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Management and leadership: the oil in the engine

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Employer ownership, Investment

Dear business owner/manager, I have a proposition for you. Why don’t you take some of your best managers, send them to another company in your supply chain and use their time to train up other businesses’ employees. That sounds fool-proof, right?

At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if you are dashing for the exit. But bear with me. This very idea is the basis for a competition I am running for UKCES. And today, I am delighted to announce that six business-led projects in the construction, manufacturing and legal services sectors have secured co-funding from the competition. And let me tell you, it’s not madness at all – it’s a remarkably long-sighted and business-minded approach to delivering better performance for your business.

Over the past two decades, a long series of studies have shown the UK is a laggard when it comes to effective management and leadership practices, despite some stand out businesses. Worse, research shows that top managers often don’t recognise the problem. Just last week, UKCES argued that improving workplace productivity by implementing effective management and leadership practices should be recognised as the key route to increasing pay and prosperity in the UK. So how do we square this circle?

Firstly, there is no silver bullet. Encouragingly, however, there are plenty of avenues to explore. Take the successful projects UKCES is launching today. What’s exciting is that though they are entirely different projects, their shared focus will give us a real insight into how best to address these thorny management and leadership problems.

All six of the projects will take expertise and knowledge from businesses at the top of a supply chain and seek to share it throughout their networks. These are not businesses acting out of altruism. They are acting because they understand the vital connection between the skills and talent of companies with which they do business and their own success.

Secondly, when I met with those involved in the six projects, they talked about things like “flexible learning”, “modularised training”, and “sharing best practice”. As my own experiences have shown me, when you work with lots of different suppliers you need a variety of approaches to resolve the problems they face. From solutions including bringing many local heads of supply chains together, to those focusing on one organisation’s supply chain, these different approaches will help us see which works best and what might be scaled up in tackling the many skills issues different companies face. Ultimately, one of the biggest contributions that large companies at the head of supply chains can make is to dedicate staff time to work with the individual companies that make up the links in their supply chain.

As Group Managing Director of BAE Systems, I recognise every day how a company critically depends on its supply chain. Seventy per cent of our turnover is expressed in our supply chain, showing that a company’s offering really is only as strong as the weakest link in its supply chain. Ensuring quality management throughout is therefore important to increasing companies’ growth and productivity.

Leadership can take many forms. It can be in personal life, where leaders display courage and tolerance. It can be at work, where leaders motivate, share, and give their team abilities and space to do their best. Or with these industry-leading companies at the top of their games in the UK and the world.

Management and leadership is the oil in the engine, taking companies from start-ups to scale-up and bringing together well-tuned teams in the biggest businesses around. And make no mistake, by taking responsibility, accepting UKCES’s help and working in new and innovative ways, the competition winners announced today are showing what great leadership looks like.

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