Developing Managers for Business Success


Right now management development does not seem to be essential for those appointed to managerial positions. Across the world, people can be found occupying management positions without having had any relevant education and training. One can ponder the reasons: management does not yet have the status of a profession in its own right and does not require special training like becoming a doctor or lawyer. Or perhaps the organisation’s leaders do not think that they risk business failure by delegating responsibility to untrained managers.

Twenty years ago, depending on the sector, managers had limited authority and bureaucratic rules tended to govern decision-making. Indeed, many organisations had trainee positions, assistant positions, deputies and even assistant general managers! However, since then organisations have experienced downsizing and delayering. The steps up the flatter structure are now much bigger and the role that managers are expected to fulfil is broader and deeper.

We believe that developing managers is an essential investment for business success. Such development should include:

  • Education to gain the knowledge of what to do as a manager
  • Training to acquire the skills for effective application of knowledge to managerial situations
  • Coaching and mentoring to obtain guidance and receive experience from more senior managers and when appropriate, specialist coaches.

The sum total of these learning processes should also deliver a set of attitudes that are congruent with the realisation of the organisation’s vision.

If the leadership of an organisation wants to deliver superior performance over the long term, as measured by profitability and the value of its stock, then it must develop the capability to perform. Management development is a primary key to gaining a dynamic capability to perform. Building an environment that will enable the success of one’s managers and people is one of the principal functions of executive leadership, and it is wise to shape the learning process by prioritising management development. John F Kennedy said that “learning and leadership are indispensable to each other”. Peter Senge identifies, in the article The Leader’s New Work: Building Learning Organisations, the role of the leader as a teacher.

So what does an organisation need its management development to address? In our view this is a critical question and we suggest three major elements:

  • firstly, the business, including its purpose and strategy, and the external environment in which it operates,
  • secondly, the organisation in terms of structure, operating processes, culture(s) and people, and
  • lastly, the managers’ personal development and learning to acquire practical skills and build confidence to implement management practices

Strategic Direction in the Competitive External Environment

It is vital to understand the environment in which the business operates. Without this, managers will struggle to recognise the rationale underlying the strategy of their organisation. Knowledge of the main forces affecting the business, such as competitor activity, buyer behaviour and stakeholder expectations (customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers and communities) is part of understanding strategy. Environmental pressures such as social trends, economic, political and legal developments and ecological issues all shape the context in which the business operates.

Once the competitive environment has been assessed, managers need an appreciation of business strategy. Being clear about the business’s purpose, direction and strategic goals is vital if a manager is to lead with credibility and conviction. It is also important to understand how results are measured and the values/guiding principles that drive organisational behaviour.

Organisational Design and Dynamics

If a manager is to leverage resources to maximise results, knowledge of how the organisation works in terms of its structure, its operating processes and its culture(s) is essential. How the structure has been developed, business units or cost centres, the basis for the delegation of responsibility as well as its shape of layers and spans of control are part of learning.

The business operating processes make the organisation come alive and channel the efforts of the people. Managers will achieve more if they are skilful in managing business planning and budgeting, performance management, development and reward, information systems and meetings. Indeed, so much of the culture of the business is bound up in the way things are done that it is useful to examine its nature in relation to structure and processes.

Personal Development and Management Learning

Personal effectiveness in management starts with the individual. This can occasionally require some unlearning, especially among highly trained specialists who want to go into management. Everyone has to review his or her capabilities in relation to the role of a manager. Nobody is a superman. Undertaking a personal diagnosis of one’s strengths and weaknesses, using psychometrics and other techniques, provides a sound basis for focused development activities.

Developing one’s inter-personal assertiveness and influencing skills plus giving and receiving feedback will all support the management of people. Leadership development, including the manager’s own view of how they will lead their people to embrace the business purpose/direction, work with the structure and business processes and apply their efforts to business priorities, is critical. Team effectiveness is also crucial and is about building one’s own team and about fostering effective cross-organisational co-operation. The latter issue is so much more important in today’s leaner companies, where managing effectively at unit interfaces is essential for organisational cohesion and business success.

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