Tim Yeardley graduated from Bradford University School of Management’s Part-time Executive MBA in 2008. He was sponsored by his employer at the time, HBOS, where he was Communications and Finance Manager. Since completing his MBA, Tim has published research into management training in the UK and set up his own company, Mnemoysne Training. He recently returned to the School of Management to give a guest lecture.
My interest in management training started when I realised the UK’s productivity figures were pretty poor compared to other countries. After years spent on a farm in Lincolnshire during my teens, I wasn’t really up for flogging myself for hours for little reward. Yet that’s what we basically do in the UK; work the longest hours, for the least reward, in Europe.
I always thought – why are managers making us work so long for so little? After all, they are in charge.
I wanted to get to the bottom of the problem. It took 25 years’ experience in UK, American and Australian management, but I realised that a key problem is that managers are poorly trained in the basic competencies (or soft skills) for management.
Learning to be a manager ‘on the job’
I didn’t get any management training before being a manager (like 80% of all managers). The training I did receive I couldn’t remember; it was pitched too high, with too many unrealistic models, was reactive in nature and more about problem colleagues, rather than problem managers. It was assumed that I knew the basic soft skills needed to manage people and could only really develop them through ‘on the job’ experience.
This ‘sink or swim’ attitude towards manager training means that courses on conflict management, assertiveness training and time management are usually only attended after issues are identified at work.
The link between poor management training and poor performance
In order to prove what was to me the obvious link between poor management training and poor performance, I did some research into what training (those lucky enough to get it!) is given to new managers.
The research paper I produced, which I received international recognition for alongside notable academics and best selling authors via an Emerald Literati Excellence Award, confirmed that managers are not taught basic managerial core competencies, even at entry level. I looked, for example, at the mention of the core management competency of ‘communication’ in new manager courses. A third made no mention of it! In tough economic times such as these with redundancies and restructures, communication ought to be a key skill for any new manager.
Leadership training only for leaders
The separation of management from leadership has been widely documented and argued in management literature for many years. The issue this has caused is that it is assumed that new managers do not need leadership training. I found that over half of new manager courses do not cover any leadership discussion at all. The new economy, though, demands all managers be leaders and vice versa. Why would businesses limit the capabilities of new managers by denying them access to leadership values? Research in the US found just 10% of new managers get leadership training as all the leadership training goes to… the leaders! In the UK the position is equally poor.
Management training for Generation ‘I’
What I found most astonishing about all my findings was that the new manager training courses I looked at didn’t take into account the new challenges and competencies needed by the next generation of managers. I use the term Generation ‘I’ rather than Generation ‘Y’ – meaning ‘internet’ and ‘I’ myself. Just 2% of courses actually considered the impact of today’s culture on the new managers of tomorrow.
This is relevant because the managers of tomorrow have grown up in a completely different world to their predecessors. How will those who do most of their interaction online cope in a managerial position? The management training available to them just assumes they will adapt.
And what about the perception of business young people are gaining through programmes such as Dragons Den and The Apprentice? Evidence suggests these programmes leave our younger audiences cold to the aggressiveness and harsh reality of being in business. We really are not doing ourselves any favours in encouraging aspiring youngsters into the world of work. It is easy to see why the UK only comes 18th out of 31 in the OECD league table of lower and intermediate management skills.
From my own experience and research, I believe manager training has not progressed for the past 20-25 years and needs to catch up with the core competencies needed by new managers of today. It is still a tick box exercise and not fit for purpose.
The next generation of management training
There clearly needs to be a rethink towards management training and the tools new managers need to get the job done. It must start with the basics – such as awareness and setting standards – and we must stop assuming that the excellent technocrat can move straight into a managerial position. Management training should be a pre-requisite of being a manager – and it should be integrated into the ‘day job’, not a one-off, reactive event.
I set up Mnemosyne Training to assist all managers with innovative and unique core competency learning – based on six ‘soft skills’ which are inter-linked to make them simple to understand and remember
- Structure (how you go about work)
- Results (achieving success)
Are you confident that your new managers have all these skills?