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Leading our way to the future: management lessons from Slough

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A quick internet search on leadership will throw up a plethora of quotes with colourful backgrounds and ‘inspiring’ fonts. The kind of thing David Brent would have on his wall. And perhaps David Brent sums up a lot of the problem we have with leadership and management in the UK. He’s the manager we’d hate to have and would hate to be; it’s all just a bit embarrassing isn’t it?

But it’s time we took the quality of our managers and leaders seriously. The UK’s management capability is poor compared to our global competitors, and this is holding us back at the firm and national level. This is why the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES)’s new Futures Programme is offering the opportunity for firms and their supply chains to do something about it.

The UK economy is in recovery – this is good news, but in a tough international environment we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. Global competition is changing, as developing countries stop competing on price and start moving into high value production and services. The capability of our managers is a major influence on the ability of UK firms to respond to these global changes.

Compared to our international competitors UK managers don’t perform well. We have some world class forward-thinking firms but we also have a ‘long tail’ of poorly performing firms with weak management capability. We perform badly compared to the US, Germany, Japan and Sweden; countries which also outperform us in terms of productivity.  Training and management education is an obvious solution but according to the UKCES Employer Skills Survey, just half of all managers received any training in the previous year, the lowest of any group in the workforce. This ineffective management could be costing UK businesses over £19 billion per year according to Chartered Management Institute research.

Something the cheesy internet quotes about leadership have in common is the message that leaders don’t just tell people what to do; they show the way. And that is what UKCES is seeking to do with its new Futures Programme.

We want to work with industry to find ways to improve our management and leadership capabilities. We are offering financial and practical support to the lead firms of supply chains and client networks across the UK to support management and leadership in four key sectors: manufacturing; construction; legal; and finance.

We’re inviting innovative proposals from UK supply chain primes to drive-up the quality of management and leadership among their supply chains.  We are looking to invest in business-backed projects at the research, development, piloting and scaling stage that can transform our leadership capabilities.

In the words of David Brent: “If you can keep your head when all around you have lost theirs, then you probably haven't understood the seriousness of the situation”. While we shouldn’t lose our heads, we do need to take action. Management and leadership matters and the Futures Programme presents a genuine opportunity to make a change.


The competition closes at midday on 30th July 2014. Please visit our website for more information about the UK Futures Programme and to download the full brief for the management and leadership competition.

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