Leadership underinvestment hampers productivity

a sustained underinvestment by organisations in developing leadership and management skills over many years, and in particular not investing in and developing first time leaders, is behind the perceived lack of skills in the workforce.

All levels of employee believe their skill levels are an average of 25 per cent below what is required to do their job as well as they could, according to recent research.

Conducted by Leadership Management Australasia (LMA), the research took in 1900 individuals across five levels of the workforce, which self-rated competencies on a five-point scale.

The average competency ratings were 3.8 for executives, 3.6 for middle managers, 3.4 for frontline managers/supervisors and 3.7 for employees.

Significantly, 25 per cent of the workforce said their skills are just average and 17 per cent below average on five key competencies listed for each category – so 42 per cent overall believe their skills are just average or below average.

“All workplace categories are crying out for help, and that includes bosses and managers”

Skills assessed include strategic and departmental planning, personal leadership, change management, HR management, monitoring/measuring/controlling, delegation, training and development, time management, coaching/mentoring, goal-setting and personal productivity.

Far too many people still believed they were not adequately equipped to do their jobs, which presents serious ramifications for the country’s quest to improve productivity and international competitiveness, according to LMA’s CEO, Andrew Henderson.

“All workplace categories are crying out for help, and that includes bosses and managers, the very people entrusted to drive productivity, performance and competitiveness,” he said.

“Skills has been a hot topic in government for the last 10 years, so we’re surprised to find there has been no real sign of improvement in the four years we’ve been running the test.”

Henderson said boardrooms could not plead ignorance about these critical productivity performance and bottom line factors “but there is no apparent evidence they are up-skilling their people.

“It’s not that people don’t want to be highly productive, they just don’t know how to be. We’ve got the talent here; we’re just not making the most of it.”

He said a sustained underinvestment by organisations in developing leadership and management skills over many years, and in particular not investing in and developing first time leaders, is behind the perceived lack of skills in the workforce and subsequent impact on productivity.

“The impact on productivity is most evident when leaders fail to fulfil expectations and the needs of their people and become disillusioned with their leadership skills and ‘throw in the towel,’” he said.

“The cycle then continues with the identification of new leaders, underinvestment, productivity declines and so on.”

Henderson said there are a number of critical drivers of productivity and performance within business.

From the leader perspective, the most important drivers of productivity in future will be greater focus on customer/client needs, improved leadership skills and recruiting better quality personnel.

“The impact on productivity is most evident when leaders fail to fulfil expectations and the needs of their people and become disillusioned with their leadership skills”

From the manager perspective, these drivers will be a greater focus on customer/client needs, improved leadership skills and greater investment in technology to support operations.

There are a number of steps HR can take to improve the skills gap and make the most of existing talent to drive increased productivity, according to Henderson.

“Encourage organisational leaders to invest in the development of leaders at all levels, particularly first time leaders,” he said.

“Identify the core and supporting skills needed by the organisation in order to enhance and maximise productivity and then seek to build and reinforce those skills at all levels.

“Conduct regular skills audits leading to individual training and development plans and ultimately to succession planning for the future – in other words future-proof the organisation by building the skills and developing the talent that lies within the organisation.”