Why is Management Competency Such an Issue, And Where Do We Need To Get Better?

Firstly, the answer to the “why” question. How could this be when millions are spent on management education in this country by well-meaning companies and individuals who understand the importance of professional development and “mastery” in motivation and engagement at work. Two answers to this question (this is an opinion piece today – no research, no peer review!):

  • A lack of awareness of the problem. Remember from the last blog, 85% of managers consider themselves above average in terms of competency. An even basic understanding of mathematics would suggest there is something wrong here! Too many managers (and I often see this myself – not amongst my clients though!) have a very inflated opinion of their management competency. The biggest hindrance to learning, in any context, is the lack of awareness that any learning is required. “I know this stuff, I do it everyday.” I hear this often! We can’t change, we can’t improve, if we don’t think we need to

  • A lack of “experiential” learning. I remember my professor saying to me on my graduation from Massey University after 5 years (should have been 4!) – “when you leave here you start to learn – you are now prepared!” That was the best advice I think I was ever given. We need to try stuff. We need to sort our what works for us and what doesn’t. We need to experience the highs of success and the lows of failure. We need to be patient. We need to give our developing managers the room to make mistakes. In fact we should insist on it. Those are the times when the “awareness” issue is laid bare. Then, and only then, will they really learn

There are other answers to the why question, but I think those are the two critical ones, especially in the NZ context.

So where do we need to get better? What are the specific areas we need to work on, both ourselves and our people, that will make the most significant improvement to our management competency? There are a number, but I will deal with just three:

  • Communicating at a different level. Those of you that have spent some time with me will get this straight away! For the rest of you, first level communication is easy – we do it without even thinking – and that is the problem. First level are simple discussions about what we are doing and what we will do next, what we did right and what we did wrong. In its simplest form, second level communication is asking and answering “why” questions. Really drilling into peoples motivation and reasons for what they do and don’t do. Getting inside their heads. Asking and listening. If we accept (and I do) that a managers job is to achieve things through others, then how we communicate to those “others” is the key. And successful communication must be two way. Once you have mastered level two there is always level three – but that is another conversation!

  • Having difficult conversations. In my mind, the difference between an excellent manager and an average manager is how many “necessary” difficult conversations actually take place. These are not easy (that’s why they are called difficult!) and invariable involve telling staff and others, things they don’t want to hear (remember the awareness issue?) Often they will be linked to performance management, but not always. Also, there is a right way and a wrong way. A wrong turn here can be costly. Is it a competence? Absolutely! It can be learnt and it can be perfected. Every competent manager needs it

  • Preparation and planning. Remember the six P’s – “Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.” No matter what you do as a manager, prepare, prepare, prepare, p…… you get the picture. Central to preparation is the opportunity to THINK! Level two thought is to Think Differently, but most of us just need to start at Level one. This takes time, patience, may necessitate other things being put off, may involve someone being let down, but if we don’t THINK about what we are doing there is very little chance for us to be competent at what we do. And in todays world of technology, smart phones, texts, emails etc we don’t have enough time to think about what we are doing (touching on another reason for incompetent management here) and as a result we often don’t reach the levels of performance that we should

And here endeth the lesson! Seriously, though, this stuff is important. Read it, THINK about it, and put it into action.

Be well and stay focused


Phil Pickford

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