Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Best Education For Managers

Crisis in management education
There is no consistency today in the way we educate managers. Larger organizations tend to have more comprehensive programs. If we look at the business results of the past year it will show that these programs have not been very successful. In the US over 99.9% of all organizations have less than 500 workers. Many of these organizations have little to non-existent management education. There is a great opportunity now to improve. Most of the big companies use the traditional approach. Their managers are given a combination of classroom education, role plays, and outside experts with their theories. In many cases there is little follow up and measurement around the results of the education.
What does the BEST management education look like?
The BEST management education consists of a combination of classroom discussions and real life practice. While some background theory is important, it is better to have discussions around management practices and different approaches. The problem with traditional management education is that it is standardized and designed to fit all employees at once. For example, a new manager is having attendance issues with an employee. The traditional advice is to warn the employee that his behavior will lead to punishment if not corrected. Then managers are given exercises in class to try their skills at giving tough messages to make believe employees. Managers learn the right way and the wrong way and the training is complete. Unfortunately correcting human behavior is more complex.
Management is both an art and a science
Socrates had it right when he said asking questions was the best strategy to lead people to where you wanted them to go. Management education should be focused around discussing many possible solutions and strategies that might be different for each situation. Most HR policies tend to use the same rules for all people but people are different and have many different issues and managers must learn how to approach each person in a unique way. I had an employee once who was always late.
My peer manager suggested this person was lazy and I should punish him. I took a different approach. I sat down with this person and showed empathy. After asking many questions, I discovered this person was caring for ailing parents at home and his life was just overwhelming. We worked out a new schedule which allowed this person to come to work a little later in the morning. This gave him time to take care of his parents until a nurse arrived. As a result, his productivity soared and he was never absent again. Under a strict set of policies this person would never have been given a second chance.
Invest the time to educate mission, values AND behaviors
Did you ever notice families with well behaved children who just seemed to know what to do at all time? They were very independent and almost seemed too mature for their age? This was a result of good parenting which I suspect was a combination of paying a lot of attention to the goals of the family, values, and what was expected. At work adults are just like children but with bigger bodies. All adults require care, opportunities to thrive, and strong and open communications.
Empty organizational mission
Many organizations invest the time to place charts around the building describing what the organization stands for. Missing are the charts reflecting organizational values and expected behaviors. Best manager education invests time getting people to do more than just memorize the organizational mission. Best manager educational programs discuss why the organizational mission is important and what the organizations' values are. For example, if the organization says serving the customer is the most important value, there are countless definitions and examples of what this means. Finally, people are clearly given examples of what behaviors are expected to support the mission and values. In the above example, people are told that they are expected to make decisions at the lowest possible level using creativity when solving customer problems. This BEST manager education makes work come alive for people.
Measure for development not for rewards and silly contests
The best way to destroy management education is to surround the activities with rewards and silly games. For example, I can remember one program which gave tests and the managers who scored the highest were given dinner coupons. I can remember another program which gave out candy and movie tickets in class for participation. The BEST management education activities are open to all employees and have follow up opportunities after class to manage!
Everyone can benefit from management education
Many organizations only offer their management education activities to their star performers, emerging leaders, and other equally silly and useless categories. First, the BEST system gives opportunities to all people to go through management education. The BEST management education figures out a way and then process to enable all people to manage right after the education. In some cases, people will directly lead others. In other cases, people will lead projects. For the majority of people they will be allowed to manage their own work free from micro-management, limited decision making ability, and free from the threat of punishment AND the promise of reward.
The BEST management education is a creative and inspiring process not an event. Just one look at the collapse of the US economy in 2009 is alarming enough to know that the past management practices at a global level have led us down a path of destruction and reduced quality of life. Now is the time for new management models and practices. It starts with new ways of education and what it means to be a BEST manager!
Craig Nathanson

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