The management mismatch

Posted 28 May 2012 by Penny Moyle
The management mismatch

recent CIPD survey showing a mismatch between how well managers think they are doing and how employees feel they are being managed highlights a number of deeper issues bubbling under the surface in many workplaces.

Of course managers rate themselves more highly than others rate them; it is a well researched and natural tendency, reflective of confidence, to see yourself as doing well. Similarly, employees are typically critical of their manager’s performance when given the opportunity to respond to an anonymous survey. That said, whilst the CIPD survey might not wholly reflect the factual reality of the size of this gap, there are nonetheless some important messages in there.

What the research does highlight is the real need for managers to be trained and developed in people management skills. The danger of simply ‘learning whilst doing’ is that most people will manage as they have been managed, and this can set a self-perpetuating cycle. Of course, if they have had excellent managers in the past, this could be a very positive cycle, but that will not always be the case. Whilst there are certainly merits of an ‘on the job’ approach, pairing this with some more structured input is likely to result in better-quality management.

Managing people is like learning to drive; whilst there is nothing wrong with being taught by your dad, you are likely to pick up his long-established (and potentially bad) habits. You’ll still learn how to drive, but if you spend time with a driving instructor as well, you will benefit from a best-practice approach that incorporates points that your father didn’t know, or had overlooked.

An important element of successful people management comes down to self-awareness. With a good dose of this, managers will develop a better understanding of how they react to different situations, how they work with others and how they might be interpreted by those around them. Moreover, understanding how their style fits into a framework of individual differences can help them to understand when to adjust their style for maximum impact in working with others – peers and seniors, as well as direct reports. This knowledge alone can result in a review of management techniques and the development of improved leadership skills.

Clearly this isn’t an approach modelled by all leaders. Alan Sugar (at least the persona we see on the TV) has probably not spent much time worrying about how to adapt his style to suit others. But for every successful Sugar, there are thousands of managers who can see very real and tangible benefits from an increased self-awareness and flexibility of approach.

It is important to note that managers have had it tough too over the last few years. Managing in austere times means fewer opportunities to provide ‘treats’ such as the nice working lunches and fun activities of old. It also means being the one to hand down bigger workloads or other bad news, and they themselves do not always have an adequate support network of peers or senior leaders to share the burden with.

So what should we take from all of this? Closing the gap between employees’ perceptions and those of their managers takes work from both sides. Whilst it is likely that employees will always be quick to see the failings of their managers, with systematic input on people management skills organisations can create better managers, and at least close the perception gap to some extent.

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