Nurture your managers, or die

The modern employee must be flexible, resourceful and well trained
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Today's managers face a heavier workload, more responsibility and a less certain future than ever before. Many are also affected by unfamiliar ways of working. Few have been adequately prepared for these changes.

A survey by the Institute of Management (IM), Are Managers Under Stress, recently reported that the workload of more than eight in 10 managers had increased over the past year; only one in three believed he had a good balance between home and work.

Whole tiers of management have been removed, and the survivors must cope with a wider spread of responsibility.

The familiar management hierarchies are being replaced in some organisations by more fluid structures. Increasingly, work is organised into projects, carried out by a team that is dissolved when the work is done.

A two-year research study by the IM, Management Development to the Millennium - The New Priorities, observes that the 21st-century manager must think strategically, and be prepared to train and retrain throughout his or her working life.

The study suggested six key challenges to be met by the year 2001:

Organisations large and small need to recognise that management development contributes to long-term competitiveness

Managers must commit themselves to lifelong learning

Senior managers must provide commitment and leadership

Standards and qualifications must be transferable, and widely acceptable

Providers must recognise and respond to the training and development needs of users

A more coherent infrastructure for management development must be created.

So far the portents are not good. A growing number of large employers are pushing the responsibility for management development down to managers themselves. But overworked managers have little time to analyse their long-term needs for personal development. Moreover, only senior people who have access to the corporate plans can anticipate the changing demands which the organisation may make upon them. And self-organised learning is not part of the British tradition. Even if managers identify their own training needs, their employers may disagree, and support only those programmes with which they are in agreement.

One way around this last difficulty is to provide each manager with a personal training and development budget, defined in cash and days, to use as he or she thinks fit.

In another survey by the IM and Ashridge Management College, The Qualified Manager, three-quarters of the 724 managers surveyed believed that business or management qualifications would become more important over the next three to five years. The main reasons given were a need for broadly based knowledge (70 per cent), more competition for jobs (69 per cent) and the growth in managers' responsibilities (68 per cent). Portable skills and improved job opportunities were the key advantages of formal qualifications. MBAs and BAs/BScs in Business Studies were seen to be most useful.

Finally, a joint IM and University of Cambridge study shows that 60 per cent of managers in companies employing 10-200 people are dissatisfied with their organisation's strategy/planning, leadership/motivational skills, appraisal/training/development, communication/interpersonal skills, and team-building. The study, Developing Managers for the Smaller Business, says that strategic thinking was identified as the most important skill needed by managers in 2001, irrespective of the size of the firm.

Managers average two to three-and-a half days' training a year, but one in five undertakes no training. In firms with less than 200 employees, this rises to one in four. Many of the courses being attended are "technical" (28 per cent) or on "computer literacy" (23 per cent). Courses relating to strategy and planning, identified as the area of greatest need, have been attended by only 14 per cent.

A chasm seems to remain between the training and development needs of individual managers, and what their employers are providing. This is short-sighted and, in the longer term, economic hara-kirin

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