Who will manage the managers?

Claire Manuel explores how technology can help improve management skills and why it’s not the whole story

Not all managers are good, and poor ones can have a catastrophic effect on any business. At best they create a culture of low morale and resentment; at worst they make bad decisions that can lose money or even bring a company down.

Anyone who has ever been an employee will know at least one individual who was good at their job, got promoted and then found themselves disastrously ill-equipped to manage others.

A recent survey by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) suggests that ineffective management could be costing UK businesses more than £19 billion per year in lost working hours. The study of 2,000 employees revealed that 75 per cent of workers waste almost two hours out of their working week due to inefficient managers.

The worst management practices responsible for time lost include unclear communication, lack of support, micro-management and lack of direction, while 13 per cent of those surveyed had witnessed managers exhibiting discriminatory behaviour towards employees and 27 per cent had witnessed managers bullying or harassing their staff.

Management training is an often neglected area, with companies underestimating the importance of a strong corporate culture, structured training programmes, clear objectives and effective communication.

“People development doesn’t have to cost a lot of money,” says Mandy Cresswell Phillips, a coaching and development professional. “The important thing is to remove poor managers and replace them with good ones who can spot and nurture talent and use a more democratic style to motivate, collaborate and increase staff potential and morale.”

Effective training is obviously one method of tackling the problem but there are also a number of technological tools that can help. “People management needs people skills and no technology can assist there,” says Tony Poulos, market strategist for industry association TM Forum.

“However, there are no end of management training guides available digitally and applications that emulate business scenarios. Online management courses abound, as well as online knowledge bases with answers to many management queries or references to solutions others have tried. There are even management games where one can pit one’s management skills against an online programme or a number of other online players.”

When the right technology is found, it can improve productivity

The growth of Generation Y has brought about a sea change in the working environment. The so-called millennial workforce (those born after 1982) is heavily reliant on the mobile internet and this has led to a fundamental shift in the way in which businesses are run. Smartphones, laptops and tablets are part of the worker’s everyday arsenal. Staff are constantly online and have instant access to data in real time: communicating with colleagues and customers around the world, and using social and professional networking sites.

Managers need to be aware of this and encourage their staff to maximise the potential of the technology at their disposal. At the same time they need to manage the process, ensuring that information sharing and networking is productive rather than a distraction.

The economic downturn means that accurate business intelligence is a highly prized commodity, as companies strive to better understand their customers, make better decisions and achieve a leaner operation. Accurate data is key and business analytics, which involves the use of data, statistical analysis and predictive modelling to drive decision making, can also be an effective tool for the manager.

“Today’s business analytics and modelling tools are easy to use,” says Mr Poulos. “Users are able to access data from almost any source and the results can be presented in multiple ways, often as dashboards, visual graphs and spreadsheets. This provides ideal media for digital distribution, web browser access and even to applications on mobile devices for presentation anywhere, anytime.”

Technology that utilises industry key performance indicators can help companies and individual staff benchmark their performance against similar players in the marketplace. “When tied with business analytics, these become invaluable tools for today’s management,” adds Mr Poulos. Locating the most suitable tools can take time, which is hardly ideal when looking to improve performance.

“Finding the right technology is one thing, implementing and maintaining it, quite another,” he says. “Technology, in this case, can become a distraction. But when the right one is found, it can improve productivity and the quality of decision-making.”

Ultimately, technology is only a tool to assist and evaluate the individual. Traditional management disciplines are still important, though technology can be a useful ally. “It has to be the right person and they have to have clear direction and leadership,” says Ms Cresswell Phillips.“Management culture has to come from the top down and ineffective leadership at this level will result in ineffective middle management.”

Whatever the management skills a business needs, it is the clever combination of traditional training and today’s technology that will make a real difference.