Managers in search of higher standards: Conference starts tomorrow

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THOUSANDS of managers in industries all over the UK will spend this week trying to do better. Nothing remarkable about that, you might say. The quality of British management has been blamed for many of our economic ills.

But this is not a vague attempt at self-improvement. 'Be a Better Manager Week' is a campaign by the Management Charter Initiative aimed at seeing if its standards can help raise levels of ability.

The programme is backed by the Confederation of British Industry and the Department of Employment, while four organisations - Woolwich Building Society, National Westminster Bank, Auto Windscreens and the Magistrates Courts Service - are sponsoring it on a national basis.

Donald Kirkham, Woolwich's chief executive, said the organisation was backing the drive because it wanted its managers to get better. 'I think they have earned their laurels. But if they rest on them we will be lost because the world market is more competitive.'

The society, which has been awarded 'Investor in People' status for its commitment to training, is particularly keen on controlling costs. In the past two years these have remained level despite the takeover of Town and Country Building Society and a substantial increase in assets. But Mr Kirkham is sure that more can be done.

'Hopefully, participation in this will give us plenty of ideas for keeping sharp in the future,' he said.

The MCI is an independent body set up by employers to counter deficiencies in British management training by laying down standards of competence. It recently announced a project to adapt senior management standards for use in small- and medium-sized organisations, as they account for about 95 per cent of all UK businesses.

The organisation has been widely criticised for being too bureaucratic and its chief executive, Andrew Summers, sees this project as a method of overcoming that perception.

Stressing the importance of forging a link between raising management standards and improving performance in the workplace, he said the exercises were not bureaucratic but 'all about improvement and about the way you manage'.

Not that he thinks a few days will deal with a litany of failings. He simply hopes it will promote the body's work and let people see what is on offer and what can be achieved. 'It's not a solution, it's a dip-stick.'

(Photograph omitted)