Outdated thinking – managing younger people

I was recently working at Manchester Business School, training a group of very senior military people who were about to re-enter civilian life and we started to discuss what’s changed over our lives and how this might affect the way that we manage people at work.

What emerged from the discussion is that most of the talk about management methods assumes that the people we will be managing think as we do.  Looking around the room, we realised that we were all either approaching, in, or at the back end of middle age and that everything we were talking about reflected our ways of thinking.  The new generation of people starting work is simply not like us.  We grew up in a working environment in which things moved relatively slowly, people had some expectation of longevity in an organisation, there was a reasonable distinction between working life and home life and career progression might be relatively slow and time-served.

New graduates have no such expectations.  There is a theory that most will have around seven different careers during their working lives – note that this is careers and not jobs.  The first job is likely to be a stepping stone to something else and that something else may be a in a completely different field.  Slow has given way to fast and there is some expectation of instant gratification: “if you can’t provide this for me here and now, then I can always go somewhere else for it”.  With lower expectations about ever getting on the property ladder, young people are more prone to spend than to save.  They have a genuine social conscience and, whilst many expectations are still paying lip-service to corporate social responsibility, many younger people have a real drive to see greater social justice.  Where we might have gone from school to university to work, many young people have used their gap year not only to travel but to volunteer and work in environments which we may even consider hostile.  This in its turn breeds a level of confidence that I’m not convinced was so widespread when we began working.

Our management books focus on managing in a world which is fast being eroded by social, cultural and technological change.  Can we afford to keep training people to manage others in our own image?

To discuss any aspect of organisational development, leadership and management training, soft skills development or simply pass the time of day, please call me on +44 161 929 4145 or email me at david@davidcotton.co.uk.

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The stability paradox

Apparently, Tom Peters once claimed that the paradox for organisations is that they have to  pursue change whilst maintaining stability.  I wonder if the notion of stability is a myth? It used to be said that leadership talk the future into existence and managers manage the status quo. Status quo (literally “the state in which”) is taken to mean the current state of affairs.  Some have interpreted that to mean a static, stable situation.  Of course, it neither is nor ever was.  Stuff happens; things change.  Managers manage in changing times.  If there’s change, there’s no real stability, so the paradox disappears.

If a company has a good and viable strategy, then reaction to external forces will force change to the execution of that strategy – and if instability means it’s not standing still, then the change means instability.  If the strategy is not viable because of external forces, then the strategy needs to change.  The change means instability.  If a company chooses not to notice outside forces, it will probably fail – hence, more instability.

So, back to Tom Peters’ assertion.  Pursuing change is necessary.  Instability is a given.  No paradox.

Have a good weekend.

To discuss any aspect of organisational development, leadership and management training, soft skills development or simply pass the time of day, please call me on +44 161 929 4145 or email me at david@davidcotton.co.uk.

Stop doing training needs analyses!

When I first started working in training and development, it was the fashion to conduct a training needs analysis every time anyone identified an issue within a business. After all, there’s no point in hiring training professionals if they are not doing training work, is there?

The problem is that each time you do a training needs analysis, you presuppose that training is the solution. And sometimes you’ll be right. And sometimes you won’t.

Businesses suffer business problems. To be effective as an in-house trainer, you must have a real grasp of the business. Without that, you’re likely to produce isolated interventions which have little lasting value.

More useful – as well as developing an understanding of what the business is all about – is to do a business needs analysis, spending time analysing business requirements with no presupposition that training will be the solution.

In 1986, Nithin Nohria, William Joyce and Bruce Roberson began the Evergreen Project1, one of the biggest management studies ever undertaken. It set out to determine which management techniques are real indicators of long term success, measured in terms of “total return to shareholders”. Its conclusions were that the major tools and techniques, such as total quality management, Kaizen etc had no effect on the bottom line at all. They discovered startling consistency amongst the successful businesses. Each one of them excelled in four “Primary practices” and any two of four “secondary practices” (and it didn’t seem to matter which two).

Successful companies were great in Strategy, Execution, Culture and Structure.

They were also great in any two of Talent, Innovation, Mergers & Acquisitions, and Leadership (!)

The book neatly summarises the findings in each of the eight “practices”. Turn the summary into a series of questions, tweak it for your business and you have a wonderful framework for a business needs analysis. Use the questions to really discover what’s going on in your business, in a department or team and you’ll find:

  • you gain a greater understanding of the business
  • you can make more pertinent recommendations for business improvement
  • you increase your credibility as a business partner

So next time you’re tempted to do a training needs analysis, stop and think – how do I know that the outcome should be training? If there’s any doubt in your mind, consider instead a small scale business analysis. It won’t cost any more than a TNA and it will reveal vastly more.

To request a business needs analysis, discuss any aspect of leadership and management development or business consultancy, call me on +44(0)161 929 4145 or email David Cotton.

I look forward to hearing from you.

David Cotton

David Cotton is an independent trainer, management consultant, facilitator and speaker with vast international experience.
1 Nohria, Joyce and Roberson: What really works: The 4+2 formula for sustained business success. Collins, 2003, ISBN-13: 9780060512871, ISBN 0060512784