Management training in the UK has been criticised as elitist, shallow, unstructured and irrelevant. To remedy this, the Management Charter Initiative (MCI) was set up in 1988 to develop national standards for managers within the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) framework. MCI does not try to define management, but it describes its key purpose, 'what all managers are in the business of doing', as 'to achieve the organisation's objectives and continuously improve its performance'.
Vlad Stanic, MCI development director, says: 'Our approach is very much on outcomes. Management is not a mystique, you can observe the outcomes and the behavioural activity which leads to those outcomes.'
He says there are two influences determining an individual manager's performance: their knowledge and understanding, and their personal skills and abilities. 'Knowledge and understanding encompasses what would normally be available through academic or professional education, but often for managers actually is acquired through experience. It tends to focus on the information required: the theories; the techniques; the knowledge of the sector, the market, or the product; or the people in the organisation. That is sheer knowledge, just information, but knowing the relevant information contributes to the achievement of the standards.'
Personal skills and abilities are equally important and as much about how people manage as what they actually do. The MCI suggests 13 'dimensions' of competence, under four clusters. These clusters are optimising results through planning; managing others; managing oneself; and using intellect. Typical dimensions from each cluster are 'setting and prioritising objectives', 'presenting oneself positively to others', 'managing personal learning and development' and 'collecting and organising information'.
These skills can be applied in any job. What does differ between one management job and another is the knowledge content. As Mr Stanic points out, 'The skills are generic, but the knowledge is very specific.'
Graduate training schemes have often tended to concentrate on the knowledge input, by providing formal courses and letting trainees shadow people doing the work. Only then were they able to enter a real job where they could start to acquire the skills they needed.
The emphasis now is on combining a variety of work placements and projects, in which trainees learn and apply their skills on the job, with a programme of formal courses to impart knowledge. These formal courses can range from occasional one-day seminars, through to programmes leading to a professional qualification and to business school courses.
An aspect of management that causes confusion is 'leadership'. It is easy to recognise, hard to define and almost impossible to teach. It is often argued that management and leadership are different. Managers are problem solvers. Management essentially is a rational and systematic process involving the selection of goals; leadership is more concerned with emotions. Leaders are sensitive to the needs of others, can generate emotional responses and inspire confidence. Leadership is more than a position in the hierarchy, or the power conferred by position.
Mr Stanic says work being done in the MCI suggests that 'whereas management looms fairly large at supervisory and middle management level, leadership is seen to be more important at the top level', although most graduate employers expect their future managers to have some leadership qualities.
A good epitaph for a manager and leader is that on Andrew Carnegie's tombstone: 'Here lies a man who knew how to enlist in his service better men than himself.'
'EVERYTHING THEY PROMISED HAS MATERIALISED'
Annemieke Tromp read social and economic history at Hull University. She joined the Unilever Companies Management Development Scheme in 1992 (having deferred entry for a year to travel the world), and works in marketing at Brooke Bond Foods. She describes what Unilever expects of her as a management trainee, and what she is getting out of the scheme.
'My programme has been very structured, which I've been pleased about. Everything promised me at the interview, in terms of having relevant placements and on-the-job experience, has actually materialised. I started with my marketing placement for five months, then on to factory planning for two months and currently I am on my sales placement.
'It is well organised for trainees. They know exactly at what level to pitch things. It's not a question of throwing you in at the deep end, it's a case of being well guided and well managed and so achieving your objectives.
'At university I thought being a manager was about using resources - money, people, factory time - to the best of your ability, and most effectively and most economically for the company.' And her perceptions have changed little since joining Unilever: 'Unilever aims to help you manage people, manage your budget, manage day-to-day business life and also to manage functions. It teaches how to get the most out of them and to understand what they do and their capabilities.
'I am particularly impressed by the balance the company achieves between making effective use of your presence in a department and considering what you'll get out of that department and providing objectives to stretch you. I feel there's a real investment in the individual.'