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Young execs come of age

THE ANNOUNCEMENT of the loss of 1,100 jobs at Barclaycard - coming after several other less dramatic cutbacks - demonstrates that, after a brief hiccup, "downsizing" is back.

Though other euphemisms for reducing headcount will no doubt turn up in the months ahead, it is clear that many organisations will be ditching their "most valuable assets" in response to tougher trading conditions. The result will be a yawning gap where experienced middle managers used to be. But expecting young managers to fill it will be a mistake, says Foundation, a leading management development organisation.

Since the desire to cut costs is behind job losses, it is appealing for organisations to appoint managers who are less well paid and more energetic than their older counterparts. However, says Don Campbell, chief executive of Foundation, younger managers might have the right technical skills but they generally lack, through no fault of their own, the people and leadership skills to acquit themselves well.

"Younger employees are being appointed to managerial positions because, for example, they are IT whiz-kids. It's got nothing to do with how well equipped they are to lead people. Not only do they suffer from lack of experience when dealing with knotty people-management issues, but they have problems gaining the respect of older, often more experienced people whom they are expected to lead."

Foundation has responded by introducing the "Gateway Course" to its portfolio of leadership training programmes. The new course is designed to equip these first-time leaders with the skills and abilities to command respect, get the most from those they are managing and deal with the complex issues that they will have to confront.

The move comes as Korn/ Ferry International, the executive search consultancy, has published a guide to helping organisations identify their best new leaders. A questionnaire is contained in Executive Insights - based on an examination of the leadership issues for the 21st century conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a consultancy.

Twenty questions cover such areas as leadership ability, communication skills, building and empowering teams, motivating people and ensuring results, negotiating agreement and handling conflict. In an effort to gain insights into candidates' readiness for the positions, each heading has subsidiary questions.

In the case of leadership ability, some questions are: "What are some examples of changes that you instigated in your organisation?" and "What did you learn personally as a result of making the changes?". In the case of motivating people and ensuring results: "Having established your objectives, what motivational techniques will you use to ensure that they are met?" and "How will you measure your progress in reaching your objectives?".

CVs do not always revealwhether candidates have the right attributes for a job. Korn/ Ferry says that asking the right questions is the best way to identify the right executive.

But it warns: "Since truly important questions tend not to have simple answers, you'll need to use your judgement in interpreting and evaluating each candidate's response. However, do keep in mind the organisational context and overall circumstances that have moulded the interviewee's experience and perspective."