When management training turns bad

2011/06/17

Guest post by Adi Gaskell, editor of The Management Blog for CMI, with awesome insights on management training. You can follow Adi on twitter here.

It has become almost gospel that management training is a positive thing.  It boosts skills, improves employee engagement and enables your organisation to make the most of a valuable resource.  At least that is the standard orthodoxy when it comes to training your team.  Are there any circumstances whereby training your managers is not positive though?

That is the question posed by a new study conducted by the University of Iowa.  Making the most of management training is a key concern.  In the UK around £1 billion a year is spent on management training, with that figure rising to a whopping $134 billion a year in America.  So the stakes are high.

The research was led by Scott Seibert, associate professor of management and organizations in the UI Tippie College of Business.  He found that if management training is accompanied by opportunities for career advancement then it is a potent tool.  If however you develop a managers skills, but then offer no opportunities for promotion you end up doing more harm than good.  Seibert believes that if career development is not offered all your training will do is make managers more employable at companies that will give their career a leg up.

All of which perhaps should not be surprising to companies.  It is one thing to offer training to gain better qualified managers to help you deliver better services to customers, but one must also understand the flip side of that bargain, that those managers will be looking to progress their skills with their new skills and qualifications.

Given the large investment in management training, combined with the high cost of both employee disengagement and employee turnover, this is an issue that really needs addressing.  Providing each manager with a clear career path is the ideal solution, but the research found that career development was not only found in terms of promotions.  Mentoring and job rotations, as well as good relationships with their immediate boss, can create the feeling that career opportunities are available.

“Career opportunities are perceptual in nature, so raising perceived career opportunities for employees may be largely a matter of letting employees know more about the range of possibilities that are already available within the organization,” they wrote.

Adi Gaskell is the Editor of The Management Blog for CMI, a leading supplier of management training in the UK.


3 people who can benefit from Micromanaging…

2011/06/15

Micromanaging is often seen as a bad word and a bad habit – in many arguments, rightfully so too. People who micromanage are seen as terrible managers and people who are micromanaged rightfully lose their motivation. While all this is also backed by research results, I also feel one size does not fit all and sometimes, we also need to micromanage for the benefit of not only the system, but also the people themselves. Here are three kinds of people whom I think can benefit from micromanaging. The key though is, knowing when to stop. This is a result of some of the experiences I have had, and would love to hear your thoughts on the same.

People moving from unstructured environment to a process driven environment: As the organization moves from a start up to a mature one, it is critical that we set some processes that serve as principles of engagement and collaboration. A key trait of mature organizations is systems that are scalable. In a start-up, we might have worked day in and day out just to satisfy customers and help cash flow, but as the organization matures, I think it is critical to set some ground rules that serve as a basis of operation – a Standard Operating Procedure you might call. But these ground rules and processes can require a lot of re-iteration and hand holding initially. We cannot expect the entire organization to follow a process by just sending out mails to a few people. A new process also needs a lot of feedback to enhance it – thus making the system scalable. I don’t think it can happen fruitfully unless we micro-manage the process, and people who follow that process to an extent.

People who are under some kind of performance review: Periodically, many organizations put employees through some kind of performance review in case their performance does not meet certain levels of competency. While this is not done in a mature manner in many originations, I feel unless we micromanage these situations and people, we are actually doing injustice to them and the system. These are very sensitive situations that need some maturity to handle. We should neither be seen as tough task masters without humane considerations, nor weak managers who let bad performance pass by. Both will set employees for failure. For this to happen, I think we need to back the performance of the concerned employee with solid, authentic data. This quantification of performance is not possible unless we micro manage to an extent. If we just say an employee’s performance has been bad over let’s say, one year and they need to buckle up, we are actually putting the employee in wilderness. They neither know why their performance was bad, nor understand what is expected of them to scale their competence up. It’s a typical management jargon to say “feedback needs to be specific and action items followed through”, but can this be a justifiable exercise without micromanaging to an extent? I think it is gross injustice to the employee if we put them under performance review but not be specific enough on the plan of action and also not follow through them – in short periods that too. Without this, I feel a decision to either fire them, or retain them will both be subjective. And being 100% subjective in these situations is setting these people up for failure.

High performers who are groomed for the next level of responsibilities: Not just bad performers, but even high potential performers who are being groomed for the next level of responsibilities can benefit from a bit of micromanaging. Specifically, when people move from an individual contributor’s role to a leadership role, I feel it is vital they are hand held for some time to begin with. I feel one of the primary reasons for failure during this transition is expecting the team to do the same things we did – thinking it is the only right thing to do, given we have actually been promoted doing it – and benchmarking the team performance against our own as individual contributors. Guiding those people will only help them in the long run. But the key in this scenario is deciding what exactly we do to guide them. While in other cases, its simple micromanagement from the industrial era days, in this case, it’s more about giving those people tips, providing training tools, fixing accountability and escalation guidelines, etc.

As mentioned before, in all these instances, the key is, knowing when & where to stop. Understanding that and striking the right balance defines our own Leadership Maturity. What do you think? Is micromanaging bad irrespective of the situation or have I missed more kinds that can benefit from micromanaging?


Three Questions Every Manager Must Ask, All the Time…

2011/06/07

As managers, one of our primary responsibilities is to make decisions, on behalf of the business, team, and ourselves. As much as we like to quantify every decision and try to work formulas for an objective decision making process, I’m sure we all agree that many situations also demand subjective decision making where data is not the primary driver but things like perceptions, feelings, emotions, relationships, etc are. While dealing with subjective decisions, I feel all managers must ask themselves, and if possible the key stakeholders, the following three questions, and analyze responses before taking a final call, exactly in that order.

  1. What will be the impact of this decision on the business: Like it or not, the biggest stakeholder in any decision is the business itself. We all need the business to grow to ensure we grow. Thinking our growth is mutually exclusive of business growth is probably the most basic leadership mistakes we can make. There are a number of subjective ways in which a decision can affect the business, brand equity, strategic fit, brand creditability are just some. We need to ensure that the decision will take the business to the next level is some way or the other, or atleast not affect the business negatively.
  2. What will be the impact of the decision on the team/people: The next key consideration should be, how it affects the team and the other stakeholders of this business. For example, while initiating a new product offering, the key consideration could be the returns, but how well the portfolio complements the skills sets of the team (sales and operations), and also takes it to the next level could be another consideration. We generally get tied by how much we can produce using the avaialble resources and miss out the point of how much the skill sets of the team will grow by taking up some assignments.
  3. And Finally, what will be the impact of this decision on us personally: At the end of the day, we too have a stake in the decision. The outcome of the decision we make directly affects and defines our performance as much as it affects the business reasoning and team morale. Therefore, it is best to also check if we will be benefited from the decision. There were instances early in my career when I made decisions that were for the good of the team, but were awfully bad for my own good. The manager is not a sacrificial lamb and does not gain anything from being one – not even brownie points.

While the points above maybe too simplistic, the key is the order. We generally exclude one or two points, or jumble up the order. For a manager to be successful, I guess considering all the above parameters is as critical as the order in which they are considered. What do you think?

These points were actually inspired from a placard I came across in an officers training academy of the Indian Army, which read something like this:

  • The interest of my country and countrymen come first
  • The interest of the soldiers who fight with me comes next
  • My interest come last, and always last.

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