​Bad management: One of the top killers in business – Insights from Cegos UK

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You wouldn’t put a round peg in a square hole, would you?

We’ve all heard the popular idiom ‘like a square peg in a round hole’. We all know what it means, and possibly we’ve all felt like it at some point in our careers and lives.

What the saying doesn’t quite reflect is the damage that hammering that square peg into that round hole can cause – to both shapes. Eventually, one of them will break.

I’ve been coaching and training a UK and international workforce for many years – and I’ve seen the harm that bad management can cause not only to individuals, but to the businesses they work for.

A recent report from the CIPD examined whether the UK is getting any better at management, following up on the findings of Porter and Ketels back in 2003. They found some positive signs, but also some real danger signals – specifically a weakness around giving feedback, coaching and addressing development needs.

While about two-thirds of employees are satisfied with the relationship with their line manager, CIPD surveys show much lower levels of satisfaction with senior management – with a lack of trust being high on the agenda.

The report stresses the importance of good quality management, and the need to improve leadership skills – both vital for overall corporate and individual well-being.

On the surface, that sounds like something of a ‘no-brainer’ – a state that all organisations should be striving for. Yet the reality can be far different – management can be ineffective, uninspiring, and at worst truly damaging.

During a coaching session held with a major UK employer, I came across a member of their team who had been moved, against her will, into a new role. She had previously been customer-facing, was superb at her job, and generated a lot of business. As a committed employee, she was doing her best to make a success of the new role – one that she was not only poorly suited to, but was being ‘micro managed’ in. It struck me how the ‘square peg in a round hole’ effect was likely to result not only in a loss of business, but eventually in the loss of a truly talented member of the workforce.

This whole situation – which is not at all uncommon – was brought about as the result of poor management; of the inability to recognise and accept an individual’s strengths and weaknesses, and to maximise their potential. Not only are these circumstances stressful – they are wasting talent, damaging the profitability and performance of the organisation, and reflecting the findings of the CIPD report.

As managers, one of our key roles is to be able to understand and work with people. I find it amazing that examples like this still exist – even in companies who seem to invest in training and development. Is it a case of the managers being poorly managed? Do we need to rethink the way we assess, coach and mentor our managers? And how do we expect our organisations to thrive when there are still far too many examples of this kind of behaviour?

Whatever the reason, it shouldn’t be something that we simply accept. The CIPD report concludes that we need a stronger focus on improving leadership and management skills; that changes in management practice need to be aligned with cultural change.

Neither the original Porter and Ketels report nor this one provide any easy answers – because this is not an easy situation. The complex web of different business structures, different management practices and of course different personalities means that one size doesn’t fit all – but there are ways to improve.

There is a universe of knowledge and best practice out there. There are techniques, methods and structures that can help. For the sake of the individual, the business, and the nation’s economy, good management is not something we can take for granted – and poor management is not something we should support or even tolerate.

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