Generally, if you ask a manager what they manage, they will tell you that they manage people and budget. Similarly, if you talk to many HR directors, management development appears to be synonymous with people development, working with the manager to build their self-awareness and self-management, and assisting them to do the same with their staff. A quick Google search on management development throws up programmes for understanding and choosing leadership styles, developing the performance of staff, handling conflict, influencing, engagement, and so on. And, of course, all these are relevant and important. But people and budget are simply the resources a manager uses, to be able to do what a manager’s role is actually all about: running their part of the organisation, and changing their part of the organisation to retain its fit with the rest of the organisation and with its environment, creating a future for it.
So, management is about managing things as they are today, but even more than that, it’s about conceiving how things could be, and then making it happen. For us, the core of developing managers, of management development, is giving them the skills to both run and change their part of the organisation, keeping it coherent and synchronised with the rest of the organisation.
Running the organisation
To run part of an organisation, a manager takes resources and uses them to deliver the performance the organisation and the organisation’s customers need as effectively and as efficiently as possible. The manager decides how that resources to allocate that resource across the operations he or she manages, to get the best results.
It’s not about ‘command and control’. Good line management is a discussion and a negotiation: how much performance can the staff member deliver, for a given amount of resource? And having agreed on the amount of resource (people, money, equipment, for example), the manager then leaves their staff member to get on with the job without interfering, but is available to provide support and expertise when asked.
Another part of running the organisation is about ease, making sure that the operation of one bit of the organisation doesn’t get in the way of another. If this is happening, then the manager and their staff can define and adopt ways to mitigate this, often in the form of standards or other ways of working.
To know how well the operations are running, the manager should get regular progress reports from their staff, key metrics which clearly link to the operation being measured. The manager gets best insight from the quantitative metrics when he or she also has a qualitative understanding of the operations, spending time with the staff of their staff (ie two levels down) to check that the situation really is as reported. This is most effective when it’s sporadic and infrequent. This monitoring of operations is a key skill that allows the manager to build up trust in their staff’s capabilities and reliability, and allows staff to build up trust in their manager’s ability to understand the real issues that they are experiencing.
Changing the organisation
The other purpose of management is to use resources to change the organisation. This starts with intelligence, looking outside the organisation and gaining insight into its environment, potential futures and sources of strategic risk. The manager then combines that intelligence with internal information about the performance and capabilities of the organisation to design options for change, each option requiring different levels of innovation and types of change. The options for change will include factors such as products, markets, processes, core capabilities, and the structure of the organisation itself. There is then a key decision to take, about which option to implement, and a critical factor is the amount of resource available to execute and manage the change. The organisation needs to change at least as fast as its environment is changing.
Because there is no hard data about the future, and instead a lot of uncertainty and ‘unknown unknowns’, it’s usual to find that a particular manager has a style and preference for either running their part of the organisation, or changing their part of the organisation.
Management development includes developing the manager as a person, and building a repertoire of management styles to deal with different situations. And it needs to include developing the manager in management: running the organisation, and changing the organisation, and managing the balance between the two of those.