People are using the R word again,
especially in the manufacturing sector. I believe that if it happens,
the downturn will be brief: people I talk to say that, except in
particular industries hit by the Sept 11 tragedy, things are 'bumping
along the bottom', and should recover soon. But even the threat of bad
times on the horizon makes senior management start thinking about
where to make cuts. Management Development is usually a prime target.
It should not be.
At the same time, Management
Development must prove its value. It is an investment, not a cost, but
how do you measure the return on it? Traditional accounts have been
bad at showing returns on this kind of investment - but does this mean
such returns cannot be demonstrated?
Most companies now use some kind of
Scorecard to compliment traditional accounts. These scorecards start
from the fundamental truth that it is customers that make or break all
businesses, then work back from that point to find metrics within the
company- standards of delivery, and behind them, of internal
processes. Ideally, every person in a 'well-scorecarded' company
should have an idea of what they are contributing to the business's
success. And, of course, these figures can be monitored over time. 'We
sent x on that course last year - how much more is she contributing?'
Internal reporting of this quality
should provide Management Development professionals with plenty of
ammunition. Because, of course, cutting training is a false economy.
In bad times, more than ever, your people need to 'work smart'. What
does need to be cut, of course, is poor training. The latest
management fad, taught at an absurdly luxurious venue... Bad times are
times to get 'back to basics', to ensure your team have the basic
essentials solidly in place. I believe that the two most basic skills
of management are motivation and learning. If you cannot motivate
people, you cannot manage. If you learn inefficiently, change will
become a nightmare rather than the challenge it should be.
In booms, you can motivate people with
trinkets like stock options; in recessions you have go back to
understanding your people and what they want out of working for you.
How well do your managers understand basic, tried and tested
motivational theory: Maslow, Herzberg, McGregor, Schein? And how well
do they understand your own organisation - its culture, its values,
what really makes it different and worth working for? Hard times will
test their loyalty, so ensure they understand what they are getting up
in the morning to do.
Difficult times are also times to look
forward. The downturn will end, and the economy will leap out of the
starting-blocks again. Who will leap with it?
Experience tells us the answer is the
quickest learners. So now is a time to look at how your people learn,
and ensure they have the general skills that facilitate fast learning.
Learning is often seen as a simple
process, but it is not. Back in the seventies, studies isolated six
fundamental types of learning. Our own research at The Wadenhoe Centre
revealed that only one or two types of learning takes place in most organisations.
The six types are as follows.
Conditioning is the simplest, rats-pressing-levers type of learning
beloved of behaviourist psychologists. It's an important part of habit
formation, but less relevant to the large, fast adaptations required
by the modern business world.
Next comes Information Transfer, the
accretion of facts.
Above this, Cybernetic learning
involves processes and procedures, knowing how to do things.
At the top of this chain comes
Cognitive learning, which is about overall patterns, 'The Big
Picture', knowing why.
Added to these four are two more
emotionally-based kinds of learning, Experiential and Social.
Experiential is all about self-knowledge, knowing what it is like to
do particular things. Social learning is about cultures, how to fit
into various human structures and organisations.
Management requires skills ranging
from attention to the smallest details to understanding the most
overall contexts, as well as personal and emotional skills - in other
words, all learning types are required.
Yet our research points to managers
being really only masters of Cybernetic ('how to') learning, with
perhaps skills of Information Transfer and, in larger companies, some
measure of Social Learning (corporate acculturation). The lack of
higher, 'cognitive' skills is of particular concern: continuous
adaptation requires a broad view.
Particular 'cybernetic' techniques can
work well in one environment and become disastrous when that
Learning skills can be taught. Natural
curiosity, often drummed out of us as kids, can be reasserted. Now is
an ideal time to ensure that managers are equipped with the ability to
learn at all levels.
Hard times tend to bring out certain
automatic reactions: cost-cutting, risk avoidance. This is necessary -
but remember those starting blocks. Don't let them get rusty. Make
sure your people have those basic skills of motivation and learning at