John Williams: Line managers can contribute to agile working conditions

John Williams

People are heavily influenced by their working environment. Rigid structures and siloed departments with complex hierarchies are becoming something of the past; employees now naturally want to work in flexible, friendly and, dare we say it, fun organisations. But is this the reality in the UK workplace? And if not, who is responsible for making it happen?

Research published by ILM in November 2016, Addressing the leadership lag: an ILM manifesto, discovered that more than a third of professionals in the UK consider their workplace to have a regulated and controlled structure. When asked what they wanted to change about their organisation’s culture, the most popular answer was to have more freedom and flexibility. And employees are looking to their managers to instil these changes.

People learn from those around them; when we looked into exactly how UK professionals developed their workplace skills, we found that almost three-quarters of workers have actively emulated attributes of their colleagues. Both employees and employers also told us they want to see senior managers spend more time on the shop floor or facing customers, in the same way their direct reports do on a daily basis. Bringing managers back onto the frontline not only leads staff to adopt their positive working traits and behaviours but also encourages them to voice their own input and opinions to a trusted listener.

In the short term, line managers need to be breaking down the barriers, enabling collaboration between different teams, working groups and levels. Introducing, and encouraging staff to adopt flexible policies such as remote working and core hours are simple changes with often invaluable results.

Giving employees the ability to reward each other can also play a huge role in reinforcing positive behaviours; recognition does not have to be purely in the gift of senior staff members. If staff, both line managers to direct reports, and peer to peer, are able to provide each other with immediate rewards, not only will their relationships be strengthened but, ultimately, employees will be more motivated and geared up to making the best contribution they can, on an ongoing basis.

At a time of huge change in the UK’s economy, businesses also need to adapt and change. The ability to do this has to be fostered and encouraged by line managers, who have an enormous impact on the way a business operates and its success. As the first port of call for the vast majority of workers, it is vital that line managers are empowered to cultivate positive working cultures. But it is also important that these freedoms and agile ways of working are fostered uniformly across the organisation; if only one small part or layer of the business works like this, then it is unlikely to be successful.

By equipping managers with the tools to foster a collaborative culture, flatter structure and more flexible working policies, organisations can ensure they are developing a loyal, dedicated workforce, and one that is better set up to weather whatever changes are ahead.

John Williams is director of digital strategy and research at provider of leadership qualifications ILM

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