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Stephen Walker

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What next for management training?


Stephen Walker takes a look at the development of management and the new skills needed in the immediate post-recession future.

The art or science of management has developed over the last 200 years. Sun Tzu’s writing on how to manage a war is often included as an early example of management theory in 500BC, and there are numerous others. Let’s restrict our view to the last 200 years and out of the thousands of management thinkers and gurus I will highlight seven. I want to put these thinkers in a series to illustrate the development of management thinking, and by necessity the development of management training.

Management as a set of skills

I’m not suggesting these management thinkers are the giants in their fields. Instead I’m suggesting they are islands in a sea of ideas, which plot a path to a future. They are relevant guides.

Henri Fayol (1841-1925) is known as the father of management and proposed a five-step model that was still the basis of the first part of my masters in the late 80s. This was management by promulgation; you think about your tasks, decide and send your instructions. You monitor results and make adjustments as necessary. I’m sure this model of management is recognisable by us all.

Next in terms of management development, if chronologically out of order, consider Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831). He was a military man and philosophised about how to manage war. He thought more than he decided so his ideas fit nicely after Fayol. While Fayol thought everything could be managed perfectly if only the management was perfect, Clausewitz recognised that even the best plan did not survive the first contact with the enemy. He knew that the fog of war made central command of operations ineffective. He understood that local units would have to independently work toward the strategic objectives when they came face to face to the enemy.

Moving on to Frederick Taylor (1856-1915) we discover a focus on improving efficiency by careful design of the work. Taylor wanted the rewards from greater efficiency to be shared with the workers but he received a lot of opprobrium for the way his methods were used. At least there was recognition that the front-line staff who do the work are important, and should be the focus of management attention.

That moves us nicely to Elton Mayo (1880-1949). He discovered, in the famous Hawthorne experiment, that management attention by itself is sufficient to make people more effective at work. Unfortunately I know that many managers have not adopted behaviours that are post-Taylor, and a misunderstood Taylor at that.

Anthony Stafford Beer (1926-2002) thought of an enterprise as a machine. He came up with the term cybernetics to describe how people fit into organisations and the interplay between processes and people. He recognised that the front line was the closest to customers and had a lot of interactions, more than could sensibly be passed up the hierarchy for a decision. He argued for local, delegated decision making on the scale that suited the environment. He harked back to Clausewitz; too much happens every hour in an organisation for it to be decided upon by the executive team.

Reg Revans (1907-2003), founder of Action Learning, realised that the manager in any situation is part of the situation. Fayol’s attempt to manage at arm’s length was just not sensible. The manager has to be part of the action, learning from experience and encouraging the front line staff. He wanted managers, just as Mayo discovered, to encourage the front line staff to think about and develop alternative solutions to best meet the needs of their customers. You can see how this builds on all his predecessors on my short list.

Finally, Peter Drucker (1905-2005) observed the rising prevalence of portfolio working. Fewer of us do one job nowadays. Instead we prefer a clutch of different activities, some paid, some not. This outcome is driven by the organisations who do not want to keep expensive experts on their payroll when they can hire them as subcontractors as the need arises. Of course the continuing round of downsizing, recessions and lay-offs has persuaded people to take more control of their employability and working future.

I think you’ll agree that managing a portfolio worker is different from managing an employee. Therefore the management training will need to be different from training based on Fayol’s ideas.

Fayol’s fundamentals

He proposed management as a five-step task.

  • Planning; determining a sequence of steps to success
  • Organising; marshalling the resources needed for the plan
  • Staffing; hiring and keeping the people you need
  • Leading; giving that spark, the urge to complete the task
  • Controlling; taking the outcome of the plans and reacting to them; feeding back to the staff the results of their endeavour

Fayol’s five steps are the basic toolkit of many managers today.

How do we think of these steps today? What skills are needed to achieve them?

The intellectual steps

Obviously planning, staffing and controlling are purely intellectual steps – you can do them on a spreadsheet. The manager is able to do these three steps from behind a desk. This must be true because that is the way so many managers manage.

The emotional intelligence steps

The organising and leading steps require the manager to consider how they affect other people, other priorities and how to find the best compromise. This should mean that when a manager is organising or leading they are constantly adjusting, negotiating and developing a relationship with the people they need to achieve their desired outcome.

Regular readers of my articles will know I believe that all five steps are to do with people and shouldn’t be carried out without reference to the people who are involved. It is this relationship that defines the manager.


To be excellent at building relationships, what skills does a manager need?

I suggest these five are a good starting point:

  • Trust
  • Maturity
  • Willingness to delegate
  • Willingness to share decision making
  • Willingness to invest in the relationship

How do you train managers to be trustworthy? To be mature? How do you train managers to be willing to let go of the reins just a little?

We are in Drucker’s era of the portfolio worker. If the manager can’t build a relationship with the portfolio worker they will simply go elsewhere. The western recession of the last few years has masked this effect. The Asian media is full of articles relating to the problem of retaining talented staff.

Portfolio working is developing too. More and more managers are organising loose coalitions rather than teams of workers. Look at the credits at the end of TV programmes. The coalition that came together to produce the programme is getting bigger and bigger as the production companies bring in portfolio workers, often in the form of micro-businesses. They don’t keep the skills that they only need occasionally on the payroll.

Training for relationship building skills

Relationships are built with appropriate behaviour. To train people to behave differently requires an experiential approach. I’m not a fan of taking middle aged executives to the great outdoors to have them learn that their younger employees have more energy than they do. I think experiential learning is the way but the experience has to be carefully crafted by the trainer.

Reflecting on decisions made with a mentor is a good way to understand what can be done to improve one’s relationship building skills. Mentor in the role of agony aunt perhaps? At the very least managers should reflect on their honesty, maturity, openness and develop a skill in equanimity.


Management education still focuses too heavily on the what-to-do at the expense of the how-to-do skills. Training in more effective management behaviour is sorely needed to build more effective organisations. I believe the future is bright for mentoring too. All those portfolio workers with micro-businesses now need to know about all those aspects of business. No wonder the service sector in the UK is growing faster than any other sector.

I haven’t used a crystal ball to see the future. Look around you. You will see an army of specialist portfolio workers working with each other and organisations of all sizes. The future is here. What is your specialism?

Stephen Walker is a co-founder of Motivation Matters, set up in 2004 to develop organisation behaviour to drive greater performance. He has worked for notable organisations such as Corning, De La Rue and Buhler and has been hired to help Philips, Lloyds TSB and a raft of others. A published author of articles and conference speaker, Stephen delivers workshops across the country. He says the crux to achieve higher performance is managerial behaviour. You can follow Stephen on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Blog.


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