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Unit4 research finds divergence between decision-makers and employees in SMEs

Sponsored research among mid-sized enterprises finds decision-makers and employees to be radically at odds in reading what makes a successful organisation

Unit4 has published a report from Vanson Bourne that suggests senior decision-makers in mid-sized organisations are out of sync with their employees in respect of having a good workplace culture.

The technology market research firm undertook a study of 3,350 decision-makers and employees in mid-sized enterprises in June and July 2021 and is publishing the research in the form of an “index”. This includes an interactive tool that enables employees and senior business managers to benchmark their organisations.

The organisations surveyed included public sector entities. Chris Richards, regional president, UK and Ireland at Unit4, picked out the low performance of the sector as both disappointing and interesting in an interview with Computer Weekly.

“With higher education, public sector and not-for profit, it seems like because they don’t have a profitability goal, they are low across the board,” he said. “That could be because their processes to change are slow.”

According to the supplier, the Business Future Index aims to assess how “mature” organisations are with respect to balancing profitability and productivity with developing people.

It divides the organisations surveyed into four groups, from the least to the most mature: hesitators, evaluators, embracers and optimisers.

A spokesperson for Unit4 said: “The Unit4 Business Future Index and Maturity Model seeks to explore how employees and leadership perceive their businesses to have performed during this economically volatile period at profit level, as well as with business strategies and priorities, financial planning and management, and people strategies. It also focuses in on the characteristics that make up a successful business during this time, and what the top-performing businesses are doing to align people with profit and remain resilient in the future.

“Using a series of questions and scores, we have compiled a model which assesses respondents’ organisations’ maturity against their overall business state, their ability to manage financial processes, and their people/talent strategies. This allows us to see the characteristics of organisations that are excelling (or underperforming) in these areas and explore what it is that they might be doing that means they are seeing those results.

“‘Optimising’ businesses are the most likely to use each success measure and are using the greatest number of different success measures in unison, on average. This includes focusing on people-centric measures. Conversely, ‘hesitating’ businesses are especially unlikely to use people-centric measures to determine success, and instead focus heavily on profit and turnover. This indicates that while bottom-line metrics are important and certainly can’t be ignored, there is power in knowing about your people. The most successful businesses within the study monitor and measure this and consider the outcomes of that measurement as a sign of their success.”

Richards also highlighted what the report’s authors call the “decision-makers’ delusion” as particularly noteworthy.

Read more about people versus profit

The research found that 25% of decision-makers believe their performance in recruiting and retaining talent has been so good that there is no room for improvement, contrasting with only 12% of non-decision-makers who believe that. Similarly, 89% of decision-makers believe they have at least met, if not exceeded, expectations around profitability over the last three years, compared with 70% of employees.

“What came out strongly for me was even the optimisers still put their focus on profitability, productivity, even though they understand that talent is a big issue,” said Richards. “Also, the decision-makers believe they are delivering a positive workplace culture – some 70% – whereas only 43% of the employees felt that. So, are the decision-makers paying lip-service to this or are they really listening? There is a real mismatch here. And the UK is in the bottom three in terms of investing in their people and re-skilling.”

Richards added: “How can senior people in business think they can’t do any better?”

As regards financial management, the study found that over half (56%) of respondents said their organisation’s finance processes were too slow and cumbersome, making everyday tasks, such as paying suppliers, managing budgets and raising purchase order numbers and invoices, difficult.

For “hesitating” businesses in particular, outdated processes and systems (49%) and human error (43%) were significant issues.

The main finding of the research was that while people are a business’s most valuable asset, they are often not the biggest focus – 90% of organisations admit they face challenges in retaining talent, recruitment and the market fallout from Covid-19.

But the study showed that the top three areas of focus for the next 12 months are improving operational efficiency, increasing productivity and attracting new customers. Talent-related priorities rank much lower, with only 17% saying a successful remote or hybrid office environment is important.

Mike Ettling, CEO at Unit4, said in a statement: “The Business Maturity Model clearly shows that if organisations are to thrive in the face of talent shortages, they have to set themselves up to be more agile and adaptable, and that means being prepared to take risks and embrace innovation.

“The role technology plays in enabling this organisational and cultural shift will be crucial to determining success. Organisations should be looking to adopt industry-specific technology strategies that are right for their businesses, because, as our study shows, those that get it right see positive impacts across talent recruitment and retention, workplace culture and trust in leadership.”

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