Tales of the Expected

Training Is An Enabler, Not A Panacea

Jacqui Walker-Sutton
Posted: 03/05/2012

Am I the only one who found the recent Chartered Management Institute findings on management capability unsurprising? Be warned, I think I’m turning into Mrs Angry this week….

Driving back from a client and listening to the radio on the 150 mile trip, I heard that the CMI apparently found a strong link between management abilities and organisational performance and that ‘nearly half the UK line managers are ineffective’.

The speaker was talking about the number of managers who over the last twenty years or more, have been promoted because of their outstanding technical competency rather than their ability to manage people. No surprises there then.

Most of us who work in larger businesses will have recognised for some considerable time that the people least likely to be good ‘managers’ in the truest sense of the word are not always the people with the accountability and responsibility.

And the other sad thing, we know, is that many of those who were promoted, are deeply unhappy with having to attend numerous meetings and deal with people problems, when all they really want to do is design things, or build things, or fix things because that is what they really enjoy doing.

The other thing that I baulk at somewhat is the suggestion by the CMI that ‘relatively few organisations are providing managers with the training and development they want to improve their skills’.

Don’t get me wrong, there is possibly a small group of people, probably newly promoted managers who might benefit from training and qualifications such as MBAs, but this surely is not about training.

There are potentially two aspects here:

i) The managers’ desire to move out of a poorly performing organisation and so to improve ones CV and training qualifications will help in this regard.

ii) This has to be about the organisation defining what behaviours it wants to see its managers displaying internally and externally.

Training is an enabler to help people do things differently. But on its own, the value and the cost of training is lost because unless the student, having been trained, is able to practice what he/she has learned, and is recognised for using the new skills and the learning is reinforced after the training has occurred.

Trust me; this view that training (and more training) is the panacea for all ills is so common as to be nauseating.

The report states that even in a high performing organisation only 54% of the respondents had the opportunity to use their skills and knowledge. Is that not sufficient justification to stop promoting people based on their technical competencies? Are there not just a few questions to be asked about why are these managers not able to use their skills?

The chief executive of Penna (co-author of the report), added: "We have seen through working with many employers the tangible difference that can be made by organisational commitment to management and leadership development."

Now that statement I can agree with. A strategic commitment to have visible leadership, with clear behavioural and organisational objectives supported by the necessary resources to make that happen would be welcomed by a number of organisations. But, and there is always a ‘but’, how soon before that strategic commitment is overwhelmed by 'the next big thing'?

Whatever happened to good old fashioned management by people who were not there because of their political clout or their technical capability (although they had often worked their way through the ranks), but because they knew how to help their people do the best job they could, to get the best out of people.

I recently had a senior executive suggest to me that achievement of a robust safety culture was just a case of good management. My response was that, yes, that could be asserted as true, but that sadly few organisations were capable of good old fashioned management because they were all becoming modern ‘outcomes focussed organisations’ without any good old fashioned managers.

I am still not convinced that the organisation this particular senior manager works for has a robust and resilient safety culture yet.

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Jacqui Walker-Sutton
Posted: 03/05/2012

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