Loch Associates

There’s plenty that can go wrong in a workplace. From colleague clashes, to health and safety hazards, right the way through to economic emergencies. However, the issue we come across most regularly is untrained, under-performing and, frankly, unnerved  ‘Accidental Managers’.

Poor people management can lead to reduced retention, poor performance and conflicts, complaints and claims. Despite this, few workplaces invest in management training, preferring instead to promote technically proficient team members to people management positions in the vague hope they’ll thrive, or at least survive (and ignoring the risks that let an untrained manager loose on an unsuspecting team brings with it).

It doesn’t have to be that way. Organisations of all sizes can, and should, provide manager training, both prior to the commencement of and during their management journey. Doing so will reap rewards, from improved staff retention, to increased organisational performance, which can be achieved by having more confident and competent managers.


What is an ‘Accidental Manager’?

Accidental managers are employees who, generally as a result of their technical skills, are ‘rewarded’ with managerial promotion, but given little to no training in connection with the people management element of the role they’re stepping into. We see it often in the legal sector. Brilliant lawyers promoted to ‘Head of Department’ with zero people management training and limited soft skills. They don’t thrive. They sometimes survive. They often burnout and cause damage along the way.

Managers lacking training often fail to articulate relevant goals, to provide regular recognition, to intervene when stress levels are intensifying, to devote sufficient time to learning and development or to provide adequate support to their team. Unfortunately, these are the very things employees crave and value.

The legal sector is certainly not alone. According to research carried out by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) in June 2023, over two thirds of UK managers would categorise themselves as ‘Accidental Managers’. The absence of training isn’t solely reserved for first-time managers. According to the research, while 82% of those who enter management positions have not had any management training, the same also goes for a staggering 26% of those in senior management positions. 

Managing people is a skill that requires training and practice. The old adage, that leaders are born, has repeatedly been debunked. Leadership capability isn’t a genetic gift – leaders are created through appropriate training and lots of practice.


Bad management is bad for business

Supporting the notion that people don’t quit a job, they quit a boss, a 2022 Visier Poll reported that more than two in five employees have left a job because of a bad manager, with 38% reporting staying in a job longer than they intended because of a good manager. Management can be ‘make or break’ when it comes to employee retention which, given the war for talent we’re currently experiencing, is particularly relevant.

From the performance perspective, research from Lumien reports that untrained managers can cause as much as a 16% drop in productivity (equivalent to over £5,000 per employee based on an average UK salary of £31,461). Many untrained managers often fear difficult conversations, lacking the skills and knowledge to embark on them clearly and confidently. The result – they don’t happen, leading strong workers to leave and poor performers to be allowed to stick around, unchecked and underperforming, for years.

We also should not forget the increasing concern regarding mental ill-health across the UK. According to Deloitte, UK businesses could save as much as £45 billion per year if they invested in worker wellbeing support. While that might include offering an Employee Assistance Programme or providing subsidised subscriptions to mindfulness apps, there’s no replacement for supportive management.

In its 2022 guidelines on mental health at work, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised this when it strongly recommended, for the first time, manager training as part of its preventative strategy. The WHO’s recommendations reflect on the countless managers who lack the skills needed to spot the signs of, or support employees with, mental health challenges, and employees do not discuss their mental ill-health with their manager for fear of being stigmatised or judged incapable.


So…what to do?

It’s vital to remember the skills gap isn’t, generally speaking, the fault of the managers themselves. According to Investors in People, 71% of UK employers admit they don’t train first time managers. So, rather than blaming untrained managers for their shortcomings, employers should focus on putting in place a programme to ensure their managers have the necessary understanding, tools and confidence to succeed.

From communication skills, to performance management, through to emotional intelligence and self-awareness, there’s plenty of training employers can and should provide. If you want to be more creative, consider matching your managers with coaches or mentors, to help them grow and develop.

Wondering where to start? Why not ask your existing managers what they want and need from a training perspective and what they would have benefited from before they took on their first management role. This will give you a good idea of areas for development, as well as demonstrating your desire to provide useful training and ongoing support.

Why don’t you make it your mission to take management skills seriously in 2024?

Pam Loch, Solicitor and Managing Director of Loch Associates Group

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