UK senior management teams are failing to inspire confidence in their organisation’s managers, according to research by Edgecumbe Consulting Group, a business psychology consultancy. The problem is particularly acute among the manufacturing and industrial sectors which policy makers are hoping will lead the UK economy out of its current difficulties. The research involved interviews with 201 managers in medium to large UK-headquartered businesses.
The findings show that 77% of managers in the financial and business services sector rate the quality of leadership in their organisation positively; in the manufacturing and industrial sectors the figure is just 54%. To explain this lack of confidence, the researchers examined how leaders in manufacturing firms had responded to the tougher economic conditions of the last three years. Fifty-two percent of those interviewed said their leaders had become more task focused and 75% said their leaders had become more short-term oriented (a mere 2% said they had become more long-term oriented).
Jon Cowell, director at Edgecumbe Consulting Group and associate fellow at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, said: “At one level, this makes sense. We have known for many years that a highly directive, task-oriented style tends to work well in a crisis. But we also know that over time this style tends to breed resentment and disengagement, and this undermines long term performance. Building value for shareholders is a long-tern process, one that cannot be achieved without thinking and acting strategically.”
Cowell continued: “To do that, they need to focus more on spelling out the long-term future they are seeking to create and on aligning and engaging their people, to release the energy and creativity that will be required to achieve it. In short, they need to reverse the shift in focus that has taken place.”
Worryingly, when the researchers looked at managers’ perceptions of their leaders’ strengths and weaknesses it seems that, as so often happens when people feel under pressure, leaders in UK firms have done what feels most comfortable rather than focusing on what the situation really requires of them. Managers in these firms think their leaders are most effective at operational leadership and rated senior management weakest at leading people and building and sustaining relationships.
“This research shows that senior managers in manufacturing firms are seen to be strongest in those skills required to drive short term performance – though even here the figures are not great. A company whose people have a clear idea of what they are trying to achieve, and really believe in what they are doing, is far more likely to succeed. Just telling people what they must do now is not going to deliver this. Leaders need to raise their game when it comes to connecting, aligning and engaging people,” said Cowell.
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