Tips and tricks of top managers

BOOKS: The best bosses are more interested in people than processes. Kai Peters applauds a useful and knowledgeable guide to getting the best out of others.

by Kai Peters
Last Updated: 26 Feb 2014

Good management, as the blurb on the inside cover of Ann Francke's practical new book states, makes a difference.

A CMI/Penna study shows that organisations that invest in management and leadership development perform 25% better than similar organisations that do not. A McKinsey/LSE study shows comparable results, and common sense surely confirms that good management is critical.

Unfortunately, 72% of UK organisations reported management skills shortages overall, with 65% reporting these at senior levels and a shocking 85% at more junior levels. One joins an organisation and quits a manager, as the saying goes.

Ann Francke recently took over as the chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), and fair game to her for writing this guide and using the management framework that the CMI has developed as a red thread through the book.

The first thing that strikes you is that the vast majority of the content is concerned with people and how they are a big challenge. This is true. Everyone has an opinion and people often differ as their user manual evolves.

In my role as the head of Ashridge Business School, I regularly see managers, and especially new managers, who realise this. They are no longer responsible for defined and generally quantitative tasks, such as accounting or engineering, but are suddenly faced with a deluge of 'people issues' that they don't quite know how to handle.

They want people to move forward in an aligned way. They want to make changes, then get frustrated when nothing happens.

The shorter second part is similar to an 'MBA in a day' book, which is, of course, sensible given that there is a body of knowledge concerning strategy, planning and budgeting, finance and other functions with which a manager must be familiar.

Francke is particularly good and up to date in marketing, including social marketing and online channels. This is unsurprising given her strong background with the likes of Procter & Gamble and Mars. It is satisfying to see that 'creating products and services that customers want' and 'having the people in your organisation that can deliver on that promise' are the two cornerstones of the narrative.

Francke draws on her own anecdotes and case studies particularly well, with tales of cat food and nappies, make-up and soft drinks. These are not just case studies about brand positioning and selling things, but are stories about the feedback loops between product development and innovation, and what consumers want.

Towards the end, 44 of the good and the great are asked to comment on their own top tips and pitfalls of management. The themes that emerge point to something that may or may not be a challenge for you: delineating the difference between management and leadership.

I do not believe that it is worth the effort of trying to define this, just as I do not think it worthwhile to spill volumes of ink on differentiating between visions, missions, strategies and suchlike - but that is just an aside to see if I can generate any comments to tell me I am misguided!

The top tips all revolve around integrity and including people through good and repeated communication to remind everyone of the mission of the organisation. The pitfalls concern being convinced that one is omniscient, and also of not communicating clearly with colleagues, both about the overall strategy and more specifically that an organisation's work belongs to everyone working there, even if it is not in an individual's job description.

If you're new to a management role, this is a good primer on the various tasks and skills that are important to a management role. If you're a more experienced manager, it is a good reminder of things that you might not be doing enough of because of conflicting priorities and a limited amount of time.

It is a practical, readable and well-grounded book, which once again confirms that while there is science and proper process to management, a lot of it is about talking to people, understanding their perspectives and then trying to come up with the best plan.

I've always thought it my job to do the greatest good for the greatest number, while not doing any individual undue harm.

Management really is about people working collectively; it is not about tinkering with an organisation as if it were some sort of mechanical puzzle. Francke's book confirms this.

- Kai Peters is the chief executive of Ashridge Business School.


Management - How to make a difference and get results

Ann Francke

Financial Times Guides, FT Publishing International, £16.99

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