HR report slams the middle manager

March 11, 2005

Do you find it hard to lead? Are you anti-management? If so, you are probably a middle manager in a university, according to a report from the Higher Education Policy Institute on modernising human resource management.

This tier of management rarely sees managing staff as part of their job, acting as a form of "cloud cover" preventing change, according to the report Mission Critical .

While senior management took HR seriously, the story changed beyond the "top table".

"However clear the vision from top management, the frustration voiced by HR heads was of what one described as 'a thick layer of cloud below'," the report says.

"The recurring description of middle management was of staff in positions of leadership who did not find it easy to lead and whose loyalties often lie primarily with their subject or their teams; and of a highly resilient anti-management culture - even among managers."

William Archer, the report's author and former head of education practice at Barkers Norman Broadbent, said: "This layer of cloud prevents communication across the university, making it hard for senior management to communicate effectively and making staff suspicious of them."

He said that the development, training and support of managers was crucial.

Based on interviews with HR and university heads in 44 research-led and teaching-led universities, the report also describes HR departments as engaged in a "new world war for talent".

"The consensus was that the ability to attract and recruit the right people was now 'the basis for future competitive advantage', and so core to the university's success," the report says.

Typical annual recruitment advertising ranged from £200,000 to £1 million. "Online recruitment is now used extensively and job boards are seen as a highly effective low-cost medium," it says.

More than 80 per cent of universities said they used head-hunters to attract senior staff. "Such is the demand that one research-led university had appointed an in-house head-hunter, hired from an external firm," the report says.

The report, which was sponsored by The Times Higher , adds that there is a shortage of HR professionals. "The scale of expansion in HR departments means that finding staff continues to be an issue," Mr Archer said.

The report found that HR departments in universities compared favourably with the best in the private sector.

But at a seminar to outline the findings, Paul Mackney, general secretary of lecturers' union Natfhe, said most departments had ignored issues such as discrimination against women and black staff.

"I don't think higher education is close to the best HR and, if it is, the rest of the country should be very worried," he said.


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