A New Year for Management Development

 A New Year for Management Development        1.1.2015

Time, money, work hours, retreats, consultants, classy folders, workshops, models and high expectations are just some of the components of developing managers. Organizations everywhere need leaders who can deal with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity or VUCA as it is widely known and invest large resources to develop urgently needed leadership. Additionally, they want managers to deal with the regular issues of setting goals, getting the job done and looking after the people who work for them.

In my quest to learn about what works and what doesn’t in leadership development and to reassess if what I do makes sense in today’s world, on New Years Day I went along to a short conference run by the Israeli Society for Human Resource Management, Research and Development dedicated to New Trends and Breakthroughs in Management Development.

The word “breakthrough” was probably an exaggeration but the conference certainly highlighted trends that have been brewing over the past few years.

No-one yet has cracked the management development code and I am doubtful that it exists. In order to make sense of all the trends, frustration and contradictions that exist in the field, here are some of my main understandings picked up over the years and at the conference:

The Competency Model is Out. The idea that companies should spend time identifying and isolating a myriad of competencies that all managers must master and that if managers master those competencies then we have created leaders, has not worked. It is too generic and not personal enough.

A VUCA world. The belief that there are tools or answers out there waiting for participants in leadership management courses to adopt is irrelevant. I do not know any courses that teach tools in managing ambiguity, complexity, uncertainty or volatility. Dealing with these states of being is a life-long project, demanding continual learning, reflection and flexibility and not a matter of picking up the right tool.

Multi Year Planning. The 6 or 12 or even 20 week course is not long enough. Hila Mukevisuis from Nova presented a model of middle- management development that has been running for three years so far. In the first year the participants focused on personal strengths and weaknesses, mentoring and coaching. In the second year they worked on strengthening personal abilities; each choosing three course modules from a bank of topics, as well as participating with senior management in an outdoor experiential learning workshop. The third year will feature a “Mini MBA” led by internal senior managers who will teach hard management skills and apply them to real organizational challenges. So far, the three year program has involved the same 28 participating managers.

Leader 1

Senior Management as a Key Player. Senior management must actively support and even lead all leadership development initiatives. Effective programs utilize senior managers as mentors, lecturers, action-learning coordinators and supporters. They must realign workload expectations and responsibilities to allow the managers to be free to participate.

Personalization. Efforts must be invested in making the process relevant to each and every participant. Selection for programs recognizes their special leadership potential. It is unacceptable then if for example 3 out of 15 participants say “it was not personally relevant to me.” Personalization takes on many forms:  collaborative goal setting (feed forward), 360 degree feedback, and personal content choice wherever possible. At Tuval workshops, for example, we allocate the management tasks in experiential exercises according to the learners’ personal goals. Time is given for peer consultation with a “buddy” throughout the workshop. This serves to drive home the personal relevance and meaning of the simulations.

The heroic leader who saves the day has left. She just does not exist any more in a VUCA world. Leadership is collaborative, adaptive and often the leader’s decision may only be a suggestion. This makes off-the-shelf programs redundant. Development must include big doses of dilemmas, discussion and adaptive thinking.

One size does not fit all. Each organization must develop their own planning, consultation and learning process in order to tailor courses to real needs, abilities and even preferences of the participating managers, the organizing team and the organization’s strategy.

All of this does not mean that what has been done until now is irrelevant. It just may not have been enough.

My thoughts have been drawn from presentations given by Shelly Gordon from the Herzliya Interdisclinary Center, Efi Arielli from Bezeq, Sharon Moshayof from Moshayof Consulting and Hila Mukevisuis from Nova.

Richard Milecki

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