As I discussed last week in Part I, some companies no longer expect their senior managers to develop their people: They turn management development over to outsourced coaching firms instead.
Now, I’m a strong proponent of “coaching” for behavior change and improvement — as in providing one-on-one behavioral development to meet explicit behavioral or developmental goals. But I get concerned when the majority of coaching is handled by outsiders who are not personally involved in the actual running of the business. In fact, I wonder whether this kind of outsourcing really just allows management to find new ways to absolve itself from actually dealing with problems.
Outsourced coaching can ensure that all managers or prospective managers receive some developmental attention, which is great, because they may not be getting it from their supervisors. And the topics for development are probably useful, relevant content that all managers need. What I fear may be missing, though, is the necessary linkage between management concepts and the mundane realities of the business.
Whether they’re designated “life coaches” or “executive coaches,” professional coaches are attentive and loyal to the individuals they coach, which is crucial to trust and development. But, unfortunately, coaches who work primarily from the individuals’ vantage point may never close the gap between what the individuals understand, prefer, and are capable of — and the very real needs of the business.
Back to the Future
I’m surprised to find that I have a traditionalist streak when it comes to outsourcing professional development. I believe that development should serve the needs of the business just as much as it serves the growth needs of those individuals who are theoretically responsible for the needs of the business.
And although it’s always appropriate to rely on outside expertise when it doesn’t exist in-house — after all, that’s how I earn my own living — I believe that any management, collectively, over time, should learn to be capable of developing its own future leaders. This is a crucial part of insuring the organization’s ongoing success and creating a legacy for future executives. It requires the delivery of new knowledge and practices to the middle-management tier as well as infusing these practices with the spirit of the organization’s culture and values.
Developing Management Development
One of the ways to do this is to include junior- and middle-management colleagues in collective, facilitated discussions that practice applying management concepts to real-life situations. Encouraging freewheeling, thoughtful dialogue among these managers will begin the process of supporting and sustaining teamwork.
And to ensure cultural and organizational congruence, the senior leadership team should at least preview and agree to all the content prior to the managers’ participation, or they’ll likely not be able (or willing) to back up that content during real-life usage. When that’s the case, management might just as well have been outsourced.
Curriculum and Lesson Plans
Management development needs a vision and stated purpose to ensure that the concepts are integrated into both the corporate goals and into daily management practice. For example, if a strategic goal of the business is to grow to certain financial parameters via the development of new and current customer relationships, then the related business values might include things like:
- Identifying true customer needs through consultative sales and marketing practices;
- Always having sufficient merchandise on hand and ready to ship to customers;
- Fostering continuous operational improvements to provide customers with speed, and convenience;
- Improving decision-making; and
- Developing human potential within the organization as a self-sustaining resource that feeds all other aspects of business growth.
Once values like these are assimilated, businesses can create (or purchase) their own training for rising managers, and link it to their own goals, culture, practices, and job assignments. Sample topics for managerial development could include:
- Etiquette and effective behavior for professional success;
- Finance and budget fundamentals for non-financial managers and overview of sales and marketing, operations, IT, etc. for colleagues from other departments;
- Customer service as a competitive advantage;
- Setting and communicating goals;
- Teamwork and communication skills;
- Behavior change and how to manage it; and
It takes effort and energy, of course, to do this work internally, but isn’t there at least some advantage in strengthening organizational culture and deepening the sense of leadership and legacy?
Onward and upward,