Developing the management quickstep

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Quick stepIn these troubled business times it's important to stay one step ahead of the game. Jo Causon argues that management development is essential if you want your organisation to keep pace with external change.

In today's environment, individuals are facing tougher challenges at work than ever before. Advances in communications and technology mean managers have to cope with increasing demands on their time. Globalisation is putting further pressure on organisations, and therefore the individuals within them, as they are forced to find new ways of remaining competitive with emerging nations such as China and India. Management development will play a key role in ensuring that the UK is able to remain successful in the longer-term. By making sure that professional training and development is focused on the upcoming challenges to business, such as managing change and the need to form partnerships with third parties to remain competitive, organisations stand a better chance of addressing the difficulties ahead.

As we enter a period of greater challenge and economic uncertainty, there are particular skill sets which will be useful in helping managers achieve their objectives. It may seem like an obvious thing to say but in a high risk, changeable business environment, organisations that can manage and implement change effectively are more likely to be successful in the longer-term. Therefore, providing individuals with the skills they need to manage change should be prioritised within the management development programme. This may include elements like how to motivate people to ensure that enthusiasm and morale is high when going through a period of change. It may also include ways of managing conflict, as change can often cause friction between individuals due to differences of opinion and because of disruptions caused to the organisation's general status quo.

"Change can often cause friction between individuals due to differences of opinion and because of disruptions caused to the organisation's general status quo."

Clearly, managers need the ability to interact well and read people and situations at all times if they want to get the best from individuals in their team. But these skills become even more critical at the current time, where one of the key external challenges is working with stakeholders and forming external partnerships to remain competitive. Research by the Chartered Management Institute found that the personal and interpersonal skills needed to create and nurture these partnerships are set to become more important to business success over the next five years. It is, therefore, important to find ways of building managers' skills in these areas through the management development programme.

So what do organisations need to offer managers in terms of development which will allow them to address the difficulties they face? Wider research by the Institute shows that the most effective and successful managers combine various avenues of development, from on-the-job experience to in-house training courses to formal qualifications. However, taking this approach will only be effective if each element is aligned and builds the skills necessary to cope with a more challenging environment.

If organisations are facing more change in the future, there are a number of development activities they can use to prepare and develop their managers for this. For example, cross-functional working and secondments to other organisations are ways to take individuals out of their daily routine and put them into situations where they have to work with people they don't know and tackle issues they are not familiar with.

Project management can also provide a way for organisations to build the capabilities needed to manage change effectively. It offers individuals a chance to enhance their problem solving skills and gives them experience in making recommendations for change on a specific problem or issue. Organisations taking this approach should consider combining it with cross-functional working so that managers also have the opportunity of building their interpersonal skills through working with a team which combines many different work styles and personalities.

"Clearly, managers need the ability to interact well and read people and situations at all times… but these skills become even more critical at the current time, where one of the key external challenges is working with stakeholders and forming external partnerships to remain competitive."

Individual components of any management development programme will be most effective if they complement each other. For example, where management qualifications are being used these could reinforce the practice of cross functional working with a more theoretical understanding of its impact on business performance. Similarly, online learning tools could be used to provide managers with easy-to-access information and advice on specific skills within their development programme, such as effective communication or time management.

By aligning all the elements of management training and development to the organisation's own business strategy, organisations will give themselves a better basis for managing both internal and external challenges. As most managers and employers would agree, it is not just about focusing on what needs to be done today, but making sure we are prepared for the future. Management development should play a key role in achieving long-term objectives by equipping individuals with the skills they need to drive business success.

Jo Causon is the director of marketing and corporate affairs at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). For more information on the CMI, go to www.managers.org.uk

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