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Personal development – essential to managers - essential for everyone?

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26th Jan 2010
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Personal development starts from the very beginning of our lives and should not end when we start work. John Pope looks at professional and practical development.

We start off in life not knowing much about ourselves and what we could be capable of achieving; we know little about managing other people. But we learn gradually how to get what we want.

We get through the different stages of formal education in an atmosphere which is clearly concerned with learning where there are periodic tests where what we have learnt is identified and practiced. Some become enthusiastic about learning, take great pride in their progress and carry that enthusiasm through life; others do not, but have had the opportunity.

And then we have to go to work for our living. Some of what we have learnt will be relevant to work, some will not, but will have given us skills which contribute to living a useful life. Those who still have the ‘learning bug’ will thrive.

What happens once we get into a position where we have responsibility for others at work, when we become managers? If we have had good employers our capability and potential will have been noticed early and we may have had some training in the arts of management: that is of getting things done by other people. We may have had supervisors who have taken a personal interest in our learning and development and have delegated some managerial tasks. If we have been interested we will have seen the way different managers at different levels work and we may have copied their approaches and habits, or picked up some of their bad habits. If we have been lucky we will have had some initial supervisory training, perhaps followed at intervals by relevant training in management which waswell constructed and delivered. Or we may have just been ‘thrown in at the deep end’ and learned about management the hard way.

Whatever training or introduction to management we may have had, we can be sure that only in the most ‘learning-conscious’ organisation will we have enough training and formal opportunities to learn. In an organisation which really values learning and development there are regular reviews of development needs for each individual; there are plans for meeting those needs and for measuring the results of the training or development given. There are relatively few organisations who can state confidently that they really do this. If you don’t believe me just ask around.

Continuing professional development (CPD)
CPD is mandatory now in most professions. In some it is a necessary qualification for being allowed to practice. The steps are simple and are, in general, are for each individual:

-    a review of knowledge or ability of a range of capabilities considered necessary to that profession
-    a review of performance in sufficient depth to identify if they have and use that knowledge or ability
-    a record of what relevant training or development experience the individual has had during the year
-    the plan for learning and development in the coming year.

Professionals and their organisations which take this approach seriously find the benefits are great.

Professional development for managers
What happens to those who are not professionals or who do not have employers which take a rigorous approach to development. For those who are members of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) there is already a scheme to foster their development. For others the options are to plod along, going from one unproductive annual review, if any, to another – progressing slowly more by good luck than anything or to take the initiative and:

- make their own assessment of what it takes to be a good manager in the organisation
- assess their own performance and ability by comparison
- review their significant successes or failures and identify what they can learn from them
- identify, for themselves, how they might fill in the gaps in their ability or their approach
- press for help and training; to read, attend courses, watch real business programmes, to analyse what they see their colleagues do, and to record and review their learning.

Practical development
Most organisations spend some time analysing failures and holding post-mortems to find out what went wrong, and whom to blame. Fewer spend time analysing successes and learning from them. Managers, indeed people at all levels, can learn from observing, and then adopting, not just imitating, the good approaches of managers who have a consistent record of success. But that is not enough; we have to show that we can apply these lessons, demonstrate those new and better approaches. For that we need opportunities – and we have to look for and take up those that are around. We have to put ourselves forward and accept the risks of failure, and not be daunted by it.

John Pope has been a management consultant for over forty years, and has had his own practice as an independent consultant for over 30 years. He has worked in a wide range of businesses where performance and service were the keys to success. He continues to advise businesses at senior level on their direction, strategy and especially on the management of change.

He has seen many management fashions come and go and takes a very down-to-earth approach to the improvement of management at all levels, and transforming business performance. He sees the development of strong and effective managers as one of the most important aspects of business.

His book,’Winning Consultancy Business‘ was described as “a goldmine of advice to help practitioners get profitable and successful assignments and a significant contribution to promoting consultancy professionalism”. It covers, step by step a methodical way of identifying the market, and the consultancy service;, of finding and approaching potential clients and of engaging them in discussion so that the consultant can propose work which is right for both the client and the consultant. Get copies through his web-site johnpopeassociates.co.uk or from booksellers.

John Pope can be contacted at [email protected]

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By danrerwin
26th Jan 2010 13:14

There is a terrific amount of research on management development that focuses on why and how.  The research indicates that the most powerful learning takes place in what's called "guided experience."  It's an agreed upon relationship between manager and subordinate in which both end up learning.  The most frustrating piece of management research is the well-known fact that most workers, including professionals like lawyers and physicians, stop learning once they've gained competency--which is usually six years into their vocation.  I find that scary as [***].

But there are some amazing managers out there, and here's a detailed analysis on my blog of a well-known bureaucrat who's just amazing.  http://tinyurl.com/ygbc58c

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By JohnPope
27th Jan 2010 15:08

Thanks for your very valuable comment, especially on the way some professions do not ensure that their people keep up to date. There is an old remark ' He may have been doing the job for twenty years but he really only has one year's experience twenty times. In those employments and crafts which do not have some mandatory recertification allied to formal development it can be difficult to persuade the members to continue learning. Ultimately, those who do continue learning from their achievements and mistakes overtake those who do not.

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