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A common issue with preparing managers is the fact that there isn't sufficient attention given to the particular skill set and knowledge managers need to be successful.

This relates directly to the three capabilities managers need to be effective:

  • The ability to manage at the right level with the right problem-solving capability;
  • The right knowledge & skills;
  • The right application, or valuing the work they are required to do and applying themselves.

One of the most important things the CEO can do is to make certain there is a talent process in place that identifies the elements of these three capabilities required for each managerial job in the organization. This is necessary for recruitment when there is a vacancy, and for the development of managers already in-role.

Promoting Top Performers Isn't Always the Best Strategy

There are always those who stand out as top performers in every team. All too often, when there is a manager vacancy, it's these individuals who are considered to be the best candidates to replace the outgoing manager. While these people are highly productive and it would seem to make sense that they would continue to deliver at the next level, it's not always the case. In fact, if individuals thrive in a position, it is because there is a good match between the job requirements and the individual's problem-solving capability, knowledge & skills, and application. What works at this level for this job, will not necessarily be right for the job one level up.

Why? The nature of work changes at each level of the organization, and higher levels require a different set of problem solving capability, knowledge & skills and application. To take an extreme example, the work of front-line managers is much different than the work of a vice-president on all three capabilities. This holds true from level to level throughout the organization. Promoting the best performer from the level below can result in having an individual who lacks  the ability to perform at the new level.

In the Absence of Proper Placement, Managers Will Not Succeed

What can happen if someone is promoted without the right match on all three capabilities? Managers will often fall back on how they managed in the past. Their instinct is to do what they have always done that garnered them the most success. The risk for organizations in following this type of promotion strategy is that new managers will focus on the work at the level below; this is what they are good at. Newly promoted managers need to be able to move up to the next level of capabilities, and to work at that higher level of complexity to be able to successfully manage their direct reports.

Talent Management Programs Must Start At the Top to Be Successful

Many organizations attempt to address management shortfalls through training programs. While training is important, unless it is used within the context of the three capabilities required for each management position, it runs the risk of missing the mark.

For example, problem-solving capability is a maturation process. One cannot train a Director with the problem-solving capability at a Director level to create problem-solving capability at the Vice President level. It either exists or it does not. If it does not exist, and the Director is promoted, we see the Peter Principle in action.

In a similar vein, whether or not a candidate values all of the work of the position for which they are applying can be measured, but it cannot necessarily be taught. An introverted person may apply for a sales position because of the compensation, but will never value the critical skill set of getting in front of people and facing all the challenges of face-to-face sales work.

The knowledge & skills capability area is where training can really pay off.

For example, a first time manager may have the problem-solving capability, and may be ready and willing to apply him or herself to the managerial tasks, but not have learned the basic managerial skills. Without adequate training, managers will have a tendency to imitate the way they observe other managers' managing. In some cases, this is a good thing. But in many cases they will be replicating less than ideal management practices. And if that manager is trained on best practices management, and then comes back to the workplace where their own manager does not follow these practices, they will not take hold.

If organizations wish to develop their managers through improvement programs or formal training, changes must start at the top of the organization. Lower level managers take cues from upper management, and the CEO and his or her direct reports need to think about how they are going to work together to demonstrate effective management.

The executive team needs to set the right context and boundaries for those at lower levels. This ensures that when the CEO has conversations with Vice Presidents, and they in turn have conversations with their directors, and so on, all managers are working in a consistent way throughout the organization. Even the best management training program will fail without clear direction and demonstrated managerial practices from the top. Make it a priority and positive changes will take root in the organization.


Larry Hart

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