Business courses: Management survivors seek more training

Those who still have a desk after waves of 'delayering' need help to become more flexible and resourceful, says Philip Schofield
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The Independent Online
Today's managers face a heavier workload, more responsibility and a less certain future than ever before. Many are also affected by new and unfamiliar ways of working. Few have been adequately prepared for these changes.

A survey by the Institute of Management (IM), Are Managers Under Stress?, found that the workload of more than eight in 10 managers had increased over a year, almost half believing it had increased greatly. Over half "suffer from too much work", and only a third believe they have a good balance between home and work.

The survivors of corporate delayering must cope with a wider spread of responsibility. The familiar management hierarchies are being replaced in some organisations by more fluid structures. An increasing amount of work is organised into projects, each carried out by a team for the duration of the project and then dissolved. Team leaders and members are selected for their relevant expertise. An individual may be on more than one team at a time, and may be the leader on some projects and an ordinary team member on others.

Individual managers are increasingly likely to be employed on a contract, interim or temporary basis. Although those employed on such terms are unlikely to become a majority, job insecurity is widespread.

A two-year research study by the IM, Management Development to the Millennium - The New Priorities, observed that the 21st-century manager will need to be adaptable and have up-to-date knowledge. together with flexible and transferable skills. It said that those who wish to keep their jobs must think strategically and be prepared to train and retrain throughout their working lives. Portfolio careers, comprising a variety of different jobs demanding varied skills, are the way forward.

The study suggested that there are six key challenges which managers, organisations and training providers should meet by the year 2001:

Organisations large and small need to be educated to recognise that investment in management development contributes directly to long-term competitiveness;

Managers must commit themselves to life-long learning;

Senior managers must provide commitment and leadership;

Standards and qualifications must be transferable and widely acceptable;

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

A more coherent infrastructure for management development must be created.

The portents are not good. A growing number of larger employers are pushing the responsibility for management development in their organisations down to the managers themselves. On the surface this may seem sensible, but there are several difficulties.

Managers are already overworked and have little time to take an analytical and objective look at their long-term needs and design a coherent personal development programme. They tend to concentrate on short-term needs related to their current role, or at best to their next role. Moreover, only senior managers with access to the corporate plans are in a position to anticipate the changing demands that the organisation may make upon them. And self- organised learning is not part of the British tradition - managers need help to think through their own development needs.

Even if managers identify their own training needs (which should include transferable skills), their employers may disagree. So, although the onus for identifying development needs may rest with individual managers, this is often constrained because employers only support programmes with which they agree.

One way around this last difficulty is to provide each manager with a personal training and development budget, defined in cash and days, of which an appropriate proportion can be used as the individual thinks fit.

Another survey by the IM and Ashridge Management College, The Qualified Manager, reveals why formal qualifications are important to managers and managers' preferred forms of study. Three out of four of the 724 managers surveyed believed that business or management qualifications will become more important over the next three to five years. The main reasons given are a need for more broadly-based business knowledge (70%), more competition for jobs (69%) and the growth in managers' responsibilities (68%). Just over half also believe that the demands of managerial jobs will increase.

The portability of qualifications and improved employment chances were the key advantages of formal qualifications. MBAs and BAs/BScs in business studies were seen to be the most advantageous in these terms.

Given a choice, more than two-thirds of managers prefer to study for a qualification by tackling real work-based projects. More than half also like the opportunity to discuss issues with other groups of managers (58%) and to combine a taught course and private study (54%).

On the other hand, only one in three prefers a full-time taught course or to tackle case studies or other exercises, and only one in five prefers private study such as distance learning.

Of those studying for a management qualification, 49% must pay for themselves while 5% use a Career Development Loan. Only 57% said their fees are paid or partly-paid by their employers.

Finally, a joint IM and University of Cambridge study showed that 60% of managers in small companies (those employing 10 to 200) are dissatisfied with their organisation's strategy/planning, leadership/motivational skills, appraisal/training/development, communication/interpersonal skills, and its 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 firm's size.

Managers average between two and 31/2 days of training a year. However one in five undertake no training and in firms with under 200 employees, this rises to one in four. Most of the courses being attended (28%) are "technical" and on "computer literacy" (23%). Courses relating to strategy and planning, identified as the area of greatest need, have been attended by only 14%.

It appears there remains a chasm between the training and development needs of individual managers and what is available from their employers. This is short-sighted and, in the longer-term, economic hara-kiri.