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Management development – a balancing act



The challenge for management development trainers is to determine the nature of the required programmes and to balance the demand and the supply to deliver the results.

In this article, Tim Drewitt, founder director of Balance Learning, outlines his thoughts on these issues and concludes that new ways of learning, together with an understanding of the new leadership competencies, will facilitate success.

Macro-level Analysis

In their comprehensive report into the state of management and leadership provision in the UK, the Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership presented the case for addressing both the demand for and supply of management and leadership training in the UK.

They concluded that there was a need to both increase the demand for leadership development and to improve the quantity and quality of the supply in this area. Key to the overall success of any initiatives was the necessity to better link the demand and supply together.

Micro-level Analysis

The big picture is being played out across all the sectors in the public and private domains; in the further education arena and within corporate training departments.

Redefining Leadership

Within corporate training programmes, there is a movement towards redefining leadership to align the skills of the organisation’s leaders with the business strategy, not just the current short term plans, but to maximise the effectiveness of the longer term strategy.

In fact, in the debate between balancing leadership and management roles, the balance seems to moving in developing leaders, not so much managers, in the traditional sense. Organisations have realised that it truly is the people in the organisation that will make or break the corporate strategy and they are now seeking leaders who can create and share the vision and lead people with them to achieve it.

With flatter organisational structures, the typical role of manager, one of implementing the corporate plan, has now found a new home in the large population of team leaders and section supervisors. The traditional manager now has a much more important people-role to provide the motivation and passion for the workforce to want to succeed.

Opportunities for New Skills to Shine

This clearly calls upon a different skill set and I believe that some of the current management development programmes do not provide this important change of focus. Just reviewing a few organisations’ new leadership programmes has shown the inclusion of skills such as building enthusiasm, leading with passion and promoting excellence into the competency framework.

Many of these are not new concepts – they have been featured in books on leadership for many years. What’s happening now is that whereas we were perhaps not convinced at the time, we are now seeing the business applicability of these skills. Here, the supply needs to catch up with the demand. In addition organisations are going to have to explore new options for delivering this type of content. Some of the traditional formats may prove too constraining for the “effervescent” nature of the topics.

Updating People Management Skills

People management skills have always been high on the agenda and the demand and supply for this type of training has never been a real problem. People management courses abound from both third party providers and internal training departments and they are frequently oversubscribed.

Sensing the new bias towards leadership, there is still possibly a need to update the curriculum, or at least divide it into the roles of leader and manager, so that leaders can explore some of the newer approaches to leading people.

For instance, facilitation skills is increasingly emerging as a new skill for the New Millennium, as opposed to some of the more overtly task-orientated people management roles of the past. In a similar vein, with flatter structures, influencing skills are also becoming a hot topic within the latest development programmes.

Analysing the Leadership Population

The real challenge for corporate training managers is to understand where the business is going and the competencies required of their leaders and managers to ensure the achievement of the corporate goals.

For example, where innovation is deemed to be a critical success factor for the future, has the organisation got managers who can innovate, rather than work to a prescribed tried and tested methodology or who can inspire innovation in others?

Where substantial business transformation is required, possibly to significantly change the corporate direction, has the business got leaders who will readily embrace the change and enthuse their teams in a similar manner?

Accounting for Leadership Skills

There has been increasing talk of how an organisation can value its human capital. This isn’t the place to sidetrack to this issue, but technology will increasingly enable training managers to capture the current skills profile of their leadership population - both current and aspiring - and model future business direction against this, to identify skills gaps and to develop appropriate responses, whether that be merely hiring in new talent or by investing in the existing population.

Packages exist already that enable corporate policy decision makers to analyse the impact on proposed business strategies of the current skills profile in the organisation. While this may not provide an accountant’s measure of human capital, it enables strategy planners to work with their colleagues in training and development more closely. This is the opportunity that many training departments have long been seeking.

Flexible, Responsive and Measurable Training Solutions

The mention above of technology coming to the aid of training managers in planning leadership and management training programmes, naturally leads on to the use of technology to deliver elements of that training.

Much has already been said on the use of blended learning and without any doubt, the issues of matching the demand and supply of leadership and management training can be facilitated by using blended learning systems.

Blended learning systems can inform leaders and managers as to the skill set they require, can assess their current levels of competence and recommend the most appropriate blend of learning resources and events to close the skills gaps.

Not only that, but offering the ability to easily tailor blended learning content, trainers will be able to ensure that the training delivered is fine-tuned for each individual leader and manager, so that they learn in a realistic setting, with relevant practical material.

Blends that also focus on the transfer of learning back to the workplace will also ensure that the new skills and competencies are given every chance of being successfully applied long after the training has been completed.

Blended learning systems, linked to organisational skills and competency software packages, will offer organisations a comprehensive platform on which to deliver leadership and management programmes that achieve the desired results and that are appreciated at all levels within the organisation.

2003 – An Opportunity to Move Forward

As with all these issues, it’s important to ensure that the debates don’t carry on at the expense of actually getting around to developing the strategies that deliver the solutions and results. With a period of reflection before rushing headlong on well-trodden (and possibly worn out) paths, I would hope that any New Year’s resolutions in this area could begin to be realised.


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