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Managers are the biggest blockage to staff doing their jobs effectively, according to a survey carried out by The Development Company. The responses to the question ‘What gets in the way of staff doing their jobs effectively?’ were:

  • 72% of respondents said Poor Managers
  • 17% said recruitment skills shortages meant their staff didn’t have enough trained colleagues to enable them to work at their peak, and
  • 11% said demotivation was the main blockage to staff being as effective as they could be.

72% said poor Managers stop staff working effectively

The discussions around poor Management was like a journey back in time. We have noticed that since the downturn in 2008-9, Managers who had embraced the empowerment, leadership and talent management paradigms, are shifting back to instruct and tell style Management.

I often speak with people who pose the question to me ‘Are Managers making themselves too busy to properly manage their people?’. Well, the survey results were interesting, if a little depressing, to read.

165 people reported poor Management as the main reason stopping staff working effectively. The reasons were varied, and I have grouped the reasons into not managing performance effectively, poor communication, and fire fighting.

Not managing performance issues (99 respondents). This included:

  • not giving effective feedback
  • leaving poor performance issues until the problem has escalated
  • not making time to train their staff to do a good job
  • little coaching on prioritising – one person said a Manager in their company told a member of staff ‘It’s all a priority.’ when they asked for help!
  • They don’t recruit the right person for the role – the emphasis is on getting a person in place. One manager said ‘I had no choice. They were the best of a bad bunch.’
  • Not empowering a skilled person to do the job – interfering, and controlling
  • Not delegating work effectively, and not delegating at all
  • not explaining the standards until after the person has been allowed to do a task. In one case, this was two months later, when an email was received saying ‘We need to talk regarding your priorities, as I am concerned that the weekly report is going to the wrong people…’.

Poor communication skills (60 respondents):

  • Management by email
  • Poor, and/or infrequent team meetings
  • Badly run team meetings, that had no minute taker to record actions
  • Meetings that take too much time to add little value
  • No flexing of their communication style to adapt to their individual’s preferred communication style
  • Not being able to manage remote or virtual teams, so just leaving them out of the loop
  • Poor planning skills for project work, resulting in communication issues.

5 respondents said that their Managers were fire fighters – doing work was the priority, and they left attracting, recruiting, managing, leading and retaining talent to the bottom of their to do list!

One person said Managers in their company do not managing absence in the team, so it’s now a part of their culture to take a lot of time off. They said half their team had been off sick in one day, with no Return to Work Interviews completed.

Call to Action:

Are organisations really so ‘up against targets’ that Managers are not being managed?

It seems there is no motivation for our Senior Managers, and Leaders, to ensure that our Managers are doing the job they are employed to do! Real people told us real stories of how Managers avoided issues such as staff performance, as “having someone in the job is better than no-one”!

At a time when our customers are demanding more, organisations will struggle to provide basic customer care, let alone customer care excellence if Managers are blocking staff effectiveness.

All of us are fighting a ‘war for talent’, and if Managers are not focusing on developing potential in every individual, then our competitors will gain the advantage by stealing our people, and managing them well to achieve personal and professional growth.

At a time when stress is on the increase, our Manager should be our safe harbour. Coaching conversations should be part of everyday working life, with Managers assisting with blockages, and enabling dreams to ignite.

That’s not to mention happiness at work, implications on team working, risk taking as part of how we work, to name but a few issues of how we approach our work.

Can I ask if these findings resonate with you?

Your observations and suggestions will help in clarifying what we need to do now to enable Managers to manage effectively. For example, it would be interesting to ask the Managers in this survey the same question – are they role modelling their own experiences of being managed by poor managers?

One of the wisest questions an interviewer said as part of a promotions board to a candidate was ‘Do you really want to be a Manager?’, then ‘Tell me why.’.

Are we still promoting people to their level of incompetence? (The Peter Principle). This will require a paradigm shift.

17% said skills shortages stop staff working effectively

There are major implications to this, if this is what stops our people working effectively. We have a global skills shortage that we all face, so is it time we as employers, L&D people, leaders – all stopped talking about the shortages, and started to act? Here are a few skills shortages I know about:


I left engineering in 1995, and we were moaning then about engineering shortages. Roll the clock on, and there is no difference. Surely by now we should be reaching out to schools and encouraging children to sign up to engineering qualifications? Engineering is just as exciting as IT, and yet most children don’t see that.

Digital skills:

This is something that surprises me. There are enough online forums we can join, and free information out there to plug this gap. Maybe we are just not accepting that this is a continuous professional development skill we have to work on every day? You may have known one package a year ago, but change in the digital world is fast. I think mentors, peer and buddy mentoring, coaching and drop in and virtual sessions will plug these gaps.

Basic literacy:

Some school leavers in the U.K. leave school without knowing basic sentence construction. We know, because we’ve had work experience people here and some can’t identify the verb in the sentence ‘The Cat sat on the Mat’. How can we expect organisations to empower people to write a simple email without such basic skills?

Call to Action:

Take a moment to imagine there are no boundaries to what we could do to solve this.

If we dream more, then out of dreams some answers may come.

For instance, the shortage of medical Doctors. One person said ‘Why doesn’t the Government promise to wipe away all debts for training a Doctor on the NHS, if the person signs up to work for the NHS. So for every full year worked once they have qualified, a year of their debt is written off.’ Sounds a good idea to me! So who is lobbying?

11% said demotivation stops staff working effectively

There is further bad news for Managers, here. If staff are demotivated, a good Manager will find out why, and will do something about it.

The 3 main reasons were grouped as:

  • Working for a Manager who is demotivated.
  • Having no clearly defined goals.
  • Not feeling aligned with the company values, vision and goals.

All of the above reasons can be traced to poor Management, and it is shocking that a Manager can expect a member of their team to work effectively if they don’t feel motivated. It’s a basic law of motivation.

Two examples given to me:

Member of staff               I can’t believe how much work I’ve got to do. I’m really stressed.

Manager                          Tell me about it. Welcome to my world.

Member of staff               I am so tired. I didn’t log off until nearly midnight last night.

Manager                          I logged off at 5am, so if I can turn up at 9am, then so can you.

I think Managing is such a delicate art, and we can demolish in a second what took years to build.

Call to Action:

What are the answers to enable our Managers to realise that this is their opportunity to make a person’s working life a meaningful, enjoyable, enriching experience?


The findings are shocking considering the pressure all organisations are under today to provide more, with less. This is an era that demands good Management and requires excellent Leadership.

If there is such a pressure on resources, surely the sensible decision is to encourage our Managers to do a good job managing?

The stories I told could complete a book on the ‘How not to Manage’, and I found it surprising to hear stories of management horrors that could have been from the 1970’s.

What can we do, as Learning and Development people, to influence the business world? I look forward to the debate.


The survey: 229 people were interviewed during December 2016 by Kay Buckby of The Development Company. 115 were on 8 December 2016 SEMLEP/Velocity exhibition, 23 at the SEMLEP Reception and the remainder were as part of the Trainers Network Northamptonshire event/The Development Company standard business. Respondents ranged from self employed (9%), to SME (1-50 staff 25%), SME (50-250 staff, 37%), public sector, Government agencies (21%), charity/voluntary (8%). They were asked the lead question, ‘What gets in the way of people doing their jobs effectively?’, and then asked subsequent questions if their response (i.e. ‘Poor Management’) was vague. If a respondent said they didn’t have staff, then the question was re-worded to ask what the most common gripe, pain or moan they heard from staff employed by clients of theirs.

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