In 2011 the Harvard Business Review published the findings of 10 years research into management effectiveness. The headlines read, USA managers are the best , and as is so often the case the reaction was to the headline rather than the detail of the research. To some commentators and management consultants this was further support for their view that management skills in the U.K. lagged behind other countries and more investment was needed to improve the quality of people management. To others particularly heads of industry and commerce this was simply further evidence that the ability to hire and fire with impunity in the US gave managers the freedom to manage.
This HBR research came to mind following the resent controversy over the moves by the PMs chief advisor Dominic Cummings to radically change the Civil Service one of which included bypassing the established recruitment process and requesting applicants apply direct to him via email. In so doing he is making it clear he wants the freedom to hire who he wants but in his invitation to apply he also makes it clear that he reserves the right to fire with equal freedom.
One of the key distinctions between the US and Europe is employee employment rights. Employees have more safe guards against unfair dismissal, statutory rights to sick pay and maternity leave and more generous paid holiday entitlement. It is therefore not surprising that the resulting management styles reflect this reality. It does after all not take a great deal of people management skill if you can fire at will. If you can offer financial incentives for over delivering and dismissal for under delivering motivation is unlikely to be a problem. Like wise an employer is more likely to take a few risks in recruitment and gamble on an outsider if they know it is easy to get ride of them if it doesn’t work out. European managers on the other hand need good people management skills to work effectively within an employment culture that attempts to balance the rights of employees and employers. This is particularly true of the Civil Service and Local Government where the aim is to be a model employer embracing not only the letter of employment the law but the spirit of it. At least that is how it has been to date despite budget cuts, reorganisations and redundancies.
We should watch closely what happens to the Civil Service because Local Authorities won’t be far behind.
Blair Mcpherson former Director, author and blogger wwwblairmcpherson.co.uk