Why are we managing people like it’s 1911?

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I could probably write about nine million words on management development, but that would bore most people. Let’s not do it. It’s July 4th and I’ve been out with the dog and to a brewery so far, so we’ll keep this kind of tight.

The term ‘management development’ means the same general thing is ‘management training.’ It’s the idea of making managers better at their jobs. We already know from research that this doesn’t happen very much. Let’s connect two important dots here:

12 years is a long time. If you become a manager on a kid’s first day of kindergarten (he/she is 5), you won’t get trained on management development until that child is a junior in high school. See the problem here? We don’t prioritize management development — to most people, those topics are ‘soft skills’ — and as such, we have an 8 in 10 failure rate. A connects to B. It’s not really a correlation, IMHO. It’s causal. (Yes, I know that’s not officially correct.)

What’s gone wrong with management development? And can we improve it?

What’s gone wrong with management development?

Quite a few things, I’d auger. Let’s try to run down just a few.

My friend sent me this Digital Tonto article last night called “Managing With A Soul.” The title might make you laugh. Most managers don’t, of course, manager with a soul. By some measure, 60 percent of managers claim in surveys that they “don’t have time” to respect their employees. Hardly soul-driven management there.

The Digital Tonto article makes a couple of key points about ineffective management development, notably “The Efficiency Paradox.” I’ve written about the same thing and called it “The Spreadsheet Mentality.” The basic idea?

  • Companies love the idea of “What’s measured is what matters”
  • That idea is horrible for management development and organizational change, because …
  • … it’s often hard to measure concepts around that

A lot of this goes back to Frederick Winslow Taylor and The Principles of Scientific Management, which was written in 1911 and yet still informs many management ideas of today. (Go figure, right?) Six Sigma and other core productivity concepts essentially came right from ideas in that 1911 volume. Henry Ford was still competing with horses then. Now we have dudes trying to colonize Mars — and we’re still thinking about management development the same way?

So what can be done about management development?

A couple of quick ideas:

Train: Some training is terrible, yes — but look at the stat above. Also realize that some of the best companies in the world got that way through good training programs.

Fix your hiring process: At most places, hiring is a subjective mess where a manager rushes to back-fill, and then a job description is hastily updated. A bunch of also-rans bellow about headcount, and then we launch into an outdated hiring process rooted in meaningless, generic questions. This whole deal doesn’t get you the best people. It doesn’t get you the best teams. And it won’t get you good managers down the line.

Align strategy and execution: That intersection point is where business happens, and without it everyone is doing low-priority work and thinking it’s high-priority work. Your management development will struggle therein.

Consider the role of middle management: If your CRM is worth its price tag, what the hell are your middle managers even doing all day?

Push aside traditional notions: Here’s one. It’s not Human Resources. It’s human beings. That’s who works for you. We left the “human” part out of management development a long, long time ago. I’m not saying “give HR a seat at the table!” I’m saying people matter as much as process and product. Management development needs to underscore that.

What’s the ultimate rub on management development?

Digital Tonto is onto something. It’s less about “soul,” because that’s a fluffy concept. We have too many fluffy concepts in business. That’s allowing the Type-A hard-chargers to bellow about what REALLY matters. In turn, it’s all hyper-analysis of productivity and cost structure. That’s great and very valuable in one way. In another way? It completely misses the point of bringing 5–500,000 people together as “a company.” It’s not all about the product and process. It can’t be. Some of it has to be about the people.

Heck, even Vegas seems to understand this.

This is where we miss the boat with management development. A good manager is more than just a task master. It’s much more about energy and people skills.

Is that stuff harder to teach? Yes. But can it be done? Are there examples? Also yes, and yes. Will it matter for your business? Finally, and unequivocally, yes.

Your take?

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