Senior business leaders unequipped to develop people

Technical, financial and operational competence is high, but many leaders are ‘ineffective’ at crucial people management skills

Around half of HR professionals believe that senior business leaders don’t have the people management behaviours and skills needed to develop the best from their people, according to the latest CIPD HR Outlook survey of HR professionals.

Performance management and people management were voted the top leadership behaviours and skills needed by organisations over the next three years. However, out of those who chose performance management, more than half (53 per cent) said senior leaders’ current skills in this area were ineffective. Similarly, 44 per cent of HR professionals felt senior leaders’ people management skills were ineffective.

Leaders were instead rated as being most effective on technical ability, budgeting and financial management, and operational management; only one of which (budgeting and financial management) was included in the top ten leadership behaviours and skills needed in the next three years.

Dr Jill Miller, research adviser at the CIPD, comments, ‘Given that a business is its people, it’s very concerning that leaders are rated so poorly on their people management and ability to develop. In order to lead people effectively, leaders need to have a variety of skills – but while technical skills are critical in organisations, they do not always go hand-in-hand with people skills.

‘Organisations need to respond to this mismatch by making targeted investment in their leadership’s people management capability. A strong talent pipeline, to develop both strong people management and technical excellence, will support people to reach their full potential at work and is essential for a sustainable and high-performing business.

‘One reason for the difference between rhetoric and reality in leadership skills is the use of outdated career development models where the only way to progress at work is by taking on people management responsibility.

‘Technically-based career progression should also be possible for those who don’t want to manage people or don’t feel it’s in their skill set. That way, organisations can still offer career advancement, but in a way that ensures they have the right people with the right skills in the right places.’

Furthermore, in organisations where line managers have taken on new people management responsibilities devolved from the HR function (50 per cent of respondents), less than half (44 per cent) are given any formal training, and only three in five (60 per cent) are given ongoing tailored support.

Miller continues, ‘It’s good to see HR being able to devolve some people management to different parts of the business, as line managers are often best placed for dealing with the day-to-day responsibilities, such as managing absence. However, it’s worrying that in many organisations there is an expectation that line managers will acquire people management skills through sheer virtue of being given that job title.

‘Even those with great potential as people managers will still require training to become the best they can be in the role. Under a great manager, a great team will flourish.’

The survey also finds that in many organisations, business leaders and managers aren’t being given access to HR data – the insights, facts and figures about the workforce – to inform business decisions. In those organisations that do use HR analytics, more than a quarter of senior leaders (26 per cent), 45 per cent of line managers, and more than half (51 per cent) of risk and compliance professionals do not have access to HR data.

Miller adds, ‘The wealth of insight we’re starting to see emerge as a result of HR data is a promising evolution of the HR profession. But in order for managers to make evidence-based people decisions, HR needs to share this workforce information with them to encourage tangible change and drive value in the business.’

Further reading on how to develop employees

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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