Managerial competences, engagement and productivity - developing positive relationships

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Management School

Abstract

There is a growing body of evidence that poor management is one of the main causes of low productivity. The UK government's recent Industrial Strategy noted that 'our managers are, on average, less proficient than many competitors' and therefore it has been argued that improving basic managerial competences is crucial if we are to solve the 'productivity puzzle'. However, the challenges facing line managers are becoming increasingly complex. In particular, the contemporary emphasis on more robust approaches to the management of performance makes it more likely that managers will find themselves having to have 'difficult conversations' and in conflict with their staff.

Workplace conflict is not only widespread but arguably inhibits workplace productivity by tying up valuable organisational resources. A CIPD survey found that over one-third of respondents had recent experience of conflict at work and it has been estimated that employees spend an average of 1.8 hours a week dealing with conflict, an annual loss of 370 million days. At the same time, the way in which managers handle conflict could have a significant impact on organisational performance by influencing levels of engagement; employees are more likely to be engaged if they feel that they are treated fairly and involved in decisions that affect them.

Although line managers play a crucial role in shaping experiences of work, there is growing evidence that they lack the skills needed to manage people effectively and identify, address and resolve difficult personnel issues. Therefore, training programmes designed to increase their capacity to deal with conflict could be one way of securing higher levels of employee engagement and improved productivity. Unfortunately, there has been no robust quantitative academic research in this area, making it difficult to build a persuasive business case for investment in conflict management competences.

This proposal aims to fill this gap by providing a detailed evaluation of the impact on engagement and productivity of 'conflict competence'. This will be conducted through a workplace trial of training interventions designed to develop the conflict resolution skills of line managers in a number of organisations in the private and public sectors. Working closely with the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) the project will trial two levels of skills development. The first will comprise of a one-day workshop designed to develop conflict resolution skills delivered to first-line managers. The second will add a further component by providing a more advanced two-day workshop to prepare senior leaders to provide support and coaching to their managers as they seek to navigate difficult personnel issues. The workshops will use a mediative model to develop the conflict competence of managers through key skills including listening, communication, influencing, reframing and negotiation, having difficult conversations and coaching.

The impact of each intervention will be tracked over a 12 month period by assessing the competence and confidence of managers, the experiences and attitudes of the employees they manage, the efficiency with which conflict is handled and measures of organisational productivity. This will be contextualised by interviews and focus groups to examine the processes through which productivity improvements are secured and also the potential barriers facing organisations.

The project will provide a valuable evidence base regarding the impact of training and development in conflict resolution skills. It not only aims to have a substantive impact on managerial competence within the case-study organisations but will also underpin the development of training tools which can be replicated in a range of organisational contexts. Furthermore, insights from the research will be shared with practitioner and policy-making communities through a comprehensive programme of dissemination and engagement.

Planned Impact

The project will have a significant impact on the participating organisations by upskilling managers in effective communication, conflict handling and resolution, with anticipated impacts on employee engagement, performance and productivity. It will also assist the development of managerial competences across organisations more generally in three main ways: first, it will inform the decisions of employers in relation to investment in conflict competence skills; second, it will provide key insights into the potential barriers to the development of more effective conflict management; and third, it will create free to use products including a benchmarking tool designed to identify gaps in conflict competence and a novel conflict management app to help managers deal more effectively with such issues. These impacts will be particularly important in smaller organisations where cost is often an inhibitor to investment in formal training.

The research will also have a positive impact on Acas' training provision, extending the knowledge of those trainers directly involved in the project but also informing the wider development of existing and new courses. In addition, the evidence gathered will shape Acas advice and guidance in relation to conflict management and dispute resolution. In the longer term, the project will create a new managerial training product which will subsequently be launched nationally by Acas, creating both instrumental and capacity building impacts.

As the UK's statutory body tasked with improving employment relations in organisations the involvement of Acas provides a powerful route to impact through its influence on both policy and practice. Furthermore, the project will be steered by a Project Advisory Board including representatives from Acas, CIPD, FSB, CBI, Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), IPA, EEF and the TUC. A practitioner forum made up of senior managers and HR professionals drawn from participating companies will also ensure that insights and learning from the project are shared.

We will extend the reach of our impact in three ways. First we will deliver a series of masterclasses for Acas advisers to share the findings of our research and its practical implications, embedding this into the training they provide for clients. Second, the broader insights about 'what works' will also be shared with private sector mediation providers, HR practitioners and regional employers represented through Local Economic Partnerships via a further series of workshops. We will also exploit existing and developing networks within the ESRC Productivity Insights Network hosted in Sheffield, which provides significant potential synergies and complementarities. Finally we shall hold two larger one-day conferences drawing together academics, policy-makers and practitioners to share findings from the research and also highlight organisational best practice and innovation.

The communications strategy for this project will be developed in conjunction with Acas. We will work to develop a specific web presence that will host a regular blog from the research team, project partners and research participants and we will also use video and other media for maximum impact. Findings from the project will be disseminated to a wide audience through the Acas Research Paper series which is not only influential in policy debates but has significant reach into practitioner communities. We will target trade/professional journals such as People Management, and Personnel Today and use channels including LinkedIn, the Conversation and Twitter to promote key messages, together with mainstream local and national media and via our other project partners (PIN and MPF). Members of the team will also seek to present at various large set-piece practitioner events, for example the annual CIPD Applied Research Conference.

Publications

10 25 50

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/S012796/1 14/02/2019 05/01/2022 £615,985
ES/S012796/2 Transfer ES/S012796/1 06/01/2022 05/02/2023 £293,849
 
Description Submission to Productivity Commission's call for Evidence
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
 
Description The PROPEL Hub - Productivity Outcomes of workplace Practice, Engagement and Learning
Amount £1,580,012 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/T001771/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2019 
End 09/2022
 
Description Acas London Annual Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation by Richard Saundry at Acas conference in London - 'Conflict, capability and the role of HR'. The presentation explored the role of managerial capability and the role of HR in developing this.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Acas NW Masterclass 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Entitled 'Rethinking conflict management - fairness, justice and capability', this was a 'masterclass' for HR practitioners and line managers delivered by Richard Saundry which aimed to draw lessons from existing research in relation to the critical role of line managers and the importance of skill development in underpinning workplace fairness and organisational justice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Acas Podcast June 10: The Cost of Conflict 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact This episode is the first of our new, special edition podcasts on The Future of Work, featuring debate and thought-provoking questions with special guests, on key themes around the future of work. In this episode, Gill Dix, head of policy at Acas, looks at new research commissioned by Acas on the cost of conflict to UK workplaces.

Conflict is an inevitable part of life, but what is the financial cost of conflict to workplaces in the UK? Is it taken seriously by organisations? Does investing in conflict management make sense for all workplaces or just some?

Join Gill and Richard Saundry, Professor of Human Resource Management and Employment Relations at Sheffield University and Peter Urwin, Professor of Applied Economics at the University of Westminster to unpack the cost of conflict and what we can do about it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://shows.acast.com/acaspodcast/episodes/the-cost-of-conflict
 
Description Blog PrOPEL Hub, linked to Share podcast: Diversity In The British Workplace: Are We Managing? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In the latest blog in our series exploring managerial capability, Peter Urwin and Emma Parry reflect on the lessons arising from diversity and inclusion research for management practice. They consider how the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities and explore the value in moving away from an emphasis on particular divisions in the workplace.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.propelhub.org/diversity-in-the-british-workplace-are-we-managing/
 
Description CIPD Lab: Perspectives on the world of work thought piece 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Jonny Gifford and Richard Saundry explore key insights that people professionals must take into account when approaching conflict management
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.cipd.co.uk/news-views/changing-work-views/future-work/thought-pieces/workplace-conflict
 
Description Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development Applied Research Conference Video Showcase 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The PrOPEL Hub MP-EE project teams delivered a 5 video showcase at the CIPD Applied Research Conference. These videos outlined the major research projects underpinning the hub and funded by the ESRC thatexplore links between workplace practice and productivity, inclduing Managerial competences, engagement and productivity - developing productive relationships - University of Sheffield
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.propelhub.org/management-practice-and-employee-engagement/
 
Description Managing Partners' Forum Firmwide Leader Roundtable 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Breakfast roundtable event for leaders in professional services firms. The Managing Partners' Forum organises moderated monthly roundtables for around 20 members to explore key topics in London. Paul Latreille and Richard Saundry briefed on the the topic of 'Resolving conflict' and then participated in an extended, subsequent debate. The event was used as an opportunity to share broad insights and outline and seek input on the current project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description PrOPEL Blog: What makes a good managerand can we 'make' them? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In this blog, Professor Richard Saundry and Professor Peter Urwin take a deep dive into the evidence surrounding the debate about 'what makes a good manager' and explore the implications for practice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.propelhub.org/what-makes-a-good-managerand-can-we-make-them/
 
Description PrOPEL Hub Masterclass 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This PrOPEL Hub Masterclass explores the links between managerial capability, management of conflict and organisational productivity and will provide science based expert advice on building managerial capability to effectively manage conflict and create more productive workplaces. Hosted by Professor Richard Saundry (Sheffield) and with speakers Professor Ariel Avgar (Cornell) and Professor Ryan Lamare (Illinois).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description PrOPEL Hub launch podcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact As part of the PrOPEL Hub launch, Professor Graeme Roy hosts a podcast with Professor Richard Saundry, Dr Martin McCracken and Professor Patricia Findlay on building management capability in the context of Covid-19 and the economic crisis.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.propelhub.org/managing-in-a-covid-19-world-2/
 
Description PrOPEL KiP April 21: Approaches to Informal Conflict Resolution 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Richard Saundry and guests discuss the benefits that an informal approach to conflict resolution has for managers and employees when they are facing difficult and challenging situations in the workplace. The podcast features Mark Makin, Senior Acas Advisor, Karen Ellis, HR Partner at University of Plymouth and Grace Williams, HR Consultant at Sue Wilmott Associates.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.propelhub.org/approaches-to-informal-conflict-resolution/
 
Description PrOPEL KiP event: Developing Strategic Approaches to Conflict Management 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A growing body of research has pointed to the organisational benefits of developing more strategic approaches to the management of workplace conflict. In this session we discuss how your organisation can build an integrated conflict management system. Latreille, Saundry and Dix look at the key design components and explore the key challenges and obstacles faced in embedding more strategic approaches to conflict management in the workplace.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.propelhub.org/workplace-conflict-workshop-series/
 
Description Presentation at Acas London Conference 'Preventing, containing, and resolving conflict' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Richard Saundry described scenarios of conflict escalation that evidence the need for early and effective management interventions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Presentation at the CIPD Employee Engagement & Performance Management Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Professors Paul Latreille and Richard Saundry, together with Gemma Glanville from Border Force provided a keynote talk on developing line managers capability to handle workplace conflict and safeguard productivity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://events.cipd.co.uk/events/employee-engagement-and-performance-management/
 
Description Presentation on 'Demistifying Mediation' at Acas East of England Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact R.Saundry spoke at Acas East of England Conference 'Demistifying Mediation'. Mediation is often a key resource for dispute resolution, but managers are often unaware of the details or benefits.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description SMPW PrOPEL Hub blog series 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Blog series for PrOPEL Hub on Managerial Capability, Conflict Management and Productivity.

5 entries to date, including 2 written by team members.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021
URL https://www.propelhub.org/managerial-capability-conflict-management-and-productivity/
 
Description SMPW website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Project website
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://skilledmanagers.org
 
Description Share Radio Podcast April 15: A 'Good' and 'Efficient' Workplace: Tricky Balancing Act? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Podcast Discussion: Research into workplace productivity and management practice is often focused on the links between 'Good' and 'Efficient' practices. 'Good' covers employee-friendly policies; for instance, those providing opportunities for better Work Life Balance. In contrast, 'Efficient' practice includes the use of KPIs, setting clear performance expectations and tackling underperformance where it is identified. In this episode Peter Urwin and Professor Richard Saundry discuss this, drawing on their own understanding as researchers and experiences as line managers. The operational reality is that managers hold a position between the interests of their organisation and those who work for them - how do they balance the (often competing) need to create both efficient and good workplaces?
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.shareradio.co.uk/podcasts/?gs=urwin
 
Description Share Radio Podcast March 18: Diversity in the British workplace - are we managing? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact The UK has come a long way since the early Equal Opportunities legislation of the 1970s, high-profile cases in the 1980s and 1990s identifying institutionalised discrimination, and the subsequent focus on celebration of diversity and promotion of inclusion. However, the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements are reminders of how far we still need to travel. In this episode, Peter Urwin is joined by Emma Parry, Professor of Human Resource Management at Cranfield School of Management, to discuss how to further move the dial on diversity in the workplace. Asking whether research provides clear lessons for managers, they identify a number of similar messages across the economics and HRM literatures. However, whilst recent debates over the value of unconscious bias training caution against untested approaches, evaluation of "solutions" such as Inclusion present a real challenge. Peter and Emma debate these tensions, and consider possible ways forward.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.shareradio.co.uk/podcasts/?nm=Peter+Urwin
 
Description UCD seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation entitled 'Rethinking and researching conflict management - good work, HR and conflict competence' at an invited seminar reviewing recent research in the field and focussing on the role played by the conflict competence of line managers in ensuring good work and driving productivity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description UIA Conference (Milan) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Panel presentation by Paul Latreille at 27th UIA World Forum of Mediation Centres, Milan, Italy in session on Conflict Management, attended by an audience primarily comprised of lawyer/mediators.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.uianet.org/en/events/27th-world-forum-mediation-centres
 
Description University of Sheffield Keynote at the Virtual Employee Engagement Summit 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Professors Richard Saundry and Paul Latreille provided a keynote talk on building managerial capability to manage conflict in the workplace and exploring links between effective conflict management and productivity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://engageemployee.com/forums/employee-engagement-summit/
 
Description shareradio podcast Jan 21 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact What role does poor management play in the 'British Disease' and is there a cure? Since the late 1960s UK productivity growth has been weak and poor management is seen as one of the main causes. In recent years Economists have waded into this debate and in this shareradio podcast Peter Urwin asks Prof Richard Saundy what he thinks of recent findings. The discussion begins with a reminder of the fractious history of UK industrial relations and then considers recent evidence on what makes a good manager and why there seems to be so little sharing of good managerial practice both between, and even within, organisations. Concluding with a discussion of what the 'cure' might look like, the podcast considers the work of the PrOPEL Hub and ESRC funded studies that aim to improve management through new approaches to training.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.shareradio.co.uk/podcasts/economist-questions-what-role-does-poor-management-play-in-the...