No Image Available


Read more from TrainingZone

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Can the UK manage? – feature


This feature was contributed by Gwyn Evans Chief Operations Director at Leading Change.

UK management can probably best described as the little girl in the nursery rhyme "when she is good she is very good, when she is bad she is horrid"...

Generally the UK does not have a great record. The decline of many UK businesses cannot be a result of socio-economic change and globilisation alone.

Recent research by the Future of Work Programme shows that more than a fifth of companies have increased their proportion of managers in the last 3 years, and that about 1 in 8 Britons now supervise their colleagues. This is more than any other Country apart from the USA. Could this be attributed to the poor educational standards of the average UK employee (who educated the managers?). The same research shows only 1 in 7 companies practiced “progressive management” of human resources involving training their staff.


There are probably as many reasons as there are Human Resource Managers! Academics will give many reasons, eg "partly a legacy of the command and control economy" (Prof. Nolan - Leeds University). Why then did no one tell Honda, Toyota and Sony, who manage UK workforces with the same effectiveness with which they manage people around the world? Could there be an inherent trait in the UK psyche that prevents us from organising and managing people well? Are we victims of a history of class hierarchy, of muddling through, seeing a dilettante approach as a virtue? We can as a nation be accused of being suspicious of success.

It does not mean we are incapable of managing or changing. The problems are we do not recognise the tools that are available to help us, do not look at examples of excellence and copy them. Take a look at one of the UK’s most recent success stories, easyJet - the company used an example of success by modelling itself on South West Airlines in the USA.

What could the English cricket team achieve if they used the Australian team as a model? Are English cricketers inherently less talented than Australians? I would say no. What they don’t do or are unable to do is practice, receive top class coaching and live in an environment that is designed to produce excellence. They exist in a county system designed to support the traditional establishment of English cricket who are either unable or unwilling to adopt the root and branch changes required to make change happen. Hopefully this is starting to ring some bells with many of you and the organisations you are employed in.

What is being done now?

Not a lot! What are the HR Directors/Managers, training and development managers and the good old IPD doing? They must be doing something! They help to re-organise companies, do job evaluation exercises, salary administration, personnel policies and procedures, develop enough rules to stifle initiative in any company and explain to most employees why they have to attend training courses/workshops to learn skills and techniques they do not need and will never apply.

They are also the defenders of the status quo. Do they manage Human Resources? But don't all managers really manage human resources? They are managing the business! How, if they are not managing the people?

Is this the management establishment in UK business, industry, and services that is stifling innovation and change? Is this the management of the fire service that managed a workforce with an overtime ban for 25 years? Is this the management of a company like Marconi, reducing a highly successful outfit into a wreck? Is this the MOD whose projects are inevitably late and more expensive than planned?

Do UK managers on reaching the exalted level of manager take on the mindset of a particularly backward member of the MCC? Do they become the people who are suspicious of those practice to become better?

Unfortunately the answer is in many cases yes. Why? I believe they do not see people in the same way they see other aspects of the business. If you ask most organizations for their business plan, sales plan, customer service plan or marketing plan the chances are you will be on pretty solid ground. Ask for their people plan and at best you will get the training programme (depending on budget), performance management system (funny, everyone seems to score about the same!) and if you are really lucky the management development programme ("we are looking outside at the moment for a new ops director").

So what can be done?

Can management development work?

Yes of course it can if it is applied within the plan the company has for its people. It works in conjunction with all of the business planning process.

The development of people is not an isolated act to satisfy the performance target of the HR function, it is part of the whole business, a plan that runs alongside the business and operational model. It is the creation of a place of work a ‘brand’ that is as exciting to work for as it is to invest in and buy from: people are trained and developed in the skills and requirements to achieve these business goals. They will be enabled, have the tools to do the job, they will receive praise for a job well done, they will be trained and developed to acquire the skills they need, and they will be encouraged to practice these skills. Their performance will be measured against the performance of the company, and its customer and investor satisfaction, not some meaningless set of parameters dreamt up to satisfy the latest HR fad.

We need more leaders in the UK and fewer managers.

We need people of vision. The government constantly say that public services have to improve. What they are not saying is what they should be like when they have improved. They introduce measures that measure the extent of failure but do not have the vision to know what success looks like.

We must learn to know what success looks like, then install the sense of purpose for people to understand the goal, decide on the way we do things to achieve the goal and then install the measures so we understand and can see our progress. To quote, Charles F Kettering “ My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there”.

Gwyn Evans

What is your experience of management development? What works, what doesn't, what's improving and what's lacking? Post your comments below, or email us.


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!