UK: Slow-burn for learning - Management.

UK: Slow-burn for learning - Management. - "Part of the training we offer is to help people develop their inner resources. An organisation is like a body. All its parts, inner and outer, need to be working for it to be effective," says McGregor of Decisi

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

"Part of the training we offer is to help people develop their inner resources. An organisation is like a body. All its parts, inner and outer, need to be working for it to be effective," says McGregor of Decision Development.

Many companies are widening their management training schemes and trying out new techniques to bring out the talents of senior managers.

One of the current aims in management training today is to get managers to know themselves better. At the London-based management consultancy Decision Development, managers are put through training programmes that aim to build their self-knowledge, creativity and imagination. In her tranquil office next to Hampstead Heath, senior partner Lynn McGregor says, "One of the problems in British industry is that people know the technical details but they have little vision. The more enlightenened managers are looking for new ways to develop this".

Decision Development's approach to this could be described as New Age. Its brochure begins with a series of questions, such as: When is the last you took time off to take stock of your life?; are you mentally, psychologically spiritually and physically prepared for the future? It may sound wacky, but the consultancy's two senior partners have backgrounds in education and psychology, and clients include the Bank of England, Cadbury Schweppes, IBM and the Post Office. Lynn McGregor says, "Part of the training we offer is to help people develop their inner resources. An organisation is like a body. All its parts, inner and outer, need to be working for it to be effective."

Along with an increasing number of management trainers the organisation offers outward bound courses for executives. Abseiling down a cliff face is claimed to help cultivate managers' inner resources. Lynn McGregor says: "If outward bound courses are used as a metaphor for real life and overcoming personal risk, they can be a useful learning tool." Her training scheme is just one of a whole spectrum of techniques available for executives to test their existing way of thinking and pep up their work performance.

Nevertheless, despite the wealth of help available, a survey carried out by the Management Charter Initiative (MCI) earlier this year showed that only about half of the respondents said they were doing any formal management training or mentioned any improvements in performance resulting from training. Furthermore, it showed that senior management is given a lot less training than the supervisory levels - only one in three respondents had a training policy for the senior echelons.

Discussing the survey results, MCI chief executive Andrew Summers says, "I think it is a reflection of the fact that a lot of managers do not want to admit to training. There is a misconception that you should be learning everything you need from your job. People must recognise that continual improvement is also necessary."

Still, anecdotal evidence suggests that, despite what the surveys convey about the paucity of management training in British business, companies are going through a phase of looking for ways to improve the quality of management. Significantly, the most senior people in companies seem to be taking a new interest in training (although, tellingly, it is more usually referred to as "development"), instead of leaving it up to the personnel department. This means that, for the first time, management training is becoming embedded in the business strategy in large numbers of companies.

The search for improvement is not confined to the top layers of executives. Management training has begun to reach people who did not receive any before. A good part of the credit must go to the MCI, whose standards for supervisory and middle managers have achieved fairly wide recognition. The principle of recognising prior-on-the-job experience has also helped make management training relevant to people such as foremen and catering supervisors. The Government should probably get the rest of the credit. Privatisations and changes to the health and educations systems have made management training a priority for such people as ex-civil servants, school principals, health centre receptionists, senior nursing staff and secretaries.

For supervisory and middle managers the content of the training is normally quite conventional - no leaping up mountains, no counselling sessions, just a teacher and a textbook, or a video and a textbook. This is because the delivery of management training at this level is increasingly through a distance learning programme. Companies see this as an efficient and cost-effective method of relaying fairly straightforward material. This is especially true for smaller companies which, according to the MCI survey, are the most resistant to management training.

Jane Goodey, who runs the Open Business School's company training programmes says: "Companies are actively promoting our courses through their organisation. Before, there was a tendency to see only people sitting behind desks as managers. We are tapping into a different group of people who previously were not seen as management material."

It is not alone in benefitting from this enthusiasm. The Wolsey Hall/Oxford Polytechnic/Oxford FE College course for British Airways employees, including cabin crew, engineers and catering staff is also popular. BA is putting around 700 employees through the programme, which covers supervision of others, finance, marketing, managing information, managing operations and law. This leads to a BTEC Certificate in Management Studies. The course includes an outward bound weekend.

The latest development in the democratisation of management training is television. One of the programmes going out in the middle of the night under the auspices of BBC Select subscription TV is the Executive Business Club (EBC). Companies pay an annual membership fee which rises with the number of their employees. This gives them access to the weekly TV programmes, which are scrambled, via a decoder. They are supplied with workbooks, audio cassettes, and a listings magazine and have the right to use the material as often as they need - the more people in a company that use the material, the lower the average cost of the training provided.

Launched at the beginning of 1992, the EBC had 250 companies subscribing by mid-September and was circulating 15,000 copies of its magazine within these firms. Half the customer base consists of small and medium enterprises for whom it obviously represents an economical form of management training. The other half includes major high street banks and insurers such as the Prudential and Royal Insurance.

EBC's chairman and chief executive, Graham Robinson says: "The format and cost structure make it easy for subscribers to include, say, engineers and clerical staff in their management training." For around £1,000 a year, even a one-person business can afford access to it.

It may be that the ideal of training for all managers from top to bottom of the corporate hierarchy is becoming attainable, given the wide range of open learning management education now available. Indeed, company directors who have benefited from training themselves, now recognise that it is not only desirable but necessary for all managers. And what does it matter whether insight came while leaping up a mountain side or sitting quietly in front of the television.

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