• ‘Robotic’ managers failing to engage hearts and minds in decision-making

  • 28 Mar 2014
  • Comments 3 comments

Majority of managers ‘blinded’ by too many rules and regulations, research shows 

A shift towards workplace cultures dominated by rules and bureaucracy means managers have become ‘robots’, according to research published by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

It found that three-quarters of managers could be ignoring the impact of their decisions on others, at work, by blindly following rules. This was 28 per cent more than for the general population.  

Compiled in conjunction with the creators of online values test MoralDNA, the CMI also found that managers tend to have less empathy at work.

On average, managers are 4 per cent more compliant with rules and 5 per cent less caring about the impact of their decisions at work, compared to in their personal lives.

Women tend to have a more caring work ethic, the research found, although female managers only scored 5 per cent higher than their male counterparts.

Political leanings also influenced respondents’ decision making; a compliance-led attitude was more prevalent in those with right-leaning political viewpoints.

The research revealed that the older the respondent, the less likely they were to make decisions robotically. A tendency towards compliance drops between late-20s and retirement age. Seniority was more positively linked to trust and courage, it added.

The CMI believes the population can be divided into six different types of ethical character, based on whether they are influenced by emotion or compliance when making decisions. These are: philosophers, judges, angels, teachers, enforcers, and guardians – 74 per cent of managers, according to the research, fall into the enforcers, judges, or philosophers categories.

Ann Francke, chief executive of CMI, said: “Too many employers fall into the trap of relying on ever-more complicated layers of rules and regulations to say what their people can and can’t do.”

“The result is that people act like robots at work, using the letter of the law as an excuse not to engage their hearts and heads when making decisions.”

The report points to scandals in the financial services industry and management crises in the NHS and the police as examples of ‘skewed priorities’ and ‘misguided targets’.

Professor Roger Steare, co-author of the report and one of the founders of MoralDNA, said that financial services watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority had “acknowledged that we all need to engage our heads and our hearts if we want to make better decisions and outcomes for our society”.

He added: “This report is a wake-up call to government and all regulators to understand that turning the UK into a totalitarian police-state will lead to more and not less wrong-doing.”

The CMI advises organisations to step back and reflect on the ethical implications of decisions, asking questions such as ‘Would we be happy if the truth was public?’ or ‘How open, honest and accountable are we being?’

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Comments (3)
  • This article doesn't quite stack up.  The tool MoralDNA indicates that one of the "weaknesses" of the "Philosopher" is that they are willing to break rules!; whilst "Judges" sometimes dend the rules...

  • This is a really interesting topic.

    I came across this slide deck from Netflix the other day and how they effectively tackle many of the issues raised in this article with their simple yet effective approach to HR policies. (Like: At Netflix we don't have a dress code, but no one comes to work naked.)

    If you've got 10 minutes and want to open your mind to a whole new way of treating and managing your employees it's worth a look.


    Be warned though their approach is radical and is certainly not for everyone and I guarantee it will scare the hell out of those of you who just love rules and those weighty employee handbooks!

  • As I read the various reports sharing research findings, I still find it interesting how we continue to focus on the WHAT the issues are, WHAT needs to be done, and I fear all too often we don’t focus on HOW can we support and help those folk to update their way of being. This has a tendency to leave those identified by the research as the ‘cause’, those to ‘blame’ as if somehow we do not have some responsibility for what we have created as a society.

    My view is, more training, doing more of what we have done in the past is NOT the effective approach. We know what that produces, because we already have it in the market place today.

    If for a moment we take responsibility for what we as a society have created, then the question becomes, I wonder why we have what we have and how might we go about changing this, to make this space stronger?

    I know Einstein quotes are used often, but this is one is so appropriate.

    'No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.'

    My view is the way forward is to FULLY understand and engage in the topic of Adult Development. A far from complete description can be read via Wikipedia. There is robust academic and practitioner research and writings for this subject, however for some reason this is not ‘out there’ in the general business space. Many Business Schools, if indeed they even share this, do so in the more focussed corporate education short workshops.

    We see, the problem, we have a possible solution, however we continue to view the problem and not set about change and learning to find out what we really need to be doing to enhance the management and leadership capability across the UK.

    I am happy to signpost folk to some key material that helped me engage in this space in a different way. If we do not, expect more of what we have seen over the past decade, this is not cast in stone, we can change it if we have the drive to do so, so do we have that I wonder?