Accidental Managers: one of the UK’s greatest opportunities? TechTalent October 23
27 Oct 2023 by Joel Hard

Accidental Managers: one of the UK’s greatest opportunities? TechTalent October 23

​A new CMI and YouGov report has revealed that 82% of UK managers are “Accidental Managers”, individuals who find themselves in managerial positions without formal training or often, prior intent, with significant implications for our national productivity.

The report, “Taking Responsibility – why UK PLC needs better managers,” is the result of a nationwide study into the state of UK management and leadership that polled over 4,500 people. It highlights the stark impact of ineffective management on employees: half of workers who rate their manager as ineffective also plan to leave their organisation in the next 12 months.

Consider what it means to be a manager for a moment. The CMI has revealed that the overwhelming majority of new managers are conducting skilled, nuanced tasks—such as performance management, pastoral support, managing grievances and more—with not a single hour of formal training between them.

The connection between good management and high productivity is amply evidenced: previous CMI research shows that investment in management and leadership development programmes leads to an average of 23% increase in organisational performance and 32% increase in employee engagement and productivity. Its research also found that those with formal management training are significantly more likely to trust their team and feel comfortable leading change initiatives and calling out bad behaviour, compared to those without training.

This report is an explicit call to arms for better management and training. And it is needed. As CMI CEO Ann Francke, OBE, remarks in the report:

“High levels of workforce sickness, burnout and economic inactivity are all above pre-pandemic levels, and the UK is the only G7 country where GDP remains below where it stood before Covid-19.”

It’s clear that good management is critically important to the future of the UK.

What causes accidental management?

Accidental managers are often people who excel in their functional roles and whom, with nowhere else to go, are appointed to management positions. Their new role can be foisted upon them by restructures, downsizing, mergers, or because an organisational pivot means someone has to take on additional responsibilities that include management. As employers lean towards flatter structures, the traditional manager, whose specific skillset was about organising, overseeing, assessing, motivating, developing and deploying talent, seems to be disappearing. The pace of change in the economic landscape since 2008, and then again since the pandemic, has led to all of the above.

But the best performers are not always the best managers, and if an employer’s only way to reward good performance is to push these individuals into management, they risk turning some of their strongest assets into some of their greatest liabilities.

Startups and accidental managers

The rise of startup culture has also contributed to the phenomenon of accidental managers. In high-growth industries like technology, the pace of scaling can be so rapid that people are promoted to fill urgent needs rather than through planned career development.

This is exacerbated by the fact that in highly technical environments, managers and leaders need a degree of technical expertise to be able to develop their teams, and people who excel in both technical and managerial skillsets are rare. Scaleups can force leaders to develop fast, and have accelerated opportunities for some: great for the people who want it, a huge risk for those who don’t, and we’d love to see more employers building L&D structurally into their process.

We see the effect of this lack of training across the full lifecycle of recruitment and retention, from hiring through to ongoing staff development. Each requires a high level of skill that is not automatically developed on the route to management.

The importance of selection and training

None of this is very good for new managers, either, who can have a really hard time adjusting to additional responsibilities. Almost a fifth say they aren’t confident in their own leadership abilities while 60% say they’re confident but need further development. Many recognise that leadership simply isn’t for them, and we’ve helped many unhappy managers step back into a skilled specialist role.

Employers can better support new managers by offering formal training programs focused on essential management skills like conflict resolution, delegation, and performance appraisal. Another valuable training tool is mentoring: pairing new managers with more experienced leaders. I’m sure it would also help if more employers could allow new managers to gradually transition from their previous roles, acquiring responsibilities and skills in parallel.

A way forward?

There is a massive opportunity here. Clearly it’s not easy for employers to allocate adequate time and resources to identifying the right people for management roles and supporting them to develop effectively, otherwise they’d do it more often. But the risk of carrying on regardless surely outweighs any short-term benefit of taking the path of least resistance. What if the CMI’s call to action was fully embraced by employers and authorities? What if support for management training and expertise generated the momentum of, say, the STEM agenda?

The UK PLC clearly needs to foster better management skills. Perhaps if we reframed management as a technical competence—as essential for doing a job as technical expertise is for an engineer—we’d recognise just how critically important it is.

What caught our attention this month?

The UK government has announced a £70m investment in telecom technology and joined a coalition to be positioned as a global leader in 6G tech.

An off-road solar-powered car has created a 1,000km journey across Morocco and the Sahara without recharging.


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