Mind the perception gap

Written by
Penny De Valk

14 Apr 2016

14 Apr 2016 • by Penny De Valk

We know that there is a dearth of managers, with a CMI report finding that one million are needed by 2020[1]. This knowledge makes Penna’s research a worrying read; more than half of employees who haven’t managed before (54%), say they’ve never wanted to be a manager and nearly a quarter said they wouldn’t put their all into the role (23%).

What is causing this lack of aspiration to rise to the managerial ranks?

One area that the research uncovers is the perception gap between how well managers think they are doing versus how well employees say they are doing. If there is a mismatch between the two, which the research highlights there is, then it’s understandable why employees may not want to manage – as they don’t have existing role models they want to emulate.

Perception vs reality

One of the most startling aspects of our research is the gap between what managers think they are doing versus what employees are experiencing. For example, 82% of managers agree with the statement that they are definitely, or sometimes, “good at supporting their direct reports with opportunities for promotion” – but well over a third of employees (39%) disagree.

Furthermore, 91% of managers agree that they support employees with learning and development opportunities, definitely or sometimes, but nearly a third (29%) of employees say that they don’t.

This significant gap in perception versus reality means that managers think they are doing a good job on the whole, but employees beg to differ. Much of this reflects the changing expectations employees have around being developed and their expectation of career progression. They have higher expectations of both these days and managers need to stop measuring 'what's good enough' by their own yardstick. 

Mr Nice Guy

Overall, employees said they have a good relationship with their managers (77%). In fact they agreed that they like (64%) and respect (66%) their managers. While being liked and respected is important, it should not come at the cost of clarity of direction and vision sharing – which their direct reports said is lacking.

If UK businesses want to maintain their competitive advantage, they must ensure that their managers are doing more than just playing Mr Nice Guy. They must be making a tangible and positive impact on both the growth of the business and development of their direct reports. It’s rare to find this as an innate talent, so needs to be actively developed.

Investing in management skills

Is it surprising that managers are out of touch with the impact they are having when only around a quarter of managers (23%) have ever received development to make them more effective?

It’s no wonder that the perception gap between employees and manager is so great and helps explain why more than half (51%) of employees went as far to say that they could or might be able to do a better job than their manager.

Nutritionist Helen Money

Presenting the findings was nutritionist, Helen Money; an ex-fund manager and City worker before a change of direction to study Human Nutrition at University of Westminster.

Reflecting on her own personal experience of how work-life balance can put huge amounts of stress on your health, she’s passionate about sharing knowledge on all things food, and how tailoring a diet plan for the type of worker you are can leverage your creativity, brain-power and performance.

Brand manager

It’s easy to see why employees may not aspire to become managers. After all, they are seeing their managers struggle to keep up – particularly with all the changes they are likely to have faced in these turbulent times often unsupported, with little development.

Businesses really need to tackle this head on and start investing in their managers so they can be more impactful for both their people and their organisations. Developing management skills that talent are the greatest asset a business possesses, so organisations need to start treating managers as the most critical contributor to developing, engaging and spotting that talent.

By investing in managerial capability, businesses can make themselves more competitive, more agile, more profitable and definitely more attractive to the talent out there in the market looking for managers they can learn from, who can give direction and clarity of purpose and who can have great conversations about careers and progression.