total managerial jobs have defined management as a required a skill.”

Taking CMI’s data into account there are currently around 8.4million managers in the UK workforce, but we need more. CMI calculations based on Lightcast forecasts and LFS data suggest a c.1.5% increase in managers between 2023 and 2030, resulting in over 120,000 extra managers required across UK industries. CMI states if “the UK upskilled its managerial ranks to the same level as the US over the course of a generation, say, the workforce would have an additional 840,000 trained, high-skilled managers, based on CMI estimations using Lightcast job posting data (Oct 2022-Sep 2023).”

In summary, the undervaluation of management as a skillset is a shortsighted perspective that can undermine the very foundation of organisational success. Effective management is not a luxury but a necessity in today’s complex and interconnected world. By recognising the importance of professional management skills training, particularly coaching skills for managers, businesses and the economy can be wealthier beneficiaries if management is elevated to its rightful place as a cornerstone of sustainable growth in the business world.