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Dogged reliance on 20th-century models of leadership and management inhibits our ability to keep pace with the 21st-century evolution that’s affecting all organisations today. To survive in 2024 and beyond, leaders and managers must take urgent action.

The world of work has changed dramatically and with it, the expectations placed on managers are broadening still further. For SMEs, it’s important not to let management take a backseat as your organisation grows. Investing in developing your line managers' capabilities will set your culture up for success from the outset. 2024 will be the year of the manager—it’s time to reinvent the purpose and practice of management.

Here are 4 trends we expect to see in 2024 that will revolutionize management for SMEs:

  1. Upskilling accidental managers

    A recent report from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), Better Management, revealed that a shocking 82% of managers should be categorised as accidental managers—results-oriented, high-performing employees promoted into managerial positions for their technical rather than their people skills. Worse still, they receive NO formal training to perform their new role. Taking on the challenge of managing a team without being equipped to handle the people side of their new responsibilities, accidental managers can have a disastrous impact on employee engagement, productivity, performance and retention. Not surprisingly, 31% of all managers and 28% of workers have left a job just to escape from a negative relationship with their manager.

    In their report Great Job, the UK’s Confederation of British Industry (CBI) calculated that an improvement of just 7% in the quality of management would unlock an additional £110 billion to the UK economy. Despite this enormous untapped potential, organisations worldwide seem to be more focused on investing in the sourcing and onboarding of new talent, rather than on improving their existing management capability.

    If we’re to overturn the current parlous state of management and supercharge organisational performance, we need to invest massively in developing the managers of the future.

  2. Ditching the Command-and-Control management style

    The prevailing management style in most organisations is best described as command-and-control. The leadership determines the strategy and issues directives, which are cascaded to managers who direct the workforce to carry them out. Consider for a minute the impact of a command and control approach.

    Our mindset:

    I’m the manager, I’m in control and the buck stops with me. I’ve got to direct my team; there’s work to be done. I should be there for my team, and when they come to me with problems I’ll need to have the answers. It’s my job to solve their problems and fix the issues. I need to firefight to keep everything on track.

    What actually happens:

    As a result of this mindset, we take on too much work which, in turn, leads to more stress. Our team sees solving problems as our job and doesn’t even try to resolve issues themselves; they wait to be told what to do and lean on us for direction. Also, this telling approach inadvertently robs employees of learning opportunities had they been encouraged to do the thinking themselves, stemming the development of their independent problem-solving skills. You’ve also taken time out of your own day by stepping into the problems brought to you, doing the doing, instead of focusing on the higher-value aspects of your role. And if you keep putting out your staff’s fires for them, guess what? That’s right—they’ll continue to come to you with problems instead of solutions.

    Leaders can begin the process of moving away from this damaging command-and-control approach by addressing the question “What, exactly, do we want our managers to do for us?” Once there is clarity around those expectations we can confirm the people skills required.

  3. Develop Operational Coaching® skills as the future of effective management

    Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce 2023 report found that most global workers are quietly quitting (59%) and that Europe has the lowest regional percentage of engaged employees (only 13%). The report also showed that on average, 70% of a team’s engagement level is attributable to their managers’ behaviour.

    For many organisations, developing coaching skills has been a popular response to try to stem declining employee engagement. Creating a coaching culture (so the thinking goes) would result in improved performance and other benefits. Hitherto, all coaching skills training has been based on established Executive Coaching models like GROW i.e. managers are being taught to be a coach and to hold sit-down, pre-planned, one-to-one Executive Coaching sessions. In reality, what is being taught doesn’t align with the realities of a busy workplace and managers struggle to find the time to hold these sessions. Those who do, quickly discover a conflict when trying to perform as a coach serving a team member’s agenda, when they have a vested interest in the team member’s performance and an agenda of their own. Despite billions of dollars invested into coaching skills training over the past 20 years, employee engagement and productivity levels remain moribund. It’s simply not been the panacea we hoped for.

    For coaching to have a measurably positive impact on SMEs in 2024, managers must learn not simply to run coaching sessions, but instead how they can bring coaching into their everyday encounters. Operational Coaching®, a new management discipline proven by the London School of Economics (LSE) to increase the amount of time managers spend coaching team members by 70%, shows managers how to adopt coaching-related behaviours into their everyday management style, bringing coaching into the of work.

    As opposed to trying to change the behavior of others, developing an Operational Coaching® style of management encourages a change in the manager’s behavior to ask more powerful questions. Intended to stimulate the thinking of team members, this enquiry-led approach encourages them to retain accountability for solving day-to-day problems, which has been shown to increase levels of employee engagement, productivity, inclusion and collaboration.

    And for organisations that avow “our people are our most important asset”, who wouldn’t want their managers doing that?

    Dominic Ashley-Timms and Laura Ashley-Timms are the CEO and COO of performance consultancy Notion. They are the co-creators of the multi-award-winning STAR® Manager programme being adopted by managers in 40 countries. They are also co-authors of the management bestseller The Answer is a Question.