UPFRONT About turn

When companies invest in team building and training programmes, managers expect results. But staff attitude survey of more than 10,000 people shows that management training workshops do not always produce lasting changes in behaviour.
Management psychologist Keith McGregor of Lower Hutt firm Personnel Psychology says the survey suggests that in spite of millions of dollars spent on management training, the tangible benefits have been slow in coming. “For their part, staff cite poor communication, lack of feedback, insufficient contact, lack of clear direction, managerial interference, lack of trust and managers focusing on negatives which bring ‘us and them’ tensions,” he says.
“Managers, on the other hand, often feel overlooked. They rush from crisis to crisis, become frustrated that nothing gets done the way they ask for it to be done, [while] at the same time they feel that staff expect the impossible. They sometimes suspect their staff are working against, rather than for, them.”
Carried out in New Zealand and Australia, the survey suggests managers can often have very different view of things than their staff. McGregor has built team building programme which relieves managers of much of the pressure of managing, and opens the way for staff to gain genuine autonomy and control in their jobs. Based on re-casting the manager-staff relationship, it uses concepts and practices that participants take for granted in their daily lives.
Using customer-supplier model, it works on the familiar concept that business needs to guarantee customer satisfaction. Nothing new in that, except that the customer is the manager, the staff are the suppliers.
McGregor’s work suggests that managers are not always skilled in identifying what they require of staff, seemingly expecting staff to ‘read their minds’. From supplier’s perspective, providing service without clear understanding of the customer’s expectations and needs is like taking an uncalculated gamble.
“Research suggests that 96 percent of managers will either provide no feedback or that the feedback will be superficial and fail to address areas of real concern,” says McGregor. “The scary part is that they are highly likely to talk to others about the problem performers but not to the individuals concerned.” McGregor says one way around this problem is to act as ‘concerned supplier’ and actively seek feedback from the customer.
“If, for example, shopper, with the active assistance of shop staff, purchases new outfit, and then receives compliments, they will generally reflect recognition back to the shop where they made the purchase. The objective of most suppliers is to ensure that the customer receives credit for what the supplier did. That’s simply good business,” says McGregor, who believes the idea that staff should ensure their manager receives credit for what they do is real sticking point for many staff.
By viewing manager as ‘customer’ rather than as ‘boss’, staff feel more in control and proactive rather than controlled by someone else. Following the total quality management approach, staff would carry out regular ‘customer satisfaction surveys’ to ensure an accurate line on manager’s perceptions of staff performance.
For their part, managers should view their staff as consultants, who provide services for fee, and provide regular feedback to staff on their performances, offering sufficient resources and authority to do job as quickly and effectively as possible.
“Once you’ve provided clear overview of the job and its context, avoid over-supervising, or trying to tell staff how to do the job,” says McGregor. “I’ve found that approach works. One final word though. Ensure the staffer is fairly rewarded for the task.”

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