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The Management Agenda 2002 – review


Title: The Management Agenda 2002
Author: Linda Holbeche and Claire McCartney
Publisher: Roffey Park Institute, 2002
ISBN: 0907416810
Price: £25

All is not well in the modern world of work, according to the fifth Roffey Park Management Agenda, which describes employees working in "conditions which are psychologically, if not physically reminiscent of Dickensian sweatshops". This alarming statement is drawn from findings across industry from a wide range of small, medium to large companies operating in a variety of arenas including UK, International, Europe and Global markets.
The authors describe employees typically working long hours on average 5-10 hours of unpaid overtime, with knock-on effects to their work-life balance. They also point to stress increased through working in organisations which lack leadership and vision, where change is often forced upon with little or no employee consultation and impotent management.

The report compounds the gloomy outlook by stating that employees are often expected to produce ever-increasing improvements and results with dwindling resources, whilst observing managers who are unable to "walk the talk". The authors identify a considerable gulf between espoused theory and reality. Organisations seem to be re-inventing many of the problems that were hitting the headlines and featuring in management journals and specialist press throughout the early 90s. Companies are now re-structuring along matrix structures, and moving away from the delayering and downsizing that was so prevalent during the last decade towards re-layering, in an attempt to create development opportunities for managers, albeit laterally in order to retain talents and skills. Regrettably this has also resulted in a marked increase in company politics as personnel seek to protect their positions within organisations that lack clear vision and strategy. The Agenda cites that "too many people are concerned more with politics than performance" resulting in "hidden agendas, internal rivals, and people manoeuvring for power, blame culture and a lack of trust in colleagues and in top-level management." The focus of many organisations would appear to have turned inwards rather than concentrating on building markets and establishing brands.

Despite the bad news, the authors also cite a number of paradoxes that surfaced whilst conducting their survey. Although 91% of respondents reported that their organisations had undergone change in the last year primarily through outsourcing (51%) and introduction of IT (49%), more than two-thirds of the workforce expressed greater feelings of job security. Employees are also more likely to consider moving if their enhanced career aspirations cannot be met in their current organisation. The "war for talent" is likely to become increasingly difficult as knowledge workers became more aware of their market value and companies will have to work harder if they hope to retain the skills and intellectual capital which grant them competitive advantage.

As a HR practitioner/trainer I was particularly concerned by the negative view of HR expressed in the report. 61% of respondents felt that HR is still reactive as opposed to proactive, and 39% stated that HR was not influential. It is even more worrying that only 19% of those surveyed consider HR to be adding value to business. The minority of respondents who did take a more positive view felt that the role of HR should be "the glue that holds the different operating companies together, but they do not do it." The Management Agenda suggests that HR practitioners are aware of the negative perceptions but have focused on training and development, performance management and recruitment of junior staff, as opposed to supporting or driving cultural change, benchmarking, developing better managers and leaders, working with employment law, and counselling. This change of focus is urgently required, if one is to accept the findings of the Roffey Park Management Agenda. It is clear that HR needs to raise its game if it is ever to be taken seriously. If it does not, then the profession is likely to end up sidelined or reverting to a more administrative role, or in the worst case being completely outsourced.

Whilst many of the findings of the report will come as little surprise, it is relevant to managers/leaders, HR and Trainers at all levels within organisations. The report itself is comprehensive and effectively summarises the key strategic and employee issues that companies face regardless of size or industry sector. The recurrent themes are poor management and ineffective handling of change. Polices need to be designed to balance work-life problems and resulting stress against increased bottom line performance.

The report does a commendable job in highlighting the key issues and is easily accessible, providing stark facts and figures of the grave problems facing organisations if they are to successfully recruit and retain a skilled, creative and innovative workforce. The typical reactions to change are hindering the move forward and many organisations are reverting to structures that were in place in the late 80’s. I would recommend that the report become required reading at Board level, if these issues are to be dealt with effectively. It would also provide a platform on which HR should base its future role. Trainers will also get some considerable benefit from the report, as it will assist them in designing and marketing training programmes that meet the evident shortfalls in management and leadership development at present.

Mark Frisby


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