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How to improve productivity by navigating the accidental manager phenomenon

UK productivity has long been under the microscope and recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show the pandemic hasn’t helped matters. Output per hour worked, for the first quarter of 2023, exceeded its pre-pandemic average by an uninspiring 0.6 per cent.

Among a plethora of possible contributors is the phenomenon identified by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) some years ago – the curse of the accidental manager.

What is an ‘accidental manager’?

When it is not clear how to become a manager, high-performing employees who are good at getting results may be promoted into management positions without having the necessary people management skills. These ‘accidental managers’ are often left to figure things out on their own, without the proper training.

The CMI estimate that fewer than one in five UK managers received any training before taking on their job. Add to this the latest report in the government’s ongoing Small Business Survey, which reports that less than a quarter of leaders have sought external advice on their business, a statistic that has remained virtually unchanged since 2018.

To contextualise this, the Productive Business Index report states that businesses who refrain from taking external advice are actually more confident about their leadership and management skills than those who do consult. However, they were also less likely to have a two-to-five-year strategic plan or feel they were prepared for unforeseen events.

How proper preparation prevents poor performance

James Baker’s Five P’s quote is well known and for good reason. Too often, people find themselves in a leadership role because they have achieved long service or become a subject matter expert. But this doesn’t automatically qualify them for the challenge of managing and leading people.

Tapping into External Expertise: A Vital Step for Business Growth

One of the most impactful ways we help our clients is to move them from a transactional approach to a people focused one. This means we help them to foster a leadership style which encourages self-development. We do this using tools and skills such as coaching, self-awareness and excellent communication.

One criticism levelled at UK managers is that they spend too much time working ‘in’ not ‘on’ their business. This may well be linked to the incredible number of small, entrepreneurial businesses that make up our national economy but, at some point, these small startups need to scale and that is when the lack of investment bites hardest.

Be The Business (authors of the aforementioned Productive Business Index) report that improving management skills and practices will be crucial for UK SMEs over the coming year, given evidence coming from US and other G7 countries where investment is better.

One way of initiating this discussion is to investigate emotional intelligence (EQ) among your leaders. With an understanding of EQ, leaders can choose to adjust their communication style and improve their effectiveness as a leader by becoming someone that people want to follow or work with. When it comes to productivity, motivation and the sense of belonging is high in the list of hygiene factors.

A quick case study: Sales Enablement

Let’s look at a real-life scenario. Productivity and performance are never more under scrutiny than in the sales teams. The need to increase market share, to recognise new markets as they emerge, speed is of the essence and the pressure is tangible.

The typical sales enablement director might have his head buried deep in statistics and ROI, but how often does he look at the beliefs held by his team members? How often does he consider the relationships that exist within the team?

If he takes a moment to look, he will immediately recognise some superstars – high performers who are delivering excellent productivity. But he won’t know why there’s a gap between them and the rest of the field. He will regularly push people through training seminars and workshops only to watch them revert to type after a few weeks. He might not have considered the difference between a salesperson who simply tries to sell and one who acts as a trusted advisor to prospects, building relationships and consulting.

Upon engaging with us to implement a sales transformation programme, he will learn:

  • how a combination of research and psychometric testing will help him understand the beliefs and motivators that drive his team
  • how identifying skills gaps using our ‘development prioritiser’ will generate a bespoke and highly effective training plan
  • how coaching should be used throughout the team to motivate and empower people to become the best version of themselves
  • how continual high-quality communication is the key to ensuring change sticks and is sustainable

There are a wide variety of differing opinions when it comes to quantifying what productivity really means. But there’s one thing that can’t be argued: people are at the heart of it. Their beliefs will drive the behaviours they exhibit, and their behaviours will drive the outcomes you experience within your organisation. It’s therefore logical to say that investing in them is the key to ensuring a productive organisation in the future. Investing in people: the crucial key for productive organisations.

More on leadership? Read ‘Creating emotionally intelligent high-performing leaders’ next. And if you’d like to speak to us about our leadership programmes you can get in touch on +44 (0)1488 658686 or email [email protected].


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