Why British managers have a training problem

The CMI doesn't think that UK bosses have a poor work ethic. But it does think they need more training on how to manage in a downturn.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 25 May 2011

Indian steel tycoon Ratan Tata made headlines this weekend after suggesting in an interview with the Times that the British managers he inherited at Corus and Jaguar Land Rover - in 2006 and 2008 respectively - had a poor work ethic; that they weren't prepared 'to go the extra mile' (though Tata's PRs insist he never said they were 'lazy', as the Times appeared to suggest). UK bosses clearly do have room to improve: new figures from the Chartered Management Institute suggest that general morale has slumped within UK plc during the last six months. But CMI chief exec Ruth Spellman says this is a training issue, not an attitude problem - and as such, it's up to those at the very top to put things right...

According to the CMI, 70% of the 500 managers they interviewed admitted that morale in their workplace has got worse over the past six months, while 45% thought the number of workers feeling ‘involved and valued’ in the business they work for has also dropped.

Of course, morale is bound to drop during tough times. But according to the CMI, that makes it particularly important that managers are trained to keep spirits up - and yet just one in five has had formal training. This needs to change, Spellman says. ‘There are plenty of managers trying to do a good job, but I believe enabling them to develop that expertise is a crucial thing,’ she suggests. The CMI wants to increase the number of managers receiving training from the current level of 20% (as per the survey) to 50% by 2020.

So what should this involve? Spellman insists training must be consistent throughout the business, to ensure that every employee remains motivated and productive, she says. ‘If the workforce see management behaving in a responsible way and being supported by the top team, they’re going to respond in a much more consistent and loyal and thorough way. If they see there’s one thing being said on high and that’s not being carried through in practice, that’s not going to get anyone very far.’

But in these straitened times, can businesses really afford to provide effective training of this type? Spellman argues that it’s possible to do it on a budget by getting people from inside the organisation to act as trainers. ‘Identify where managers’ weaknesses are, and then find out which member of staff is good in that area. Managers can learn a great deal from their own colleagues.’ In fact, the question is whether businesses can afford not to. As Spellman puts it: ‘It’s not an overhead, it’s an investment. I think there’s a bigger cost if they don’t train.’

And here's one snippet of good news: according to Spellman, a large number of managers are taking the initiative and training during their personal time. ‘They understand that unless they keep their skills up to date, they might not have a job tomorrow.’ All too true.

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