Three myths of leadership development: leaders are born, not developed

Management as Art, Science and Craft

There is something mystical about management. Nobody can say it’s pure science, but it has an organized body of knowledge and universally accepted principles. Unlike science, management is very practical: its effectiveness can be measured in monetary values. As Larry Richman, business author stated, "management is the science of employing resources in the accomplishing of a goal". Management deals with people, their values, their development and that’s why it is interpersonal social science. Also, management impacts the very fabrics of society and is itself an object of interdisciplinary research. Management also has elements of art: it requires practical knowledge, its application in the field, personal skills and creativity. Management is "art of arts" of some sort – it organizes and uses human talent. We can say, that management is the craft, "something you learn how to do". Harry Mintzberg, a very influential management theorist, perhaps felt the strange and ungraspable nature of management, when he defined management as "above all, a practice where art, science, and craft meet". In this practice, every manager through uniqueness of his/her experience and background, develops individual managing style. Managers absorb knowledge from different areas of science (both natural and social) and apply it in practice.

Complexity and versatility of knowledge and skills managers use adds to the "sacralization" of activities performed by them. Best managers also appear as if they were born to be leaders and it adds to the confusion.

This sacralization negatively impacts organizational efforts to develop managerial pipeline. Top managers of many successful companies, according to research are not satisfied with quality of management (more information here). More productive approach would be to develop managers and to prepare them to more challenging roles via targeted learning. Managers perform managerial functions in different situations. The higher the level on which the manager operates, the higher the level of uncertainty and the price of mistake: top managers sometimes take decisions that can define future of their companies for decades. Fortunately, these situations are rare, and more often, managers take actions that fall into "regular management" category - that is more craft than art.

The craft of management can be taught, and each company can increase productivity if it invests into increasing quality of management.

Important question – how this can be done?

Focus on developing competencies

Research shows that there is no "one size fits all" in learning. Individualized approach makes learning process more effective, in both traditional tutor- student, or a computerized learning system. SNAPSIM™ system has brought individualized learning paths to a new level. Our approach based on the following principles:

  • principle of competency-based development:learning options based on target feedback,
  • principle of relevancy of learning material:different learning material is offered for employees on different managerial levels,
  • principle of applicability:employees should learn only what directly applicable on the job,
  • principle of corrective feedback:learning feedback should form and guide the learner.

Principle of competency-based development

Every programme of focussed development of competencies should have criteria of effectiveness. Competencies that can be measured and improved, make good match for it, as research shows, that improved competencies make employees more productive. Managerial and workforce competencies differ from company to company. Often, traditional training programmes, even customized, don’t take into account focused competencies the company itself considers as very important. It happens, because competencies are considered too broad and there is no blueprint that can be used as an example. Before designing training programme, HR manager should ideally know "the ideal" profile of competencies for every category of managers. This picture should give a clear understanding of ideal managers profile and how to bring employees in training to this profile.

We can measure impact on business in training as increase in competencies indicators from initial level towards competency model on every level of management.

It is important to develop customized competencies model before entry test evaluations, as it makes possible to provide individualized learning path and calendar plans. This approach helps to focus on competencies and skills gaps that are crucial to the company.

Principle of relevancy of learning material

Principle of competency-based development guides us through the process of defining criteria to learning process and setting priorities in learning. Second principle, principle of relevancy of learning material, is also about priorities in the learning process. It is impossible to develop all managerial competencies simultaneously and there is no need to do so. Management is according to Henry Mintzberg "a practice", so usually there is no need to learn something, that can’t be put into practice immediately. When developing a training and development programme for managers, HR professionals also should consider the level of seniority of those, who is planned to be developed. All managers have similar responsibilities, but it doesn’t mean their daily work is similar. Usually, most companies have three hierarchical levels. These are: Front-Line Managers, Middle Managers and Top Managers and Team Leaders – and people in thee roles need different set of competencies. Individual contributor that was transferred to a management role, can’t be productive on the day one. The same is true for those moving up form Front-Line manager role to Middle Manager position, and from Middle Manager to Top Manager. Team leaders and top managers make decisions on distinct levels - and it takes time to develop capabilities needed to be successful in new roles.

Research shows that it takes 2 to 5 years to be fully capable in a new role without support and coaching. With specially designed support programmes that include managerial practices, this time can be reduced to 1 year.

Focussed development of competencies assumes that managers develop competencies and skills and gain knowledge gradually. Managers should take time to master a new role model, learn new attitudes and behaviours. Bad practice is throw unprepared people in at the deep end of management where they face challenges, where the cost of mistake is high. Management development programme, prepared according to the principle of relevancy of learning material should be able to learn more in less time, as it has two features:

  • it contains only learning material, that is aimed to develop competencies needed at a specific level of management,
  • it takes into account time needed to develop mastery. It also emphasis practicing what was learned previously.

Principle of applicability

Relevancy and applicability principles are interrelated. Often HR professionals that were aimed to design training development programme for managers have a very clear requirement from business: "Managers should be trained to be better at their jobs, the training shouldn’t be too theoretical".It is easier said than done. Gained knowledge and skills should be transferred into behaviours on the job by following the principle of applicability. This ensures that this requirement is fulfilled.To follow this principle, HR professionals should prepare learning material according to special rules to make it practical and also establish post-training control to evaluate how gained knowledge and skills are used on the job.

Practical learning material in management training

Чтобы поддерживать «принцип практичности», учебный материал должен быть специально подготовлен. Правильно подготовленный материал:

  • presented as a sequence of steps: should be presented as a sequence of steps following one algorithm:
  • introductory part to put users into context by presenting main terms and definitions of the subject,
  • sequence of practical steps,
  • section with everything that can go wrong: difficulties, problems and common mistakes and how to deal with them.
  • easy-to-understand: learning text in any form should be written in a simple and easy-to-understand language,
  • divided into microelements: should be divided into microelements (snaps) which give opportunity to learn gain knowledge and skills in small digestible blocks,
  • adaptive: the technology should support memorization processes in human memory, e.g. by providing opportunity to test learned snaps on first, third and seventh day,
  • could be used for reference: learning material should be divided into categories and levels – this will give opportunity to use learning material as a reference using filters,
  • graphical support: learning material should have graphical support to make learning visual,
  • templates of documents: has templates of documents managers can use on the job.

We at SNAPSIM™ have developed our management training system with all the mentioned principles in mind.

Post-training control

Any management programme, even based on super advanced research is useless, if nobody can figure out how managers apply what they have learnt. To measure business impact of training, SNAPSIM™ was designed with special post training evaluation tool. Post training evaluation is performed by an HR Professional or a direct manager. They assess how skills, knowledge and competencies are changed of time. It helps to understand how training programme contributed to the development of competencies of every manager or high-potential employee. SNAPSIM™ post training evaluation tool covers 100% of all training. Evaluation is performed twice – before training starts and after 3 months. The difference in results of two evaluations shows progress of every learner over time. In the evaluation process, two types of questionnaires are used:

  • for self-evaluation,
  • for evaluation performed by direct managers or HR-professionals.s

Involvement of direct managers stimulate motivation of employees to learn better, increases the status of the programme, and makes learners more responsible. Managers that are involved into development of direct reports improve team’s results by developing skills of individual team members and making them more productive.

Principle of corrective feedback

Post training evaluation is an excellent feedback tool, but used in isolation, it is not sufficient for supporting training and development process, as it used only twice – before the start of training programme and after some time of its completion. Feedback is crucial part of learning process. People need immediate and meaningful feedback to support their development process and ideally, they require it on continuous basis. They also learn faster and better if they get a chance to compare themselves with others and see own progress in dynamics. In other words, people need corrective feedback. Corrective feedback is not possible to implement in traditional learning management systems, widely used in corporate training. First, the learning material in these systems is divided into large pieces of content – courses and chapters and systems often track actions tied to content completion. Evaluation feedback comes in two forms:

  • internal feedback is used to activate and optimise the learning process,
  • external feedback is used to evaluate learning results.

Most learning systems can’t track all actions of users – they were not designed for it, but tracking is essential to providing feedback. Second, valid feedback should cover no less than 60% of content with test questions – most training programs in corporate environment don’t have that many questions. SNAPSIM™ covers 100% of learning content with test questions and tracks all users’ actions.

Feedback in training is used not only for needs of external evaluation. Feedback is also important as a part of learning process of adults – they need it correct own mistakes, be more productive and efficient.

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