Senior managers lack the people skills to succeed, finds report

More than half of HR professionals don’t have faith in leaders’ ability to manage performance

Senior management professionals lack the right balance of effective people management competencies and technical skills, new data from the CIPD has found.

Although ‘performance management’ and ‘people management’ were voted as the top leadership behaviours and skills needed by organisations over the next three years, many of the 629 HR professionals surveyed said leaders’ skills were lacking in these crucial areas.

Of those who cited performance management, more than half (53 per cent) said senior leaders’ current skills in this area were ineffective. A further 44 per cent of those who named people management as a crucial skill felt senior leaders’ abilities in this arena were lacking.

The CIPD’S HR Outlook report winter 2016-17 found that leaders were rated as being most effective on technical ability (30 per cent), budgeting and financial management (19 per cent) and operational management (15 per cent). Only one of these skills – budgeting and financial management – was named by HR professionals in the top 10 leadership behaviours and skills needed in the next three years.

Dr Jill Miller, research adviser at the CIPD, said it was “very concerning” that leaders were rated so poorly on their people management and development capabilities.

She emphasised that effective leaders require a variety of skills: “Organisations need to respond to this mismatch by making targeted investment in their leadership’s people management capability. A strong talent pipeline, which promotes both strong people management and technical excellence, will support people to reach their full potential at work and is essential for a sustainable and high-performing business.”

Miller also said that the use of outdated career development models, through which the only way to progress at work is by taking on people management responsibility, has created the “difference between rhetoric and reality in leadership skills. Technically based career progression should also be possible for those who don’t want to manage people or don’t feel it’s in their skillset. That way, organisations can still offer career advancement, but in a way that ensures they have the right people with the right skills in the right places.”

More than half (52 per cent) of respondents said cost management was their organisation’s most significant priority, followed by talent management and increasing flexibility of the organisation (both 40 per cent) and productivity (35 per cent).

The three biggest drivers of change in respondents’ businesses were found to be economic changes such as globalisation and Brexit (43 per cent), the demand for flexible working (34 per cent) and changing demographics such as the four-generation and ageing workforce (33 per cent).

The data also found variation among HR practitioners in the extent to which they are able to work with others to respond to the key trends that are driving change, including changes to employer-employee relationships and workforce demographics.

Although 46 per cent stated that they help their organisation respond to varying employer-employee relationships, 6 per cent reported that the issue is not on either their company’s agenda or their personal agenda.

Moreover, 42 per cent of respondents said they were helping their organisation with the issue of changing workforce demographics, but one quarter (24 per cent) said they were unable to influence their company’s approach to this issue.

Line managers had taken on new people management responsibilities that had been devolved from HR in half of the organisations surveyed. But only 44 per cent of HR professionals in these businesses said line managers had been given formal training to support this change, and only around two-thirds were given any tailored support for the transition.

The report also highlighted that many business leaders and managers weren’t being given access to HR data to help inform their decision-making. Of those companies that do use HR analytics, 26 per cent of senior leaders, 45 per cent of line managers and 51 per cent of risk and compliance professionals do not have access to HR data.

“HR needs to share this workforce information with them to encourage tangible change and drive value in the business in order for managers to make evidence-based people decisions,” said Miller.

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