skills-jobBusiness leaders face fresh criticism with the publication of research that finds they are struggling with basic management skills as the reality of living with austerity takes hold.

The annual Management Agenda report, a comprehensive survey of 1,460 managers by the leadership institute Roffey Park to be launched today, finds that leadership development is the number one strategy organisations are adopting for the future – ahead of other strategies for growth such as developing new products and services, implementing new technology, or even improving employee engagement.

Meanwhile, basic management skills such as dealing with underperforming staff and managing change are not up to scratch, according to the report. And while the research finds the challenge of reacting to the economic downturn has eased for many organisations, living with austerity is proving more difficult for managers, who need to implement efficiency savings and change whilst maintaining staff morale.

Among the key findings in the report, which is now in its 16th year, are:

  • 55 percent of organisations say leadership development is a key strategy they are adopting for the future, making it the most common strategy cited. Efficiency savings is the second most likely at 51 percent, followed by implementing new technology at 45 percent. Developing new products and services is further down, at just 39 percent.
  • Two-fifths of managers (40 percent) report that underperformance is not tackled at all well in their organisation
  • A shockingly high percentage of managers say redundancies are still handled, at best, only adequately (55%).
  • Managers from organisations where redundancies were well managed were five times less likely to report reduced performance and productivity.
  • 45 percent of managers report a low level of support in their organisations, yet managers also report an increased use of stretch assignments and enhanced responsibilities. When asked about use of incentives since the downturn, increased responsibility scored the highest, with 61 percent of managers saying it was being used more frequently. Stretch assignments followed at 41 percent, with coaching next at 35 percent. In contrast, pay rises and bonuses were bottom of the list, at just five percent and nine percent respectively. Without proper support, the “developmental deal” for employees who step up risks being “dumping” rather than “stretching.”
  • Whilst ethics in business has received much media attention, the survey suggests this is not an issue at the forefront of managers’ minds. Just over half of managers skipped the question, with a further third reporting it was “business as usual” or they already considered their organisation to be ethical in its approach. A small percentage regarded ethics as simply compliance with regulation.
  • From 2008, the collective strength of purpose in organisations increased, peaking in 2011 before starting to drop. The percentage of managers reporting a strong collective sense of purpose has now stabilized at just 40 percent, suggesting the management skills needed to come together in crisis are different from those now required in austerity.
  • As in previous years, the report finds board directors much more secure in their jobs and confident about finding work elsewhere than managers beneath them. Whereas 58 percent of board directors said they were secure in their jobs, the same was true for just 38 percent of junior managers.

Commenting on the findings, Michael Jenkins, Chief Executive of Roffey Park, said: “Leadership must get the right balance. Whilst leaders need to develop and communicate a clear strategy and vision, they also need to support implementation and the day-to-day management skills of the managers beneath them.”
He continues: “With the financial crisis and recent corporate scandals around bonuses and tax, it’s leaders at the very top who’ve been in the firing line. Now, as focus must shift from responding to the crisis to steering a more stable course through austerity, we’re seeing managers further down the line struggling to cope with basic issues such as implementing change and dealing with underperforming staff.”