Ian Jerrum examines some of the issues in people management for new managers in insurance

For someone who has recently taken on managerial responsibilities in the insurance industry, it may be tempting to assume that managing other people is easy. You are in charge, so they should simply knuckle down and follow instructions, shouldn’t they?

In reality it can quickly become apparent that getting a team to function efficiently and harmoniously is anything but straight-forward.

Thinking deliberately and objectively about how to manage other people is not something that comes naturally to many of us. Considering the relevant strategies and techniques is not necessarily something we want to spend time on.

But we must, if we are to be effective managers and give those who work with us the support, guidance and direction they expect and need if they are to realise their own potential in the workplace.

Consider how stressful it can be if you are surrounded by disgruntled or under-motivated colleagues, or left to cope alone when they decide to avoid work altogether.

Like it or not, dealing with other people, their issues, needs and problems is part and parcel of the manager’s role.

People problems are often hard to solve quickly. Some will ultimately prove to be beyond your control and can only be contained. As a manager, however, you will inevitably find yourself in a position to influence some – if not all – of the factors that affect your people; and it is your responsibility to ensure your influence is a positive one.

As the leader, you have the authority to sanction, encourage or restrict their activities. Unless you fully recognise the impact your actions will have, you risk reducing the effectiveness of your team and demotivating those around you.

Ultimately you could end up spending more time fire fighting than moving forward productively together.

Managers need to be fully up to date with all relevant working practices and procedures and ensure their teams have the necessary skills and knowledge to follow them correctly without the need for continuous supervision.

Achieving this supports regulatory compliance, reduces employee stress, promotes productivity and helps sustain a positive working environment.

Managers create and maintain an internal environment, commonly called “the organisation” so that others can work efficiently within it. The resources of the organisation can be categorised as follows: people, roles, technology, facilities and equipment, materials and supplies, information, and money.

The manager’s role includes all of the following:

• Planning – devising the process through which the organisation or department will attain its goals

• Organising – creating the structure, establishing the relationships

• Allocating the resources required to carry out the plan

• Directing – guiding, leading and motivating employees to carry out the plan

• Controlling – ensuring performance is in line with the plan and taking corrective action if not.

The common features of these activities include being goal driven, interdependent and interrelated.

Managers must understand what impact the performance of their team has on the organisation’s ability to achieve its goals. They need to ensure that there are systems and processes in place that allow this impact to be recorded, measured and managed.

A role is an organised set of behaviours. Management theorist Henry Mintzberg classified the different roles common to the work of managers into three groups:

• Informational roles – those which link all the managerial work together

• Interpersonal roles – which ensure information is provided

• Decisional roles – which make significant use of the information.

Examples of informational roles would include acting as monitor, who collects and reviews information, a disseminator who retransmits this information, or a spokesperson who disseminates an organisation’s information among its team.

Interpersonal roles would include: figurehead, representing the organisation or department on formal issues, leader, defining the relationship between manager and employees, and liaison, gaining advantage and information and using it to maintain routine workflow.

Decisional roles include: entrepreneur (initiating change); disturbance handler (dealing with threats to the organisation or department); resource allocator (choosing where the team expends its efforts), and negotiator (negotiating on behalf of the team and making decisions about work within it).

The purpose of identifying and classifying management roles in this way is to create understanding, build on areas of strength and plan for role development.

Mintzberg’s theory is widely recognised as applying to managers’ roles irrespective of the sector in which they work. In our own sector regulatory and advisory bodies are attempting to introduce consistent standards for different job roles.

The Financial Services Skills Council (FSSC), the body that advises on educational and occupational standards for the insurance industry, aims to increase professionalism and good practice through employer voluntary initiatives such as the National Occupational Standards.

Similarly, the CII has devised a competency framework, which identifies core competencies for various roles in the insurance sector.

It may be that your organisation works within these standards or frameworks, or those of another body.

If so, your role as manager will be further defined and you will be able to judge for yourself how these definitions relate to those proposed by Mintzberg. IT

Questions

Q1. Name four of the resources of “the organisation”

Q2. Planning, organising, directing, controlling, dividing, ruling – which of these are not generally considered core aspects of a people manager’s role?

Q3. Name the three groups into which management theorist Henry Mintzberg classified managers’ roles

Q4. Which three of the following are classified as decisional roles, figurehead, disturbance handler, resource allocator, spokesperson, negotiator

Q5. What is the name of the body that advises on educational and occupational standards for the insurance industry?