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Managers or Leaders - what do we need in times of change?

Philip Roycroft - May '2016

                              

Every time I facilitate ‘Leading Others’, a values based leadership course designed to skill up leaders to better engage their staff, I am struck by the dilemma these good people and their host organisations face.

In the ‘disability’ sector for example organisations are endeavouring to provide a truly person centred service. Practitioners are told about the importance of putting the individual first, about developing ‘adult-adult’ relationships, supporting people to take greater responsibility for the decisions that effect their own lives, to live more independently and to exercise choice. Great care is taken to ensure that their voice is heard, that their opinions matter. Significant investment has been made by organisations to ensure front line staff ‘get the message’ through high quality induction and training. So why is it that so many practitioners still feel disempowered themselves, why is it that so many are cynical about their own organisations? Is it even possible for practitioners to develop ‘adult-adult’ relationships with the people they work with if they do not feel that they have ‘adult-adult’ relations with their own managers, or where they feel that top down systems undermine their freedom to take decisions, and exercise choice.

If you want front line staff to deliver a truly person centred service, it is essential that they operate within the very same person centred culture, and experience the very same adult-adult relationship with their line manager. That the systems which they operate are designed to give them the information that they need in order to make the right decisions, to feel that their voice really does matter, and that they can influence the key decisions relating to their day to day work.

It is relatively easy to get a feel for the culture by asking 1st line managers about their relationship with IT, Training, HR, Finance, Quality, Senior Management etc. Do they feel like customers who are getting a customised, quality service from these departments? Do they feel that they can influence and effect change? Or do they feel like servants of the system, asked to implement procedures that they had no part in shaping. Are they happy with the balance of time they spend wearing a leadership hat as opposed a management hat?  The answers to these questions don’t tend to be black or white, life and culture are much more complex that that. However in my experience the overwhelming responses to these questions is that most managers feel that too much of their time is devoted to fire fighting, to ensuring that shifts are covered, data collated, procedures implemented. This leaves frustrating little time for coaching others, for developmental work, for effecting positive medium/ long term change, in other words, for leadership. In time high motivation can turn to frustration, and frustration to cynicism.

Empowerment/ engagement is not rocket science, it is both simple and extremely difficult. It requires a different mindset by senior managers and 1st level managers alike, and it requires everything to change at the same time! In ‘Leading Others’, managers are challenged to recognise and harness the power and influence that they have. Many begin the programme in denial of their power. They are encouraged to view their staff as capable, responsible adults, who are more than able to take responsibility and solve problems for themselves, they are encouraged to position themselves as facilitators/ coaches rather than directive problem fixers, to move towards being proactive leaders, and away from being reactive managers. They are encouraged to have high expectations of their teams. They are also encouraged not to micro manage staff who are unwilling to accept responsibility, but instead to coach them to take responsibility, and failing that, support them to leave. The effort required to keep disengaged staff in post is enormous. Any short term benefits are far outweighed by the damage done to the team and to the service by holding on to some people for too long. Data gathered from Gallup would suggest that up to 25% of employees are actively disengaged at their work!

  • The survey Essential Learning: The employee perspective revealed that 78% of UK employees identified line management as the job function in most need of additional training. (Leitch Review 2006).
  • The CIPD’s spring 2009 Employee Outlook survey report, 44% of employees say their line manager rarely or never coaches them and a third of employees report that their line manager never or rarely discusses their training and development needs. Fewer than half of employees say their line manager usually or always provides feedback on their performance.
  • CIPD research finds that workload and management style are the top causes of stress at work (CIPD 2008a).
  • An engaging manager is at the heart of success in engaging the workforce. Accenture’s internal research showed that 80 per cent of the variation in engagement levels was down to the line manager.(1) As a result, employees’ most important relationship at work is with their line manager; people join organisations, but they leave managers.

Another interesting fact is that the cultural differences within organisations is often greater than that between organisations. It is argued that this is because individual managers’ have a significant influence on culture. Individuals can make a difference!

Although earlier I suggested that a change of mindset was required by senior managers and first level managers alike, those who attend Leading Others are challenged to make positive changes, and not to wait for the organisation to change first. They are supported to shift relationships with those that they lead from directing to coaching, and to make time to wear their leadership hat.

“Organizations have too much management and not enough leadership”
Peter Drucker

Feedback from participants of Leading Others is that the course is inspirational, that it raises their confidence and provides practical tools which often transform their relationship with the teams that they lead. The programme is built around a practical work based assignment which supports leaders to take their teams through the key stages of the engagement process, to the point where they can measure improvement in the team’s engagement. For further information about Leading Others visit:   https://www.thistle.org.uk/practitioners/leading-others

 

1. Note from MacLeod Review round table meeting held with Accenture, 11 February 2009 http://www.engageforsuccess.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/file52215.pdf

 

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