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The Manager is in Control

Printing Week

A new report brings sobering news to firms banking on company loyalty to retain key staff, describing the new breed of managers as independent, in control and prepared to move to the highest bidder. Anna Clarke investigates

Companies that have warned their workforce's of the realities of job insecurity Sod limited careers are finding they have created a breed of mercenary managers who are independent about their careers, according to a recent survey by the Ashridge Management Centre.

The study coincides with a trend picked up by City press. Last month the newspaper reported that after years of downsizing and "delaying" the management hierarchy, "people are hot again". Companies that once bragged about their re-engineered work processes and new quality measurements are now extolling the', importance of human beings. "They want to hire them, retain them, develop them and pay them gobs money", the Wall Street Journal said.

Hertfordshire-based Ashridge produced the report from the findings of a survey sent out to attendees of its management courses. The report is intended to act as a "barometer" of management attitudes towards e range of issues.

It uncovers a two-tier system where companies pay lip service to the virtues of empowerment, risk taking and more open styles of leadership. But the reality is managers are still working in a dysfunctional culture "insofar as retaining and developing their talents are concerned".

It blames the wave of insecurity that followed downsizings of the early 1990s for producing a wary and secretive type of manager-one who is more likely to look elsewhere to further his or her career if the current employer is not meeting expectations. Of the 553 managers who responded to the survey, 70% said they felt in control of their jobs, a marked change from the previous two years when most did not feel in control.

Laurence Handy, Ashridge director of research, says job security is an longer top of the list of middle management priorities. "There's more of a need our challenging and interesting work, freedom to operate, decision making and pay. organisations that don't conform to that will find they have a mercenary manager who will move on to the highest bidder or a provider of those opportunities."

The main reasons given for demotivation in the report are lack of managerial support, confidence, purpose and freedom to operate. Managers who dislike the style of their immediate boss, are not given enough responsibility and who are unclear where the organisation is going, are most likely to move.

While there has always been a movement of talented staff in every sector high turnover is now rising at a dramatically increasing rate. "The cost to industry is continuity because a high turnover causes great instability," says Handy, who believes the importance, of pay is now matched by that of career development.

"Most managers expect to go onwards and upwards and many of them will be in flattened environments where they may not have the opportunity to progress fast enough. The career structure are a big influence, but so is the style of manager."

The print perspective

Flattened management end lack of training have long been issues of contention in the print industry. Last year, Print Week reported a merry-go-round of key staff starting with the wooing of the "Flair five" by Mike Milton, chief executive of Martins Printing Group, to run its colour division Staples Colour. This resulted in then flair acting-managing director Michael Pegge luring Howitts's managing director Gary Evans into the fold. He had been a former colleague of Pegge's at BPCC. Evans then appointed a number Of Howitts "old boys" to his new team.

Do similar scenarios and swap-overs point to the print industry becoming increasingly prey to the mercenary manager? Interestingly, the BPIF has now commissioned a new survey into industry management training and development on which Ashridge report co-author Vicki Gotten will be working. "We're asking print managers how they use management development techniques and what approaches they use" says Holton. "We wanted to understand how management development operates for individuals. We look forward to the results, due to be published at the end of June."

BPIF employment affairs director Andy Brown says the needs of the print industry are different because it is largely composed of small companies. "This report seems to suggest this is increasing and that may be a product of the pace of change quickening, particularly in manufacturing sectors. Where there is change, you get restructuring and uncertainly. If people feel threatened or passed over in the process they may be tempted to go elsewhere. As the rate of change quickens it's inevitable there will be higher turnover of managers."

Brown's views are shared by MPG's Jeremy Hutton. 'There's a combination of competition hotting up from new media and abroad, and within the UK new technology has brought much higher capacity. The whole industry is in a state of flux and there's a big shortage of middle managers with the experience to understand the new technology and to manage those who work with it. Companies will lose managers if they are not investing in their skills and enthusiasm."

Anne Quinn of print industry recruiters Applied Management Sciences believes that for firms to attract, staff, it is important that they're seen to be progressing and training. "Money obviously comes into it, but it's really a question of where the new company stands in terms of profitability, where they're going in the future, and how they are rated in the industry."

George Thompson of Harrison Scott Associates says his role in recruitment is often to negotiate between candidate and company, usually to make the latter aware of "market conditions" when demand exceeds supply. "Greater responsibility has become the driving force. The print industry has produced a great number of entrepreneurs as businesses are mostly owner driven. This entrepreneurial flair rubs off on senior managers They don't want to put their house on the line or go to a venture capitalist but do they do want to take control of their own destiny. They do this by joining a firm and shaping it to their own and shareholders benefit."

Flair's Gary Evans thinks the issue of training is coming to the fore. "We get more questions from prospective employees about training and development policies and what prospects they have of improving skill levels." Evans adds that people no longer see career moves as something for the long-term or even medium term. "Many more people are working on short-term contracts and no longer expect a career move to be a long term scenario. They're likely to face change whether they stay with the same organisation or whether they move."

So what are the career priorities for managers in the print industry? PrintWeek asks two print managers what's more important to them: remuneration, career prospects, job satisfaction, prestige or training and development,

Manger 1

"The most important aspect to my work is definitely the career prospects the company offers." Manager 1 states. Despite this, he claims that he would be most motivated to take action if he was not getting the job satisfaction he needed. But adds "I would try and solve the problem first before looking elsewhere, and would discuss the issue with the appropriate people at work."

Why would he leave? "If there were barriers to my career prospects, or if I was not enjoying the work." He also cites company or title prestige as reasonable motivation to accept an offer from another firm.

Manager 2

While asserting that all elements of a job are important, manager 2 also puts career progression ahead of the rest. However he feels he would be most motivated to take action if he was not being paid enough, and says he would be confident enough to discuss pay issues with his superiors. If he was offered another post that was financially attractive, naturally money would be a prime consideration in moving: "after all it is the main reason we all work!" Unlike manager 1, he does not consider prestige a deciding issue -- a fancier title or better known company couldn't lure him on reputation alone. He reasons that "controlling your own destiny is far more important than the prestige of the company you work for."

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