Management Style

There is no right or wrong way to manage staff, any style of management will tend to attract those people who work best under that style. Those that do not like the style leave. Even the bullying style and blame culture that is usually associated with autocratic management can be successful. Indeed one person’s bullying behaviour is another person’s refreshing challenge (within reason!).

The problems start when there is either inconsistent or no management. The key to avoiding this is to make sure the style of management is aligned with both the company’s values and the personalities of the managers. Get either of those alignments wrong and the result is demoralised staff and accusations of hypocrisy.

At KHES we don’t waste time moralising about right and wrong, we:

  1. Design practical solutions to help you manage your business.
  2. Support managers in their dealings with staff.
  3. Design Employment documentation which is both legally compliant and consistent with your aims.

We also take care to define clear boundaries for staff, there is plenty of well researched evidence that a lack of boundaries increases the sense of insecurity amongst staff as they do not know what is expected of them, and I have to say that often the ones that moan most about not being allowed the freedom to do their job are often the ones who are looking for an excuse!

So say good bye to policies and procedures that nobody reads, stop worrying about whether HR advisors will let you do what needs to be done and give your employees the tools to make your business successful.

“I know lets write a policy about that and put it in the staff handbook then when it happens again we will know what to do”

As part of our service we review our client’s employment documents. Most of the time they don’t have much and we have to create statements of main terms and conditions so that they comply with the Employment Rights Act 1996. However occasionally we are asked to look at a handbook that someone has written for them.

In my view the main problem with these documents is that the person writing them is not clear exactly what they are meant to achieve. They seem to include the following:

i)                    Some vague high minded purpose as to the values of the company (often from a template so any resemblance between the statement and the company is purely accidental!).

ii)                   A series of longwinded policies that reiterate statutory rules (such as a policy on flexible working I saw that was out of date when I read it because the law had changed).

iii)                 A set of guidelines for managers (for example a document setting out how to handle a disciplinary hearing which included an instruction to managers to seek legal advice before talking any disciplinary action.  This had become a contractual obligation to the employee by virtue of its inclusion in the handbook. I think it was written by a solicitor).

iv)                 Some helpful advice to employees about how to go about things such as booking holidays and requesting time off for ante natal appointments.

v)                  Lengthy and very worthy policies on such issues as bullying and equality that go into incredible detail about the principles involved but neglect to mention that discrimination is bad and bullying is not allowed. In addition they list a highly prescriptive set of actions that management will take and thus remove the ability of managers to take the most appropriate action in the circumstances.

The problem with all these policies is that they detract from the useful stuff that is in the there.

These handbooks often run into 40 or 50 pages (although in one instance I saw one that was 150 pages long for an organisation with 25 staff), and are almost universally ignored by the workforce until something goes wrong. At which point they become an excellent tool to stop management doing anything because the rules are so complicated.

So if you want to have a handbook just follow some simple rules:

i)                    Only include stuff that the employee needs to know.

Such as guidance on how they should behave towards their employer, how they should behave towards their fellow employees, and how they should behave towards your customers or clients and what will happen if they ignore that guidance.

ii)                   Do not try to reiterate statutory rules.

That way you don’t have to update it every time some politician has a “bright” idea

iii)                 Don’t automatically introduce new policies on how to deal with situations as they arise.

It’s often better to train your managers to deal with things rather than insist that they follow a set of guidelines that have been written by someone who has never managed staff in their life.

iv)                 Keep it short!

There are a few other consequences of having a lengthy handbook. The longer the document the more likely it is to be internally contradictory and, if it is not kept up to date, it becomes irrelevant. If you have to present it to an employment tribunal you have to explain why some rules are no longer enforced and others are absolutely vital to the organisation (always a fascinating debate with a judge!).

However by far the most dangerous effect of one of these handbooks is that they replace management initiative with a blind reliance on a set of rules without thinking whether they are appropriate in the circumstances.

Why do I do this for a living?

Managing employment is one of the hardest balancing acts in business. As an employer you want an environment that is productive and happy, but you don’t have the time to take account of everyone’s needs and wants and indeed the employees who are most “needy” are often the least productive.

I well remember a moment about 12 years ago when I had just finished my 3rd year of managing staff when two things stuck me

1)      I liked managing staff

2)      I had to watch that I didn’t get too emotionally involved

Which is unusual because most management appointments are not made because the person is a good manager. They are made because the the candidate is either good at the jobs of the people they manage or they say the right things at interview. What happens then is that the manager  wistfully looks back at their time “on the tools” and wish they could drop this management b*****ks and “get back to some real work”.

Now either the MD of the firm that promoted me was very perceptive or just lucky on this occasion (I respect and like him so I’ll go with the former!). So whilst I still mucked in with the rest of them to do the work if we were short-handed or I felt I needed reminding of what the job was like, what I really enjoyed was watching a team gel and individuals fulfil their potential (my most precious moment was when a (young) grandmother came up to me and said she was so grateful to me for persuading her to do something she didn’t think she was capable of).

I spent years looking at management systems, trying them out and finding them ultimately unfulfilling. I tried the reductive approach and found my naturally sociable nature rebelled against the rigidity of the systems (plus I discovered that any  ”foolproof” system reckoned without the ingenuity of “fools”).

I found that measured bonus schemes made people concentrate on the parts of the job that earned them a bonus to the detriment of the rest of the job. And that bonus schemes trying to cover every aspect of the job became hideously complicated and tied up management in an “industry” of measurements to the exclusion of everything else.

I have tried to “help” people achieve their fullest potential and accommodate their personal lives, only to feel betrayed when they refuse to exhibit what I consider to be the appropriate level of gratitude. (A friend to whom I will be eternally grateful listened attentively to my whinging before telling me to grow a thicker skin!)

What I want to do now is refocus management support away from the personalities of the employees and the systems needed to manage these, and back to the personal qualities of the managers. So that each manager can find their best management approach, suited to their values. That doesn’t mean they don’t have to learn and grow, but we should stop trying to hammer square pegs into round holes. Which is easier and better than trying to guess what employees want according to someone’s political views or simplistic assessments of “human nature”.

I believe that too many “experts” have inserted themselves into the employment relationship. Everything I do is to try to give the relationship back to the most important partners, the employer and the employee. I believe that is the only way to make the relationship positive for both of them. It starts with employers being honest with their staff and employees taking responsibility for their actions.

So if you are sick of experts trying to sell you “sure fire” management techniques and consultants who talk in a language that seems to be meaningless try the following approach

1) Decide what your area of responsibility is meant to achieve

2) Decide what you need from each member of staff to achieve it

3) Tell them what you want from them and where they need to improve

and most of all treat them like adults.

You may be surprised by the results

Just a Thought

Over the last few months I have found myself being asked about the “right” way to manage staff given the amount of employment regulations that are in place at the moment.

I generally give two possible scenarios, but these are at the extreme ends of the spectrum.

Company A prides itself on its employee engagement and bends over backwards to accommodate their staff. They have an HR department which is fully integrated with the management structure, they are cautious when taking decisions that could have a detrimental effect on their employees, not just because they want to avoid a claim to an Employment Tribunal, but also they genuinely believe it’s the right thing to do.

Company B is much more active in their decision making, if an employee isn’t coming up to standard they terminate the contract there and then without much ceremony. They also only have the minimum paperwork for their employees with no staff handbook  or policies and procedures to speak of or employee engagement initiatives. Communications are left to individual managers who report directly to the owner of the business.

Clearly there are many variables in between these two extremes, but I have worked with and for both types of company. In truth I cannot say which type of company I prefer.

The more “HR” based model certainly had a greater sense of  Job security, but I found the high level of consultation frustrating (people who know me won’t find that a surprise). However what I found most disturbing about this model was the tendency to find cliques forming, whilst the consultations took place.  These cliques had a habit of excluding those who did not fit in with their view of a situation, and this could go on for a long time.

In the second more “activist” example the “politics” was much  clearer, but you could find yourself out of a job with no idea  what you had done to deserve it, so no opportunity to address any   behaviour or performance issues.

So from an employees point of view it depends on your  personality which is preferable. However from a purely commercial point of view, is there a preferred  option?

The truth is there’s no hard evidence either way. The” HR” method involves far more management effort and (possibly) increases the likelihood of you winning at an employment tribunal. Also even if you win in court you still have the same legal costs as if you lose. AIso the very fact that you take so long over a decision may cause the employee more stress, thus Ieading to a greater likelihood that a claim will be made in the first place. The other model may mean you have more awards to pay out. But surprisingly the number of claims may be lower, because the shorter timescales mean that the employee’s levels  of resentment don’t have time to build up and they move on much more readily. I suppose the analogy is that of removing a sticking plaster. If you pull it off quickly it’s more painful for a short period of time. If you pull it off slowly it hurts less but the pain Iasts longer. It’s up to you which you prefer.

So I suppose in truth there is no right or wrong way to deal with these issues. However what I have found is that you deal with them in the way that suits your personality, you are less likely to take them by surprise!


Is it time to invest in a Human Resources Department?

I’ve just had a discussion with a business in Manchester about when during the growth of a company does it become necessary to think about setting up a Human Resources Department.

Well obviously given what I do, my answer is always going to be on the side of outsourcing but it made me think what are the triggers for making some form of Human Resources department attractive, and why do some companies manage perfectly well without a Human Resources professional on the payroll, and have over 300 employees, and others feel they need one when they get more than 50 staff.

My take on this is as follows:

When an entrepreneur (or anyone else that matter) starts an organisation they personally recruit the staff and have regular day to day contact with them either face to face or over the phone. The staff member and the owner get to know each other pretty well and if they get on, all generally goes according to plan. If it doesn’t go well the employee usually gets another job (most of the time without being dismissed, they just leave.)

This continues as the organisation grows and the driving force behind the organisation keeps regular contact with the staff, communicating their vision to the employees, who either buy into this or not.

In my experience it doesn’t matter whether the driving force is a skilled motivator, who keeps staff involved and makes them feel included and loved, or a martinet who barks out instructions and expects them to be obeyed. In most cases the staff either stay, and just get on with it, or leave. So the nature of the driving force determines the type of employee they get. What surprises some HR professionals is that there are people out there who prefer to work for a Genghis Khan type of character, rather than an inclusive charming motivator.

So far so good, but when the organisation develops further and gets above a certain size, the driving force no longer has direct contact with each employee and has to employ managers to do that for them. This means that the vision the entrepreneur has is no longer directly passed on to the staff, but filtered through a third party. The point at which this occurs differs depending on a number of factors:

1)      The ability of the driving force to spread themselves thinly

2)      The structure of the organisation (i.e. is it multisite or single location)

3)      The complexity of the tasks the organisation undertakes

4)      The influence outside bodies have on how the organisation functions

Each of these factors is worthy of discussion on their own but for now the point is that all organisations reach this point in their own time.

Once this happens it is the appointment of managers which can be the key. If the people who are appointed to management positions have management and administration skills rather than just being good at the job they do, and their style of management matches or at least compliments the driving force’s style. Things tend to move ahead remarkably well.

If any of these factors aren’t properly established then the organisation starts to fracture and not be properly focussed. This is when people start asking for a Human Resources department to bring things together into a coherent and consistent management style, and to cover all the administration work that is required both in law and to keep the business ticking over. The first steps are then taken to getting an HR manager. Often the person given this job is the P.A. to the driving force because she (and it usually is a she), has the most in depth knowledge of what the driving force wants and is usually an effective administrator. The problem with this is that sooner or later the P.A. gets bogged down with HR management work and is no longer able to fulfil the functions that she originally had. I would also observe that I have worked with some fantastic P.A.s in my time and the best of them had an attitude of “give to me, and I’ll deal with it”. The problem with this is that it tends to mask the shortcomings of internal managers.

But what if the company approach an HR manager from outside? They may not follow the driving force’s way of doing things, indeed the very fracturing that created the need for an HR manager in the first place is made worse by their appointment. Also in these circumstances, all the HR manager is doing is talking over the functions of the operational manager, weakening their authority and allowing poor performing managers to “dump” jobs they don’t like.

In my view it is for better to recruit the right managers who follow the lead of the driving force, and insist they take responsibility for their management decision.  Then you outsource the technical stuff making sure the provider is fully conversant with the driving force’s style and vision because then if it doesn’t work out you can just cancel the contract and get someone else in. With an HR manager you will have to deal with them as an employee. The problem is you brought them in for just the type of expertise you now need to use on them!

The final point is this, a full time HR professional can cost between £25k and £35k on salary alone (the cost of employing someone is usually calculated as about one and a half times to twice the salary). Then you need to see if they need admin support which can cost an additional £15k to £25k on salary alone, outsourcing a full HR support package will usually cost less than half this amount.

Also as someone once said to me, if you appoint an HR manager and they make a mess of it, you will have to pay the bills. If you outsource it and it doesn’t work you claim off the contractor’s insurance.

I know this is a somewhat contentious view but as someone who has been both the driving force and the person who tried to work against the flow (with the expected consequences on both occasions!), I know an internal HR manager would have made no difference to the final outcome in either case.

What are your experiences of managing HR in your business? How did you resolve the issues raised above? Are you going through this at the moment?

Any comments and opinions would be welcome and you can respond directly by calling me on 07879 551256 or e-mailing