Business experts

Are ‘accidental managers’ damaging your company’s productivity?

Written by Barrie Smale on .

Barrie SmaleI was a tender 10 years of age when the notion of the 'Peter Principle' was first muted in 1969, and I’m curious how we’re still challenged by it as we advance into the 21st Century.

This is a concept suggesting that people in a hierarchy often get promoted to the level of their own incompetence.

You may have worked with an ‘accidental manager’ yourself. These are people who have been promoted to a management role because of being very good performers in their functional or technical role.

For example, the superb engineer who gets promoted to become the manager of a team of other engineers. This person remains a very competent engineer, but often turns out to be ineffective in the management role which has its own skills set, knowledge base and behavioural requirements.

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has been warning about the danger of the ‘accidental manager’ for several years now.

Very recent reports from the CMI and London School of Economics have cited how poor management practices have made a significant contribution to draining productivity in the UK.

So, how can business owners and leaders avoid employing ‘accidental managers’ in their organisation?

When recruiting into a management role, the first thing is to understand exactly what skills and knowledge will be needed.

Also, what behaviours will be needed for the new manager to build effective working relationships with those they manage; gaining respect and loyalty?

With this done, the selection process can be focused on finding out how the candidates (internal or external) for the post measure up.

By all means recruit candidates where you recognise great potential, but there are gaps in the requisite skill set.

That’s fine, as long as you are then prepared to train and develop them to avoid the 'Peter Principle' manifesting itself further down the line.

I’ve so often come across cynicism and resistance to investing in management training and qualifications. It is often perceived as being too theoretical and irrelevant – and, regrettably, it sometimes is.

If that’s the case I suggest to people with this perception that they’ve been looking in the wrong place and thinking very narrowly about the possibilities for meaningful development.

I remain curious why so many people would understandably not dream of allowing an unqualified tradesperson to undertake work on their home, yet would readily thrust a completely unprepared and unqualified person into a crucial management role in their business.

The engineer I referred to earlier would never have been recruited without recognised engineering training and qualifications.

However, when it came to promoting them to manager, too often the same thinking still doesn’t apply.

Barrie Smale is managing director of Inspired2Learn, providing CMI and ILM professional qualifications