People are right back on the agenda. In recent MIS UK research you told us that recruiting and managing people was now your top concern for the year ahead, up from third place last year and replacing managing budgets.

Staff with the right skills are now in greater demand than ever and consequently the IT recruitment market is very buoyant, with growing movement both at the top and bottom levels. The lack of IT project management and business skills is becoming a bigger issue as outsourcing begins to have an impact on training and experience at home. Work is all about people. Having the right people with the right skills and motivation, and having enough of them. Bird Flu may primarily be a media-fed phenomenon at the moment, but it is having an interesting effect on corporate planning – the prospect of losing 50 per cent of staff from the office is certainly focusing attention. For years, HR people and so called ‘soft’ management gurus have been banging on about people being an organisation’s most valuable asset. (All with little effect if recent reports of appalling people management in the UK are anything to go by.)

The people-less office

But the prospect of having no one to do the work has come as a shock. It is hard to put these types of calamity into a real life context, although the terrorist bombings in London and Madrid – which caused the cities for all intents and purposes to close – gave us a preview of what it might be like.

A disaster recovery expert recently said that the combined threats of terrorism and bird flu have pushed companies into paying attention to their people at long last. If London, or any other big city, closes because of a terrorist act or flu pandemic and no one can get to work, how will businesses continue? Of course office workers could work from home, but would the infrastructure be able to support them? What about security? The technology in business continuity plans is the easy bit. It is the people who are a bit trickier.

It took the millennium bug to focus senior executives on disaster recovery. IT, by and large, did a great job. Now, in the same way, bird flu or a terrorist attack is focusing attention on people. Over lunch with the CEO of an analyst company recently, one of MIS UK’s former editors was bemoaning the management skills of two of her former bosses. “Do you have a problem with all your bosses?”, the CEO asked. No, the former editor replied, only when they couldn’t run a bath or manage their way out of a wet paper bag. Neither manager stayed with the business for very long.

Apparently the former editor was not the only one in the UK unhappy with managers. Poor leadership is rife. Nearly half the people questioned in a recent survey by law firm Eversheds said their manager was a poor decision-maker and 45 per cent said their managers had no clear direction.

If the manager does not know what direction they are going in, how on earth are their staff supposed to know? No one likes a playground bully, but it seems there are still a lot of them around in the grown up world of work.

Half of the people questioned by Eversheds told them that managers had bullied them, but that isn’t the worst of it. Nine out of 10 said they had worked for ‘bad’ managers and most would like their bosses to communicate more. The firm found that a third of staff have a dim view of their bosses and most think management-speak like ‘out of the box’ and ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ are totally unacceptable ways of communicating and should be banned from the office.

With yet another skills crisis on the horizon, keeping staff is going to become much harder, especially given the results of the Eversheds research. One MIS UK reader recently said it is up to CIOs to take control and make the situation better. “It is hard work finding and keeping good people, but a good leader can make all the difference.” If you are a good leader your staff problems will be smaller. As long as they don’t all catch bird flu that is.