Critical Skills for Managers

A key element of business strategy is the recognition that managers frequently represent the most critical component to successful business operations.  In my “Contemporary People Management” MBA course, I frequently emphasize the fact that managers today have much greater responsibilities and expectations than their counterparts of years ago.  Their jobs are no longer limited to the basic functions of overseeing employees and “getting the work done” within expected timeframes. Popular management philosophers specializing in organizational theory and behaviors had very simplistic definitions of “management”:

Frederick Taylor: “Management is the art of knowing what you want to do and then seeing that they do it in the best and the cheapest manner.”

Mary Parker Follett: “Management is the art of getting things done through people.”

Harold Koontz: “Management is the art of getting things done through others and with formally organized groups.”

Henry Fayol: “Management is to forecast, to plan, to organize, to command, to coordinate and control activities of others.”

Of course, Fayol is considered the “founder of modern management methods,” and the 14 principles of Fayolism are still taught in many university programs. His original theories can be expanded and practiced today, especially when considering that managers are required to lead, motivate, train, inspire, and engage their employees.  Furthermore, managers now need to be much more than just “managers.”  In today’s environment, managers needs to fill a variety of roles, such as mentor, coach, negotiator, sociologist, psychologist, psychiatrist, marriage counselor, financial consultant, and so on.  With the explosion of social media, employees no longer “leave their problems at the door” when they come to work, but rather openly share their personal and work issues with co-workers, thus adding an additional ingredient into the mix of organizational culture. Managers must be able to deal with changing social requirements and, at the same time, provide the required outputs to meet business demands.  Their roles are multi-dimensional, requiring a balance of interpersonal, informational, and decisional functions (Henry Mintzberg).

Many (if not most) manager positions are filled through the promotional process, where internal candidates are often recognized and rewarded for their seniority, loyalty and job knowledge.  While this writer fully supports internal promotion and career ladders, frequently, internal candidates are promoted into managerial positions for the wrong reasons.  Having extensive years of job experience does not necessarily provide the proper skills and competencies to manage today’s workforce.  Additionally, organizations devote training revenue to employees, but oftentimes shortchange their managers in providing the necessary training and development programs to make them more effective overseers and managers of workers.  Globally, organizations spend billions of dollars (J. Bersin, Forbes, 2014) on training every year but frequently fail to improve the most critical area of their business, namely their managers.

The complexity of knowledge, skills and abilities required for today’s managers necessitates specialized training across a wide array of capabilities in order to provide effective people management.  First of all, managers need a combination technical (task specific) skills, interpersonal (relationship) skills, and conceptual (big picture) skills.  Secondly, managers need to be taught to realize that the drivers and motivators of today’s workforce is critically different from decades ago.  Possessing the ability to adjust and customize managerial styles to accommodate the diversity of workers range from recognition of generational differences, cultural differences, and motivational differences.   Other essential behaviors required for successful managers are the ability to provide effective communication strategies, solid negotiation and conflict resolution skills, implementation of both intrinsic and extrinsic reward systems, empowerment and decentralization of authority in building employee confidence, creativity and innovation.  More importantly, managers need to acquire and utilize the selfless ability to recognize and recommend high potential employees, encouraging their promotion and development for the future benefit of the organization over the current demands of the department. Lastly, managers need to be trained to inculcate emotional intelligence traits to guide their thinking and behavior.

People management has evolved into the recognition of employees as assets and the company realization that investment in and retention of those assets will play an important role in business performance.  Likewise, managers play a critical holistic role in overall company operations, and must have the necessary knowledge and skills to insure that such investment is properly leveraged and utilized to the mutual benefit of all stakeholders.

Allan Gardner, PHR, HRMP, MHRM has over 35 years of experience in the Human Resources field. Currently, he is an expert Human Resource Trainer throughout the EMEA region and also teaches HR and Strategic Management programs for MBA students at the UAE campuses of Chifley Business School Australia.

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