Aiming for excellence

At last there is evidence that money spent on good development programmes for
managers will boost a company’s financial performance, says Karen Charlesworth

About 10 years ago, British managers were accused of lagging behind their overseas
competitors in training and development opportunities, and there was solid
evidence that most executives had received no formal training.

The Institute of Management has been keeping a close eye on this sorry state of
affairs, and we’ve noticed that things have, indeed, changed for the better.

We’ve discovered an improvement in the quality and quantity of management since those
dark days of the past. And our latest research, Achieving Management
Excellence, shows that training enhances financial performance when undertaken
in a consistent and systematic way.

We’ve found there’s been a major increase in training since the mid-1990s (when the
last major survey was conducted). And the latest research – in January this
year, among 500 human resources managers and 500 non-HR managers – showed that
the average amount of training for each manager is now six-and-a-half days a
year in both large and smaller organisations. We also noted an important shift
from informal to formal methods of development, with two out of five now
reporting an emphasis on the latter.

Formal methods include opportunities to pursue external formal qualifications,
attending external open/public courses, in-company training to develop skills
lacking in the individual manager, in-company training to develop
organisation-specific skills and attendance at outside seminars and

There has also been a growth in the use of informal methods – especially in smaller
establishments – such as planned on-the-job development, coaching, mentoring,
job shadowing, in-company job rotation and external secondment.

We’ve been very encouraged to find growing recognition of the value of a planned and
co-ordinated approach to training in Britain’s companies. Over half (51 per
cent) now have a written statement of management development – up from 43 per
cent in 1996 – and this approach is showing results.

Our research team looked at 223 companies who had taken part in both the 1996 and
2000 surveys. In those cases, organisations that reported a centralised
management development strategy, and whose managers undertook more formal than
informal training, also reported increases in benchmarked financial turnover
compared with others in their sector. For example, 61 per cent of those who
gave a high priority to management development reported an increase in
financial turnover during the past three years, compared with only 47 per cent
who gave it a lower priority.

Demand for management skills is clearly growing. The IM research suggests a move away
from fast-tracking small groups of managers towards ways of developing strong
management skills across broader levels and layers of the workplace. While
technical “hard” skills such as financial management remain important, the most
sought-after are those focused on bringing out the best in people and teams.

The qualities now most in demand are those that have been called “soft”, but which
are increasingly the hardest to deliver – namely leadership, people management,
customer focus and team working.

Interestingly, the survey also found that one competency – the ability to exploit the
potential of the Internet and e-commerce – is expected to rise rapidly as a
much-in-demand talent in the near future and we shall be monitoring

Karen Charlesworth is research manager at the Institute of Management. The report
Achieving Management Excellence – A survey of UK management development at the
millennium, by Dr Chris Mabey and Professor Andrew Thomson of the Open
University Business School (OUBS) costs £25 for IM members and £50 for
non-members from the IM public affairs department. Tel 020-7421 2704, e-mail

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