When times are tough and the future is uncertain, it is not uncommon for organisations cut expenditure in the areas they consider (albeit sometimes erroneously) to be expendable, or somehow less important than the “core” of their business. In some cases, cuts are even made across the board as the need to reduce costs seems to take priority over everything else.
HR departments have been no exception to this rule. This much is evidenced by research performed by the Hay Group and picked by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), which showed that 94% of the 250 HR Directors and line managers surveyed had seen cuts to their department due to company cost-savings activities. As a result, HR departments are becoming more and more strained, while managers are becoming less and less satisfied with the level of support they can expect from their HR colleagues. The problem seems to be that, with fewer resources, HR staff is spending an increasingly large proportion of its time on day-to-day enquiries, which severely hinders their ability to take on a more strategic role. Indeed, 38% of HRDs referred to this as excessive “hand-holding” and a majority (68%) believed that these kinds of enquiries take up around a third of their time.
Conversely, half of the line managers surveyed feel that they don’t have enough support from their HR teams, with around the same proportion indicating that they are also too slow in responding to requests. A further 40% suggested that their HR department was actively preventing them from making the decisions themselves, slowing down their jobs, and 58% bemoaned the seemingly convoluted recruitment and resource planning processes present in their organisations. So much so that 41% would now rather open Google to find an answer to their question than approach an HR colleague.
Perhaps that is not so surprising – Googling seems to be a common response to many a problem these days. But evidently, the scenario unfolding seems to implicate a sort of stalemate in the HR-line manager relationship, with each party blaming the other for the inefficiencies encountered and no one finding the solutions. Aside from summoning the powers of the internet, then, David Smith of the Hay Group suggests that:
“HR policies provide a strong framework for managers and their employees to act in a way that supports the overall business strategy. The challenge, as we can see from our research, is how to translate this meaningfully to the frontline without stifling or controlling. Activating the workforce by putting more information into the hands of managers is the answer to this challenge. By relieving the pressure on HR and harnessing new technology to give managers access to the information and support they require at their fingertips, HR will start to partner more effectively with managers across their business.”
But in a context characterised by a lack of resources and excessive workloads, how easy will this be?
In the wake of the recent announcement of this year’s National Apprenticeship Awards Winners – as well as the Government’s continued focus on improving apprenticeships and getting more employers involved in their development – there has once again been a lot of talk about the future of this form of vocational learning across UK industries.
On one hand, we continue to hear about how employers are becoming more and more open to vocational qualifications in general, and have begun to see them as equally if not more valuable than academic qualifications. Barclays, for example, recently published a report suggesting that apprenticeships could add as much as £4.4 billion to the UK economy, helping young people boost their career progression and companies to address growing skills shortages across different sectors. At the same time, the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) has continued to voice concerns about the number of people taking out loans to complete Advanced or Higher Level Advanced Apprenticeships, with only 404 having applied so far this year as compared to the 197,600 adults over 24 who took advantage of them last year.
The concern, as outlined by NIACE Chief Executive David Hughes, is that this trend will create a situation in which adults will not get access to the training they require, employers will continue to be unable to meet the urgent need for a skilled workforce and the prospect of long-term economic growth will be at risk. Crucially, the prospect of continued cuts in public funding over the next 3-4 years means may mean that loans will become the only funding mechanism at both intermediate and lower levels of learning. “If that happens”, says Hughes, “we will do well to have learned how these loans have played out so that we can protect the most vulnerable adults and the most important learning across the country."
According to new research by healthcare group Bupa, middle managers are being squeezed from both sides as they try to juggle their own workloads and targets with their responsibility to manage junior staff, leading to high (and dangerous) levels of stress.
Surveying 6,000 employees across a range of different industries, the study found that around half (51%) of all managers report feeling “constantly worried” about work-related problems and 43% think they are under too much pressure at work. Worryingly, 40% also said that they had suffered from depression as a result of that stress, while one in 10 suggested they were “close to breaking point”.
Commenting on the results, the clinical director of mental health at Bupa, Sara Delroy, suggested that this pressure is due to the fact that middle managers are the ones expected to ultimately “make sure the job gets done”. On top of that, a feeling of “guilt” can often prevent them from talking about their pressures, which only serves to create more stress as they struggle to bottle everything up. And this was shown to be a wider problem, with the stigma around mental health issues persisting, particularly in terms of people being afraid to look “weak”. Indeed, two thirds of respondents suggested they were likely to keep quiet about their stress.
Though a wider study showed high levels of stress among the UK population in general, it is interesting to consider to what extent stress levels are influencing for perceptions of poor leadership among UK workers. With more and more studies highlighting employees’ disillusionment with their managers, could it be that stress is (at least partly) to blame rather than a simple lack of managerial skills?
A report compiled by the British Council has revealed that a majority of the UK public does not have the skills to hold a conversation in any of the 10 languages identified as the most important for the country’s future.
These “top 10” were chosen on the basis of a combination of cultural, economic, political and educational indicators, such as current UK export trade, emerging markets and the language needs of UK businesses. They are, in order of importance, Spanish, Arabic, French, Mandarin, German, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Turkish and Japanese.
The YouGov poll surveyed 4,000 UK adults regarding their proficiency in these languages and found that a very substantial 75% are unable to speak any of them at a conversational level, prompting the British Council to warn of the missed opportunities in terms of both personal development (intellectual and cultural) and the country’s wider economic standing. In addition, it urged government and business to work together in a concerted effort to establish language-related priorities and policies.
The problem is not so much that the wrong languages are being taught, because a number of the top 10 - namely French, Spanish and German - are among the most widely taught, and hence also the most widely spoken. But even these do not register particularly positive numbers, with the most popular language of all, French, spoken only by 15% of the population, followed by German at 6% and Spanish at 4%. And though a number of the other languages included in the top 10 are “newer” languages that have not yet been incorporated into the school curriculum in a consistent manner, there is still arguably no lack of opportunity to study them in a range of other settings. This suggests, then, that the problem is not so much (or not just) that languages are not ”accessible”, but that not enough individuals are taking up the opportunity to learn them.
And tackling the shortfall will not only require specific action in schools, but investment by businesses that will, after all, be the ones to benefit directly from the development of the country’s linguistic skills. As stated by John Worne, director of strategy at the British Council:
"If we don't act to tackle this shortfall, we'll lose out both economically and culturally. Schools have their job to do, but it's also a problem of complacency, confidence and culture – which policy makers, businesses, parents and everyone else in the UK can help to fix. Languages aren't just an academic issue – they are a practical route to opportunity for the UK in business, culture and all our lives."
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We’ve often heard, read about and discussed the issue of management and how critical it is to ensuring that employees are perform to the highest possible level and, as a result, to achieve the best possible results for their organisation.
Critical to this is the issue of motivation, which is in turn inextricably linked to the aspects of engagement, recognition, reward and performance. And these are exactly the factors that were analysed in the second annual Globoforce UK Workforce Mood Tracker, which polled 1,000 employees across different industries to examine their perspectives on these crucial topics. And the results provide a real wake-up call for managers across the UK, with 42% of those surveyed suggesting that they are looking for a new job due to a lack of recognition in their current workplace and 29% stating that they had already done so. More specifically, 66% of respondents said that they did not think yearly performance reviews provided an accurate appraisal of their work, so much so that 75% value their peers’ opinions above managerial feedback.
Considering these results, it is perhaps unsurprising to discover that 44% of employees are not motivated by annual performance reviews, while 65% actively dislike them.
And with 73% of those surveyed pointing to recognition as a strong motivating factor in their engagement – with nearly half valuing recognition more highly than a yearly bonus – this again points to the fact that many managers are not paying enough attention to how they are motivating their employees, not just to perform but to stay. No one expects them to be born with the full skillset needed to make performance reviews useful and conducive to staff retention, but there are plenty of appraisal and performance management training programmes, tools and other resources dedicated precisely to this topic.
Those who choose to ignore signs of staff dissatisfaction and poor motivational incentives thus do so at their own peril and, if current trends are anything to go by, can only expect for turnover rates to increase as professionals take action on their desire for more accurate, equitable performance review and recognition processes.
It has long been known that London is a primary hub of commercial and financial activity, both in the UK and in Europe, but recent research published by Deloitte has awarded the British capital an even greater accolade: talent capital of the world.
The study focused on the so-called "knowledge economy", comparing a number of international cities in terms of the volumes of workers they attract in 22 high skill sectors, including areas such as banking, digital media, publishing, accountancy and legal services. Analysing the official employment data of each city, Deloitte researchers found that London is in the lead by quite some margin, with a total of 1.5 million people employed across these sectors in comparison to 1.2m in New York, 784,000 in Los Angeles and 683,000 in Hong Kong. These numbers were shown to be the result of London leading the way in 12 of the 22 sectors studied, with dwindling numbers in areas undergoing contraction – such as financial services – being more than compensated for by the boom in thriving fields such as digital media and life sciences.
Further, Deloitte predicts that the capital will see a minimum net growth of 300,000 jobs by 2020, at least one third of which will be in high skill sectors, bringing the total workforce to a level somewhere around 5.35m.
In response to these results, Deloitte partners highlighted not only the need to support the influx with appropriate measures in key areas such as housing, but also to provide the necessary education and training that will help Londoners "train up" for the new roles that will continue to be created. Kit Malthouse, deputy mayor for business and enterprise, acknowledged this fact and suggested that "there are gaps in the workforce’s skills set, and the mayor and I are working hard, with government and the private sector, to address these."
And these measures will no doubt serve to make London an even more popular destination for individuals looking for professional development opportunities, adding to the already extensive and highly diversified range of training opportunities offered in the capital. Indeed, even those who do not intend to stay in London – and Deloitte found that 57% of its own London-based staff hopes to work somewhere else in the next 5-10 years – may choose to take advantage of the many training opportunities on offer, with a view to then bringing their skills to organisations based in other locations around the UK and internationally.
In its Human Capital Report released in early October, the World Economic Forum presented the results of an annual study that analyses the human capital “endowment” of over 100 countries around the world, providing a greater insight into how the existence and use of these personal skills & capacities may be determining the long-term economic success of entire nations.
Focusing on four core pillars – Education, Health & Wellness, Workforce & Employment and Enabling Environment – the aim of the report was to give organisations and governments a clear idea of how each country studied invests in its people from when they are born to when they die, and how that investment is leveraged throughout their lives. As explained by a WE Forum representative, this kind of information is becoming increasingly important as large numbers of economies around the world continue to struggle with the two issues of talent scarcity and population dynamics (ageing populations in developed countries vis-à-vis developing countries experiencing “youth bulges”).
In this context, the UK ranked 8th overall (out of 122 countries), suggesting that the country’s human capital – the experience, talent, knowledge & training of its people – is among the highest in the world, which should theoretically facilitate its economic success. Though it doesn’t excel in any of the individual pillars, its relatively high scores across the different categories ensure its place in the top 10. It is surpassed only (in order from 1st to 7th) by Switzerland, Finland, Singapore, The Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Norway. The US ranked 16th by virtue of scoring poorly on the health and wellness category, despite excelling when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. Regarding the latter, the detailed results show that the UK also ranks quite highly, but loses out when it comes to issues such as labour force participation and unemployment, which remain problematic despite the positive signs of growth being recorded in recent months.
In our most recent Question of the Month, we asked Findcourses.co.uk visitors to tell us who makes training decisions within their organisations, with the goal of understanding the degree to which individual employees steer their own professional development in comparison to managerial and HR figures.
The results show that, in a majority of cases, it is employees themselves who are given the opportunity to make training decisions, with 34% of respondents choosing this option. When it comes to managerial figures, 25% suggested that it is senior management who makes the decisions, while a lower percentage (15%) indicated that first line managers are calling the shots. Interestingly, only 11% of those who answered the survey suggested that their HR department governs training-related decisions, with a further 15% indicating that “it depends”.
While only indicative, these results certainly provide food for thought. More specifically, as we often hear that tough economic times are making companies tighten their purse strings when it comes to training, it is interesting to note that a majority of employees have (or at least feel that they have) a say in the training decisions that are made. At the same time, the fact that senior management appears to also play such a significant role, in comparison to first line managers who theoretically have more of an insight into the day-to-day activities & tasks of their employees, is perhaps in itself indicative of a desire to have more strict control over the training decisions that are made. Finally, what should we make of the fact that HR departments appear to have the least overall amount of influence on decisions related to training?
Ultimately, these questions all play into the eternal debate over who is best equipped to determine an employee’s professional development path. On one hand, it seems logical to assume that a person will by definition have the clearest idea of what his or her own needs are, while on the other multiple studies have shown that individuals are not as adept at pinpointing their own strengths and weaknesses as one may think. Perhaps what we need to reinforce is a model (certainly already in place in some organisations) where employees, management at all levels and HR interact to make shared, informed training decisions that really focus on producing positive long-term results for all parties involved.
TFPL, leading training and professional services provider for the Knowledge and Information Management (KIM) profession, makes a guest blog post for Findcourses.co.uk discussing the key principles of effective knowledge management within organisations.
Knowledge management as a business discipline emerged in the 1990s. Since that time we have seen it become embedded into the life-blood of many organisations, both public and private, and have seen it develop in terms of tools and techniques that are often supported by innovative applications of IT. We have also seen many false starts and implementations of knowledge management that have either not gained traction or scale, or have simply failed. Further, we have also seen many organisations who have yet to embark on their knowledge management journeys and are unclear as to exactly what knowledge management is, and the benefits it can provide. So what exactly is ‘knowledge management’?
There are many definitions of knowledge management and these vary in terms of its application and use given the organisational context (business drivers, targets, objectives etc.) concerned. For TFPL knowledge management is "the creation and subsequent management of an environment which encourages knowledge to be created, shared, learnt, enhanced, organised for the benefit of the organisation and its customers."
There are also many reasons why organisations first get interested in knowledge management. For some it is about the concern of mitigating against the risk of knowledge loss whilst for others it is about the need to be more competitive or innovative. And in the current economic climate the drive to ‘do more with less’ further highlights that there has never been a more important time to connect people and expertise with supporting processes and enabling technology for more effective and efficient working.
At the heart of knowledge management is the continuous learning cycle – learn before, during and after doing. Before commencing any type of work it is always a good idea to see if anyone has done anything similar in the past so as to avoid ‘reinventing the wheel’. How did they approach the situation/project, what did they do, how did it work out, what would they do differently for the future? Sometimes this information can be found in a lessons learned log, other times you may need to connect with and talk to your peers – Learn before doing. During an activity or project it is always good to re-assess where you are at important milestones to ensure that the path you are following is still the right way to go and does not need to be adjusted – Learn whilst doing. Finally it is important to take a step back at the end of the project/activity to review its success, look to see if anything could have been done better or any pitfalls avoided and record these in a lessons learned log – Learn after doing. It may seem quite obvious to say this but it is not often implemented and used in full. Quite often organisations are so focused on the ‘doing’ and getting started that learning before doing is skipped or glossed over and whilst a number of organisations are very good at completing the learn after doing by recording lessons learned, often these lessons go into a great repository never to be seen again.
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TFPL have over 26 years experience in working with organisations to embed the learning cycle and other important knowledge management techniques within the organisation. Access their freely available ‘know how’ guides in key techniques which you can access here: http://www.tfpl.com/resources/guides.cfm.
A lot of research is being conducted these days into the issue of management capability and training across the UK, beginning with recent a poll conducted by Head Heart + Brain comparing the change management skills displayed by leaders in different sectors and finding large variations between them.
In a separate study focusing specifically on the NHS, professional services firm Hillcroft House has found that a staggering 93% of NHS employees believe that the management training their managers have undertaken has been ineffective, with only 6% believing it had produced a positive effect on leadership skills. Though the private sector fared better, the survey showed that a very significant 75% of employees deemed leadership training ineffective in this sector too, in what Royal Pharmaceutical Society chief executive Helen Gordon claimed is a situation “not unique to the NHS”.
And indeed the news from other studies on the topic point to similar gaps and inefficiencies, particularly when it comes to the issue of training. More specifically, a CIPD survey conducted in late September found that one third of line managers are not receiving appropriate training, creating organisation-wide culture and relationship problems, while a study by Sheffield Business School found that businesses are not investing enough in training overall. Worse, the resources that they are investing are being wasted on training that fails to focus on strategic business goals. To top everything off, the latest CIPD survey on the topic has highlighted a worrying lack of trust in senior managers, as well as a lack of awareness among these managers who rated trust levels much more positively than junior employees.
So what does this all mean for the future of companies in the UK? Time and time again, poor leadership has shown to be correlated with poor productivity and poor performance, but the research suggests that organisations are either unwilling or unable to reverse these trends. Perhaps what’s needed is more of a solution-oriented approach, with more done to give companies a concrete idea of the kind of management training they should be investing in. Naturally this will not necessarily be the same across industries, or indeed across different organisations within the same industry. But with more and more training providers offering bespoke corporate solutions developed to suit very specific requirements, the biggest problem companies may have is choosing between them.
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