Chartered Management Institute: In My Opinion

Dr Martin Read, a CMI Companion and non-executive director, argues that a CEO's commitment makes all the difference to management development.

by Dr Martin Read
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

I need no convincing of the benefits of management and leadership development. Throughout my 40-year career, I have been privileged to work for, and then lead, organisations where management and leadership capabilities were a priority. Yet it never fails to amaze me that some business leaders remain sceptical about development. There are always those who maintain such skills are innate and cannot be taught. If the 'University of Life' was good enough for you then perhaps it is too easy to conclude that it's good enough for others.

Of course, some people seem to be inherently good at leading and managing teams. However, I firmly believe that we all have it within ourselves to learn the art and science of management and leadership. Where businesses have shown a long-term commitment to development, I have seen first-hand the difference this can make to management performance.

In my early career at Overseas Containers, I was exposed to a leader who knew all about the responsibilities of leadership and took the development of employees seriously. Having led troops in the Dieppe raid in World War II, our then chairman, Sir Ronnie Swayne, was absolutely clear that leadership and management skills were essential right across the organisation. Anyone with people or project responsibilities, from supervisor to board director, participated in John Adair's renowned Action Centred Leadership programme. What really struck me was how the most traditional managers were willing to make genuine and lasting changes to their leadership and management style. The result was a significant, measurable difference in how they led their teams and better performance from their units. Ronnie firmly believed senior management needed to set an example, and its engagement and involvement in the programme was vital. Consequently, it was recognised throughout the company that training and development improved performance.

It is right that we should question what the multi-million pound industry that has grown up around management and leadership development has delivered. Historically, there have been gaps in the evidence about how management development influences performance. In today's tough financial climate, where budgets are being scoured for potential savings, there is a strong argument for demanding proof that development has a direct impact on the bottom line. Therefore, I was delighted to be asked last year to chair the steering board of a research project that was looking to do exactly that.

Its findings have now been published by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and the HR consultancy Penna, and the final report makes essential reading for CEOs and MDs. It highlights strong links between organisational performance and management capability. Significantly, 80% of managers from high performing organisations rated their manager as effective, compared with just 39% in low performing organisations. The presence of a skilled line manager, combined with an individual's own management development, was found to have a significant impact on that individual's competence, approach to work and engagement.

This finding confirms a long-held belief of mine - that effective line management can have a dramatic impact on the performance of others. When I consider what made the greatest impression on my development, I am drawn to those bosses who challenged me and made me think and act in different ways.

As CEO of Logica, I encouraged this. We developed a programme for managers which combined business school courses with time with senior directors. This allowed our people to experience the management and leadership challenges faced at a more senior level, better preparing them for future roles. The value of this blend of theory and practice, tailored to the needs of the individual and the organisation, is one of the key findings of the research.

Strikingly, there is also a mismatch between the types of development that employers provide and those that managers report to be most valuable. MBAs, accredited management qualifications and coaching are all rated highly, yet many employers continue to rely upon 'on-the-job' experience and short courses.

Improving the way that we train and develop our managers and leaders is not just the responsibility of HR teams and training specialists. Managers need to help by taking greater ownership of their own development and playing an active role in determining the most appropriate training for them.

The role of the CEO and MD is critical. Throughout my career I have seen the difference that results from the chief executive's commitment to development. The CMI-Penna report shows strong statistical links between senior management commitment to development and its effectiveness. With the economy stalling, we have rarely had a greater need for world-class management and leadership. This is an area where the CEO's personal commitment can really make a difference.

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Martin Read CBE is a non-executive director of Invensys, Aegis Group, Lloyd's and the UK Cabinet Office efficiency and reform board. He was chief executive of Logica from 1993 to 2007 and has served on the boards of Asda, Boots, Siemens Holdings and British Airways. Read was chair of the steering board for the CMI-Penna report The Business Benefits of Management and Leadership Development, published in February.

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