So much has changed over the years with regard to the manager’s role. Partly this is because of the increased complexity of business life, especially for those who work in multinationals and the global environment. But time has also changed the skills that managers need.
Managers need new Skills
The current business environment is markedly different compared with the first Ashridge Management Index (in 1994), and it is hardly surprising that the manager’s role has similarly altered. In some aspects there has been radical change. Business has become more complex, and in many organisations even day-to-day tasks are in a 24-hour global world.
That means it is more demanding and more challenging than in the past. The core characteristics of any good manager are a mixture of skills and experience as well as attitudes, behaviours and knowledge sets. In broad terms, a few of the following skills are necessary:
- Importance of relationships and networks: understanding the role of each colleague or co-worker. How colleagues interact with each other and how the manager can get the best from everyone
- Ability to cope with a fluid and fast-changing work environment
- Good project management skills
- Confidence and capability in dealing with ambiguity
- Building internal influence and partnerships across the organisation as well as being good at managing upwards!
- Self-confidence, high energy levels with a good dose of resilience
- Capable of managing under pressure
- Comfortable with leading change as well as balancing competing demands
The manager of the future?
It’s tough being a manager in the 21st century and we wonder if organisations spend enough time thinking about how they could do more to support and help their managers? For example, do senior managers regularly spend time as an ‘average manager’ or as a ‘junior manager’ – we don’t mean the ‘red carpet’ visits around the organisation but job shadowing for a day or a week at a time. When a chief executive spent a week on the supermarket checkout he learnt a lot as well as discovering how different life was for those in more junior roles in the organisation.
Regular reviews at senior level of ‘what managers need to be more effective?’ would help. Mentoring of senior managers by more junior colleagues can also be a mutually beneficial experience. Regular CEO lunches for managers; modular training programmes designed to help new managers, those taking on their first middle management role and also for those leading large teams could be of value. Perhaps more senior managers should try doing a lower level job for a while? When Adam Crozier joined the Royal Mail as chief executive, his boss arranged his first day was out on the rounds with staff who deliver the post.
Skills of future management
Taking such opportunities helps with personal credibility, as well as giving leaders a real insight into the challenges facing their colleagues who are nearer the front line! If it’s tough being a manager this also is true for staff generally.
- How well does your organisation support and help staff?
- Is it a great place to work; would staff recommend you as an employer to their friends or would they advise them to go elsewhere where they would be more likely to be better treated and given more respect?
- When was the last company-wide ‘people’ review to assess this or consider what else could you offer?
- Are the people ‘values’ important to the organisation applied consistently across different departments, business areas, countries or sites, or are ‘rogue’ managers tolerated if the business results are good?
- And a final point with regard to the role of the manager – are mistakes seen as learning experiences or is career suicide a better description?
Too many organisations profess that mistakes can happen and they don’t matter but then hold a kangaroo court or mock trial of any managers (or teams or business areas) who do make mistakes. Long before he was chief executive at GE, Jack Welch blew up a factory 2 – by mistake! – and often talks about how his boss’s boss didn’t beat him up about it but used it as a learning experience.
Our Recommendation: Rather than a long list of recommendations to improve the environment for managers, we would suggest a practical approach. Within the next few months each member of the senior executive should spend time doing a shopfloor or more junior level job.