If the 1970s sitcom, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, was rewritten for the '90s, Reggie's boss - CJ - would probably be given the line, 'I didn't get where I am today by doing an NVQ'. The letters NVQ could be interchangeable with any of the three-letter mnemonics that have become the staple of management development literature, ie CPD, NLP and TQM.
Their advocates argue that the CJs of the 21st century will get nowhere without that NVQ or equivalent professional qualification. So, who's right?
What do you need to succeed in management?
The truth is that they are both right, in their own way. Having an NVQ is no substitute for effective performance against your company's objectives. However, gone are the days when a good performance in one's current role meant automatic promotion and the keys to the executive washroom. Career ladders are disappearing.
Not only that, but if you take a look at the recent appointments within your own company, then it is probable that a fair percentage have been filled by external candidates - individuals who, in your company's eyes, offer a breadth of experience and fresh ideas that are not available within the organisation.
Faced with this dilemma, the solution seems obvious. The way to achieve advancement is to find a new employer and give them the benefit of your own experience and fresh ideas. Unfortunately, as you try to transfer this dynamism to the job application, you suddenly realise that all those 60-hour working weeks have left little time to develop yourself as a manager. You have a successful track record, but will your curriculum vitae get you beyond the initial screening process?
You have done little outside your existing employer's internal training programmes, and the competencies you have developed are so job-specific that they are not readily transferable to any new employer.
The management gurus tell you that you can no longer rely on your employer to take care of your management development. You have to take responsibility for your own training and manage your own career. Good advice, but where do you start? If you are just starting out on your career in management, you begin by finding a company that has a commitment to the development of its employees.
You only need to look at the last 10 years to see how important skill development really is. How many managers needed more than a basic appreciation of information technology then? Contrast this with the information technology requirements for the majority of managerial posts today.
It is not just a question of internal training, but of supporting professional qualifications too. And it also means choosing a profession where your innate skills and abilities reflect the competencies that the companies deem necessary for their managers to be effective. Once you have embarked on your chosen career, the single most important thing that you can do to ensure your continuing success, is to perform well in your current role. As has already been stated above, this by itself will not guarantee success, but all the letters of the alphabet after your name will not nullify poor performance.
It is at this stage that many managers - the CJs - stall: some because they do not see any need to develop themselves further; and others because they don't know how to. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for individuals such as these is limited to reading the business sections of the Sunday newspapers and the odd chapter of the latest business book while waiting at the airport or railway station.
To succeed in the future, managers and aspiring managers must continue to develop their skills and abilities. They must view their appointment to a managerial role as the start of a continuous journey. They must not see it as a destination at which they can stop, put their feet up and bask in the glory of 'having arrived'.
Indeed it is not only individuals who are guilty of this. Once an individual becomes a manager, the company nurturing that took place prior to the individual's appointment very often ceases. Managerial posts are frequently the only roles in a company where day-to-day support is viewed unnecessary.
Yet, it is arguably the one post where day-to-day support is critical.
To be successful a manager must guard against insularity and should be constantly aware of the need to increase his or her employability.
Developing one's competence and interests outside of one's place of work and studying for a recognised professional qualification increases employability both externally and internally. It also, at the same time, leads to more effective performance in one's current job which, of course, further increases employability.
If you are uncertain where to start, then one of the easiest and best methods of getting you going on the road to external development is to join a professional body, such as the Institute of Management. A professional body will be able to give advice on professional qualifications. The commitment of the body to the development of its members means that many local branches will run organised CPD programmes.
Getting involved with your local branch gives many opportunities to hone your management competencies - running meetings, giving presentations, communicating with the membership and setting, monitoring and achieving branch goals. Contact with other members gives not only an insight into other industries, but also networking opportunities. This in turn can often lead to the creation of informal mentoring relationships between members, free of the hidden agendas that exist in the workplace.
Developing oneself outside of work, achieving a recognised professional qualification, becomes a kind of touchstone - a rock that not only provides the stability needed when the career ladder is removed permanently, but is also a means of continued success with one's current employer.
Perhaps a CJ for the 1990s would be likely to say: 'I didn't get where I am today by doing an NVQ, but at least it has made the journey easier and more enjoyable'.
Kevin Paul Flinn
Office manager, Bradford & Bingley Building Society
Winner of the 1996 IM Managing for Tomorrow competition
'Developing one's competence and interests outside of one's place of work and studying for a recognised professional qualification increases employability both externally and internally. It also, at the same time, leads to more effective performance in one's current job which, of course, further increases employability'.