There has never been a greater need for better management and leadership skills in the UK. It's all too often the case that management incompetence is at the root of high-profile, costly and sometimes tragic failures. In the context of the recession and growing international competition, every manager in this country must ensure that he or she has the best possible skills to contribute to successful business performance. But government also shares that responsibility and, as we approach the political parties' annual conference season, we need renewed debate about how we can help managers improve their skills.
Recent management failures have been breathtaking: the collapse of the banking sector will continue to be analysed for years to come. The spotlight has also been on management as the recession has deepened and unemployment levels have risen. Many managers are fighting a battle to control costs and survive with reduced credit and slowing demand.
Meanwhile, the Baby P tragedy was a reminder that, for some, management and leadership have life-and-death consequences. Is bad management costing lives? The question is particularly relevant in the health service - think of the outcry over mortality rates at Stafford Hospital - and other parts of the public sector. With public finances under increasing strain, how can we improve public services, achieve efficiency savings and plan for the long term? Good management will be at a premium.
But imagine a world where management and leadership enable top-class performance across British business, the public sector and not-for-profit organisations; where management isn't a byword for bureaucracy but plays a real role in boosting performance. This month, the CMI will publish for consultation a Management Manifesto, starting the debate on a better-managed Britain as we approach a general election.
The political parties remain quiet about how we improve management and leadership. True, there has been a range of initiatives in recent years, with particularly encouraging progress in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But there's still a fundamental need for better recognition of what managers do and how they shape our economy, and a renewed effort to raise their skills. This is a call to action for all politicians.
In fact, managers now form the largest occupational group in the country, with numbers forecast to reach 5.5 million by 2020. Yet, at best, only one in five managers hold a management qualification. CMI research shows that we spend less on management development than our European competitors. So all of us - individual managers, employers and policy-makers - need to answer difficult questions about how well we're equipping the next generation to lead.
Why should we settle for management capability that's second-best? All too often, people promoted into management jobs are given little help in adapting to the new responsibilities they're taking on. These 'accidental' managers need to be given more support.
So, one of the challenges facing the next government will be to encourage investment in management and leadership. Efforts to streamline the skills system need to continue, making it easier for individuals and employers to understand what's available. Skills accounts and funding reforms could encourage individuals to keep their own skills up to date, while financial incentives for organisations to invest in professional development could transform demand.
Measuring good management is another challenge. We should be looking for ways of measuring management and leadership performance that would expose the differences between the organisations run for long-term and sustainable success and those that are not. Whereas many investors continue to focus on the abilities of the chief executive and those around him (and it's usually a him, not a her), we need to account for the strength of management throughout an organisation to determine its real value. The CMI's continuing work on a leadership standard aims to address that need.
Managers will play a critical role in determining how well the UK meets some enormous challenges over the next decade. How can we foster innovation to promote economic growth? How do we close the gender pay-gap and remedy the under-representation of women in the boardroom? How will the next government help managers cut their carbon footprint? How can we ensure that workforce flexibility meets both employer and employee needs?
First-class management and leadership really can drive up both personal and corporate performance. It can boost national productivity and enhance social wellbeing. The run-up to the general election offers us all - managers, employers, professional bodies and government - the chance to re-examine how we can achieve a vision of a better-managed Britain.
CV - RUTH SPELLMAN OBE
As chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, Spellman leads the drive to encourage greater focus on the high-level skills needed to build UK competitiveness and productivity. Before joining the Institute in 2008, she served as the first female chief executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Spellman also spent eight years as CEO of Investors in People UK.
Join the debate on the Chartered Management Institute's Management Manifesto from 10 September at www.managers.org.uk/manifesto