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Good enough isn’t good enough: The impact of poor people management in B2B tech

Failing to maximise the potential of our people

We in the B2B tech sector pride ourselves on being innovative, forward-thinking, as well as agents of positive commercial and – on occasion – societal change. Can we truly say the same thing though, when we think about how we manage, motivate and empower our people? Largely, we would suggest not.

Such an observation is, arguably, no great epiphany. Last year, the Forbes Technology Council outlined 16 challenges they see on the horizon for tech teams – the bulk of which centred upon people management issues such as skills training, talent retention and motivation. However, even in the face of global disruption over the past two years, poor people management is not a new challenge. So why then have we been wrestling with such an issue for so long?

Gaining a view of people management practices and behaviours

Let’s be clear, we are not saying that good people managers (and practices) are as scarce as hen’s teeth, far from it. Vanson Bourne is a case in point, with the emphasis on people being absolutely central to our core business values.

In our view, though, truly motivational – empowering – line managers (and leaders) tend to be in the minority within the B2B tech vertical. Technical and operational competence is often high, but many can be ineffective at the crucial people management skills. An anecdotal observation yes, but one supported by our survey data. An issue magnified when there is an ever-deepening skills gap within the B2B tech space – with over half (51%) of the professionals we surveyed reporting a lack of skilled candidates applying for tech/IT roles over the past two years. Making the finding and retention of your best people an absolute necessity.

To dig deeper into the topic, we asked tech professionals across the US and UK about their views and experiences of people management. Here’s what we found out:

Job hopping is commonplace, so keeping your team happy and fulfilled becomes paramount

On average, our respondents are currently on their second job in five years, with some 30% in their third role or more – meaning a relatively short tenure at each organisation, but one which requires the same amount of onboarding, training and attention as an employee lasting 15 years. Not to mention the time that goes into offboarding and recruiting to replace them. With the cycle (likely) to repeat with the next employee.

Of course, some of this is inevitable – the tech space is very competitive and skilled employees are sought out and snapped up very quickly. But is there more that businesses could be doing to increase employee longevity?

We asked respondents ‘If you were to leave your role tomorrow, why would that be?’. Only 8% told us that they wouldn’t think of leaving their role, making the vast majority of the IT workforce susceptible to movement. Whilst the most likely reasons were largely predictable – the salary and benefits package not being good enough (59%) and there being limited opportunities afforded to them (49%). Though a third (34%) of respondents told us that poor line management would be a factor in their exit. That means one in three of the IT workforce would consider leaving due to the way they are managed.

What exactly makes a good or bad line manager?

We’ve all heard of the old saying “people don’t leave a business; they leave a bad manager”. Our respondents agree with this sentiment – 99% of participants believe that a line manager is pivotal in how happy an employee is within an organisation and think a bad line manager can be a strong catalyst to leave.

So, what exactly is a ‘bad manager’, and how widespread are they within the B2B tech space?

While many of our respondents are comfortable with their line manager, leaning in on elements such as mutual trust, regular involvement and support with development; a significant minority feel very differently.

Around three in ten think that their line manager has no idea of what they want to achieve professionally (28%), and that they don’t get relevant feedback as their line manager doesn’t really know what they do on a day-to-day basis (32%). This is particularly pertinent considering so many feel that limited opportunities within their business is a key reason that they would leave – a manager who doesn’t support you professionally means those opportunities are harder to find.

Around a quarter have even more worrying views – 27% are think that their line manager isn’t available when they need them, and 24% say that they don’t trust them at all – failing to share important information, as they don’t feel it is a safe space to do so. With some 26% reporting that their line manager does not manage them in a way that makes them feel comfortable.

Since the pandemic, with the rise in remote working and the ‘great resignation’ , far greater emphasis has been placed upon physical and mental wellbeing within the workplace. Any such efforts are completely undermined though if the employee doesn’t feel supported and safe with the person who should have their best interests at heart.

Whilst these numbers don’t represent the vast majority, they are a significant proportion of the workforce, who are a greater flight risk simply due to the way they are being managed. Losing a third of your IT workforce because of clumsy or poor management behaviours is both foolish and commercially costly, particularly within such a competitive marketplace for tech talent.

Some final thoughts

Good enough isn’t good enough: The B2B tech sector should aspire to be best-in-class when it comes to people management, with less tolerance of ‘good enough’ practices. Risking any of your skilled workforce or failing to attract that talent in the first place, puts your organisation on the backfoot. Focusing on your people first will help to drive business efficiencies and bottom-line gains.

A rationale for action – false trade-offs: Surely the trade-off between people and profit is a false one for innovative, growth-orientated, 21st century businesses? Enhancing the performance of the former drives the latter – such a causal linkage having been long proven.

Identify, support and reward true leaders: True leadership is a cornerstone of success. It must occur at all levels (corporate, CIO, CTO, CISO, as well as within/across teams). Is good people management framed by the organisational culture and philosophy? In our view, absolutely. Businesses must actively encourage, embrace and reward great people managers, as well as instil positively reinforcing/supportive practices.

In essence, it’s always been – and will always be – about getting the best out of our people.


300 IT decision makers from across the US and UK were interviewed in March 2022. All respondents were from organisations in the private sector, with 1,000 or more employees.