How to target management development

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This feature was contributed by Dr Joe Espana, managing partner of Human Equations.

With the DTI has commissioning Harvard University Professor Michael Porter to lead a major study of the effect of poor management on the UK's productivity performance, we suspect that there will be another wave of unfocussed spending on management development in UK business, especially by blue-chip companies hoping to get ahead and gain economic advantage, or at least greater ability to weather the possible storm ahead.

Evidence we encounter still suggests that companies are willing to spend small fortunes on perceived needs, without really diagnosing performance needs accurately, measuring the extent improved managerial performance will contribute to strategic goals, or indeed evaluating one iota of derived benefits other than reaction. This might not be a bad thing for the plethora of external consultancies making an excellent living from a solutions approach to management development, but it won't satisfy those of us who really care about the effectiveness that is gained by robustly diagnosed and targeted development.

There is an extremely strong case to be made that management development (any development sponsored by companies, as opposed to individually motivated self-development) should be addressing the key, priority performance that will most affect strategic goals and objectives. It's the ultimate reason for company-sponsored management development. What is lacking is a careful consideration of the dynamic that exists between the performance required, the individuals or groups who need to perform that way, and the organisational context that either helps or hinders the required performance. Too often management development in companies is offered through a suite of remedial courses, intended to function as an elastoplast for every manager.

Clearly not all managers have the same experience, knowledge, skills, motivations and entry levels into management development, and certainly not all managers have to perform exactly in the same way in their sphere of activity. Some of the initial questions that management developers should be asking, therefore, (assuming that the required performance is well articulated!) are: Can this manager perform as required? Do they have what it takes to perform this way (even if we did develop the pants off them!)? To what extent will the organisations culture, climate, structure and operating approaches and methods allow this manager to perform as required?

This dynamic of Person, Performance, Context needs to be addressed, understood and taken close account of BEFORE any development is even thought about.

Armed with this quantifiable and qualitative data, the management developer can then go on to consider what might be the best and priority courses of action to address precisely, and with some hope of success, the development needs of discrete managerial communities in the organisations.

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