There’s a big gap between managers’ self image and how others see them

Some managers may find it difficult to square the feedback from staff with their perception of themselves.

Managers need to take a hard look in the mirror to see themselves as others see them. That’s according to a new report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development. The report arises out of the CIPD’s quarterly employee outlook survey which identifies a significant gap between managers’ image of themselves and the experience of those they manage. The report provides evidence of the size of the gap but does not offer much insight into the reason for it existence.

I regularly experienced this ‘reality gap’ as a senior manager. The policy was clear that every manager should provide one-to-one meetings with their staff once a month. All managers claimed to do this, yet staff surveys and the feedback from training courses and disciplinary hearings all provided evidence to the contrary.

When pursued most managers genuinely thought they provided regular one-to-one sessions with a few disclaimers for annual leave, sickness and the occasional double booking. The reality, as evidenced by the supervision records, was somewhat different. The gap was in the difference between sessions booked and those that happened. Managers were surprised at how many sessions failed to take place because one or the other was on holiday or something else came up at the last minute. Once cancelled, sessions weren’t rearranged, often because there was another one booked in what was already a crowded diary.

There was also a difference in perceptions regarding what was covered in these meetings. Managers were clear that they provided feedback, encouragement and discussed personal development. Employees said sessions were routinely used to allocate work, chase missed deadlines – and occasionally sign a training form which they didn’t consider constituted discussing professional development.

Some managers when challenged were even less conscientious: they didn’t think the policy on one-to-one supervision applied to all groups of staff, giving admin as an example, adding that experienced staff also didn’t need a level of support. Some simply said that they had too many staff to provide all of them with regular sessions.

Some managers have good intentions but are just too busy, others know what’s expected and just ignore it as unrealistic, and then there are those who think it is just a waste of time.

The research makes the point that good managers make the time to support their staff and 360 degree feedback might help managers to see how their staff view them; but even then, some managers would find it difficult to square the feedback with their perception of themselves.

From my experience the most effective way to develop managers’ self awareness and people skills is through coaching, where the coach observes the individual in a variety of management situations, such as a team meeting or a one-to-one session, providing detailed feedback.

Blair McPherson is author of a number of books on public sector management

This article is published by Guardian Professional

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