Prometheus Consulting - Organisation Development and Strategic Human Resource Consultancy

 Management development 

 More than manager development

The term management development embraces both what the CBI calls 'organisational management development' as well as individual manager development. The distinction is valuable where the development activity is driven by the organisation's needs as a whole, or is expected to realise a explicit benefit at the organisational level and not simply for the individual and his/her career, marketability or own job.

The narrower form of development activity - manager development - takes individuals as the focus. This is generally the case with institutional providers. But it also happens by default inside many organisations which have control over their own provision. But this approach does not have to be the sole option.

The wider form of development activity - more accurately labelled management development - can set out to address the organisation management system as the 'client'. This alternative focus is less common for a variety of reasons, some of which have to do with leadership and preserving the status quo for the organisation. But in practical terms many providers (inside and outside) have access only to individuals: they don't have their hands on the change agenda or on any of the other levers. Nor may they be interested or skilled at this level. Where there is little connection with a particular organisation and its journey, the development approach inevitably becomes generic and individual focused. The familiar learning transfer difficulties ensue, and little change happens - either for the individual or the organisation.

But if management development is conceived differently, it has the potential to improve the way the organisation is managed. This is a different purpose and a different outcome for management development. The organisation's performance becomes the target, not the individual manager's ability. This simple but fundamental shift of mindset opens up possibilities of other links, levers and change interventions. This shift of viewpoint then embraces more than the development of individuals. It recognises that the sum of individual development cannot alone deliver organisational improvement, because there are further ingredients that only the organisation can and must provide:

  • purpose and vision
  • values
  • norms
  • systems
  • structure
  • relationships
  • an agenda comprising the business's current problems and opportunities

These variables provide meaningful content and context for manager development if it is to be targeted and synergistic. But it goes further than that. Not only is the organisation seen as the beneficiary: these organisation variables become legitimate inputs in an integrated approach and worthy targets for development themselves. Management development and organisation development are then no longer compartmentalised, but can blend appropriately.

The Prometheus approach believes that organisations too often place excessive faith in individuals to achieve change for the organisation. But not all management shortcomings are caused by a lack of development, or are best solved by development - particularly if undertaken as a stand-alone activity. The point is that a search for excellence in management and leadership is more than a search for development solutions.

To take an example, the well-publicised failure by the then UK's Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to pay its bills on time in accordance with its own guidelines to all government departments is a management systems failure. This is not well understood. The minister's and chief civil servants' exhortation aimed at individual DTI managers telling them to pay the bills on time reinforces this basic misunderstanding about the nature of 'management' and its performance as opposed to that of individual managers. It assumes that the sum of what managers do equals management. This flawed way of thinking can lead to people confusing management development with manager development. It may lead to managers receiving generic training devoid of context. All told, it fails to bring a systems-wide solution to bear on management problems, by which several remedial levers may be pulled holistically in the same direction at once.

Another benefit of redefining organisation-focused management development is that it enables one to break down the demarcation that frequently exists between HR specialisms in larger organisations - between those responsible for recruiting and exiting talent, for example, compared with those who develop it (as well as those who terminate it!). It opens the door for management development activity and professionals to contribute at a number of points along the employment spectrum, rather than be pigeonholed in a box closely associated with individual training and learning.

Without such breadth of involvement, management development will lack synergy, be sub-optimal and may be undermined by HR action elsewhere on the employment spectrum.

The inclusion of exiting as part of redefined management development may seem perverse. But, as cases of negligence in NHS surgery and pathology remind us, the profession may be enhanced by acting with more resolve on the matter of exiting!

The development of a profession and of management is not synonymous with the development of individuals who work in it. Incompetence aside, excelling at the latter can never deliver the former. Ultimately, the development of individuals is thus a mix of both generic development of personal competence at both a foundation and advanced level, but it is also one element in a wider programme of organisational change and improvement. This fresh perspective challenges one class of management development. It does not reject the legitimacy of individual manager development of threshold personal competencies in the right context.

This subject is discussed fully in chapter 6 of The Search for Leadership: An Organisational Perspective. (Triarchy Press, 2009)

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