Corporate Director The Open University
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The management puzzle: why it’s time for organisations to upgrade their ‘accidental managers’

Managers have a huge responsibility within an organisation, and yet very few receive formal training for the role. Isn’t it time we equipped these people for the challenges of the modern workforce?

11th Nov 2019
Corporate Director The Open University
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mature business man and woman having manager meeting
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Many of us have a good idea of what makes a great manager. We know when we see good, and bad, management on a daily basis. We can point to high profile examples. That time when a shrewd, experienced manager guided their organisation out of difficulty, and the other time when managerial naivety did the opposite.

Despite this, very few UK managers have actually received formal training for this high pressure, high responsibility role. Given that we live in a time of tremendous change, where turning challenges into opportunities is more important than ever, could this be more of an issue than we may think?

As the Chartered Management Institute put it, we’re a nation of accidental managers, and it’s doing us no favours.

Overseeing well thought-out managerial training could provide organisations with a workplace framework where challenges are more easily overcome, opportunities are seized, and where a workforce is able to thrive.

By investing in managerial skills, employers are ensuring that their organisation is able to effectively handle the challenging conditions present today and tomorrow. Cross-discipline management skills – an understanding of an organisation’s operational strategy, its financial strengths and weaknesses, and the people at its core – are absolutely vital to organisations looking to become agile and adaptable.

The employee with this level of understanding will be a manager who can implement change and react to issues, all the while reassuring staff and maintaining morale. Understandably, this suite of skills requires thorough training.

The ‘in at the deep end’ school of management

As the Chartered Management Institute put it, we’re a “nation of accidental managers”, and it’s doing us no favours. Learning on the job will give employees some good learning curves, but being ‘thrown in at the deep end’ risks leaving managers with a limited range of skills. To really implement top-tier management that will boost productivity and enhance company performance, more thorough training is needed.

It’s clear that time is of the essence. The Open University Business Barometer 2019 – our third annual report on the skills landscape of the UK – shows that more than three in five (63%) employers do not have the talent required to operate to the best of their ability.

Although the temptation will always be there, it’s time for organisations to move on from the unsustainable model of ‘deep end learning’.

Nearly half said the role they last struggled to hire for was a management position. Subsequently, countless organisations are running the risk of becoming dangerously underprepared for potential threats, such as political and economic disruption, and radical technological change.

Unfortunately, we often see employers resort to short-term ‘quick fixes’ to problems such as skills shortages and low productivity. This is understandable, but whilst recruiting expensive talent to plug gaps in the workforce can paper over the cracks, embracing workplace learning can future-proof organisations’ talent pools in the long term.

Harnessing apprenticeships

The real question, however, is how can businesses actually find and establish a training strategy that prepares and protects them and their skills going forward?

Harnessing the power of the apprenticeship levy is certainly one option. In fact, more than 7,000 organisations have already boosted their skill sets by enrolling employees on the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA). The CMDA represents an opportunity for employers to upskill staff with a quality degree fused with instantly actionable on-the-job experience.

Organisations stand to gain from newly acquired skills without delay. And with flexible, technology-enabled learning delivery, workers are able to fit learning around existing commitments. Expensive recruitment fees and temporary staffing are no longer required, employers gain the high-level management skills so necessary for the times we live in, and the organisation continues to function without significant disruption.

Plus, investing in training invariably sees a rise in employee retention. Instead of placing significant pressure on employees to ‘figure it out’, employees are given the time to learn these skills at a more sustainable pace, with a framework designed to support them throughout. Such an investment will undoubtedly boost loyalty, perpetuating the longevity of newly learned skill sets.

So, although the temptation will always be there, it’s time for organisations to move on from the unsustainable model of ‘deep end learning’. If the UK’s employers are serious about boosting productivity, enhancing agility and managing whatever challenges the political and economic landscapes provide, they will take notice of the management training opportunities around them and invest in their talent for now and the future.

Interested in this topic? Read Leadership: the problem with managers and how to upskill them.

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By David Kemp
18th Nov 2019 15:29

Excellent article. Throwing inexperienced managers in at the deep end undermines their self confidence and demoralises their colleagues

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