Time to turn theory into practice

New management theories are coming in thick and fast, but are they getting
us anywhere? Lucie Carrington guides us around the latest research and how it
can best be implemented in the workplace

Pity your poor colleagues in management development as once again,
management education and training in the UK gets a pasting.

This time it comes from US business guru, Professor Michael Porter. The link
between competitiveness and management performance is irrefutable, he suggests
– and that management performance in the UK is found lacking. Leaders just are
not what they used to be and there just aren’t enough of them.

It is all rather depressing for all those engaged in trying to improve
management performance who feel they have really pushed the agenda forward over
the past decade in their efforts to provide what UK business needs. This includes
the business schools, training firms and hard-pressed corporate trainers and
management development experts.

But haven’t we been here before? Only last year the Council for Excellence
in Management and Leadership (CEML) slammed UK management development as a
"dysfunctional system". Fourteen years earlier, Charles Handy and
John Constable did something similar in what were then regarded as seminal
reports intothe state of UK management.

There is indeed a fantastic amount of activity – much of it publicly funded
– looking into the role of management at the moment. Following the CEML report
last May, the Government issued its response in September when it announced it
would set up an advisory panel of ministers and business leaders.

Competition lag

The Department of Trade and Industry followed this by commissioning Prof
Porter to undertake his study into why UK competitiveness lags behind the US,
France and Germany. This is part funded by the Economic and Social Research
Council, which is also bankrolling a massive £17m management research project
called the Advanced Institute of Management (AIM). Its avowed purpose is also
to provide new support for UK competitiveness.

Finally, this year, the Chartered Management Institute has announced a major
overhaul of what are called the national occupational standards for managers,
for publication later this year.

It is hardly surprising that faced with such missionary zeal to find the
perfect management solution, the training community appears slightly weary.
"There may be moments of great excitement ahead," says Julia
Middleton, chief executive of Common Purpose, of all the work currently
ongoing. "But I have no doubt that it will become an irrelevance in its


She finds endless attempts to turn leadership into a complicated science
slightly ridiculous. What is needed is not more research into such areas as
strategic thinking, but lots of examples of management successes, she says.

"We need information from people who have done it – been managers. What
we don’t want is models produced by people who have never led anything,"
she says.

There is just too much publishing and not enough doing, confirms Professor
David Norburn, director of Imperial College Business School. "We are too
busy looking for some absolute truth in management – one route to
redemption," he explains. "As a result, whatever Porter says will be
promulgated on the business and training scene as the truth. He will have his

But there is no single truth, there is only what works, argues Norburn, and
in our endless search for the truth we often forget what has worked in the
past. There are some basic principles of knowledge management we need to apply
to general management, he says. "We shall only progress if we are
transferring knowledge inside the company about what worked."

One current truth seems to be that middle management is somehow failing
through lack of education and training. Norburn disputes this. We do not need
more middle management education, rather business needs to use what we already
have by forging closer links with colleges and providers, he says.

"The diploma in management studies (DMS) has been around since the
1960s. There could be all sorts of reasons why more people do not use it.

"They might not know about it, HR departments might not know about it
or sponsor it, or perhaps busy managers don’t have time to do it. But it is
there for managers to pick up," continues Norburn.

Why don’t employers use the DMS to build a real partnership with training
institutions? They could provide the real case studies and speakers to bring
such qualifications to life for organisations and their managers, he says.
Norburn argues this is what Imperial College Business School has been doing
through its advisory board of senior public and private sector leaders.
"Every one of our courses is vetted by our advisory for its relevance and
competence," he says.

Competence framework

Two or three years ago, the Skipton Building Society developed a new
competence framework for its managers (see case study, below).

It was an internal process. Head of personnel and training Ian Walker sat
down with managers and asked them to define how they viewed successful
management at the building society. Although it was an internally driven
process, Walker still sees value in ideas, structures and models arising from
academic research.

"We are a relatively large financial services organisation in a small
Yorkshire town. There is a danger that we can become very inward looking. External
benchmarks and frameworks, are useful because they encourage us to look
outwards," he says.

One of the skills of today’s corporate training professionals, therefore, is
in being able to take these sorts of statements, fads and frameworks and work
out what they would look like for their business and how they might support
their existing competencies.

However, the key to all such benchmarking exercises is their relevance. This
is a word both Middleton and Norburn also use a great deal. So it is interesting
that amid all the talk about what makes for sound management performance,
Investors in People (IIP) UK has slipped out a product that may well fulfil
this need for relevance and practicality. IIP UK calls it a leadership and
management model.

Core standard

In practice, it is more of a framework that firms can use to test their
management development processes and procedures against the standard IIP
principles of commitment to investing in people, planning that investment,
taking action and evaluating it.

It is not integral to achieving the core standard, but follows a similar
format. So there are several indicators against each principle for firms to
meet along with guidance on the sort of evidence they can offer. As with the
core standard, it is subject to independent assessment based on interviews with
current and potential managers in the organisation.

Last year Investors in People UK piloted the model in a variety of
organisations – finance houses, manufacturers, schools, even a GP’s surgery.
"It’s a self-help model," says IIP chief executive Ruth Spellman.
"Our aim is to help organisations create the environment in which
leadership can flourish. It’s about growing managerial and leadership talent
within the organisation.

"We are asking organisations some demanding questions and putting them
through a rigorous self-assessment process. But it’s not a mechanistic
approach," she insists.

Given all the rubbish theories that are published about management and
leadership, IIP’s approach is almost too straightforward. There’s nothing
prescriptive about it and it is not offering any management blueprint or
absolute truths of any sort.

It does have its downside, however. To start with, it will only be as good
as the assessors IIP has trained up, and these have yet to prove themselves. In
addition, the IIP model is only a framework. It’s not offering any guidance on
what the management competencies or skills organisations need to achieve their
business goals, nor is it offering any training.

Finally, there is no point in any organisation even attempting to achieve
the standard if it cannot guarantee full commitment to the idea from the top.
It’s not enough for firms to invest in their high-flyers, they have to develop
their first line managers and chief executives as well. In short, organisations
have to be committed to change.

This is as it should be, but IIP UK is not necessarily the organisation to
galvanise top commitment. For all the support of people such as chairman Tim
Melville-Ross, it is still regarded as a training organisation by most
businesses – and thus an HR issue.

Which takes us back full circle to all those high- profile,
government-sponsored initiatives. The great advantage of headline-grabbing
research and ideas such as Porter’s is that business leaders take note. They
read about what their peers are up to, and they want to be ahead of the game.

So before you throw away all those column inches on AIM, Porter, CEML and
the rest of it, think about how you can use them to persuade your chief
executive and finance director that your agenda and theirs are one and the same

Skipton BS pilots leadership IIP

The Skipton Building Society is
hoping to be the first organisation to receive the Investors in People (IIP)
management and leadership accolade. Last year the building society piloted the
model for IIP and submitted its management development processes to two days of
rigorous interviewing from IIP assessors.

"It was a reaffirming exercise," says the building
society’s head of personnel and training Ian Walker. He and his colleagues used
the pilot to assess the success of its two existing management development
programmes, Kickstart, for people new to management, and Accelerate to
Management, for those moving to more senior jobs.

"The feedback we received from IIP was as we had hoped. It
confirmed that people saw both these programmes as the route into
management," he said.

The building society also used the model to test a relatively
new mentoring scheme and, again, the results were positive. "It also
showed that our people saw mentoring and coaching as natural to the
organisations. They are part of our language."

Skipton Building Society achieved the IIP standard some years
ago. What impressed Walker about the management model is that, like IIP’s core
standard, it is flexible and works with an organisation’s existing management
development framework.

If IIP had attempted to be prescriptive, Walker probably
wouldn’t have bothered. "We had to ask ourselves, how is it relevant to us
as an organisation and how did it fit into our competence framework," says

"In fact, it very much fits in with what we believe is
important to us as a business. We employ 1,100 people, many of them at its head
office in Skipton where unemployment is a mere 1.3 per cent. Developing our own
managers and leaders is not a choice but something we have to do to survive and
grow our business."

As the chief executive told the assessors: "We grow people
through the business. It’s what makes us different and makes certain we survive
and prosper."

Who are the key players?

Investors in People UK (IIP) –
runs the Government’s training standard IIP and has just launched a management
and leadership model for those clients who want something more.
Tel: 020 7467 1900 www.investorsinpeople.co.uk

Advanced Institute of Management (AIM) – £17m research project funded
by the Economic and Social Research Council. Has been going for more than a
year now, headed by Professor Anne Sigismund Huff who is in the process of sifting
through research bids from other scholars.  Tel: 0870 734 3000  www.esrc.ac.uk

Chartered Management Institute (CMI) – a membership organisation for
individual managers and keeper of the national occupational standards for
managers. These are the rump of what long-in-the-tooth training managers might
remember as the Management Charter Initiative. CMI has embarked on an overhaul
of the standards to be published later this year.  Tel: 01536 204222  www.inst-mgt.org.uk

Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership (CEML)
government-funded study published last year damning the state of UK management
and management education. Following the Government’s response to its report in
September, CEML effectively disbanded. But its website lives on.  www.managementandleadershipcouncil,org/

Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) – a subsidiary of City
& Guilds, ILM brings together the Institute of Supervisory Management (ISM)
and the national examinations board for supervisors NEBS Management.  www.i-l-m.com

Further contacts

Common Purpose www.commonpurpose.co.uk

Imperial College Business School Tel: 020 7589 5111 www.ms.ic.ac.uk

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