A manager who is not good at his or her job is unlikely to keep staff who have been trained to be good at theirs – Ron Krueger explores available management training opportunities, and why so many managers think they don’t need it.
Management is complex. And yet, managers often neglect themselves when it comes to training. According to Harry Paul, author of Revved: An amazing way to rev up your workplace and achieve amazing results, some view their involvement in training as a sign of weakness. Managers sometimes assume they have a broader knowledge base, so don’t need to participate, and this often sends the wrong message to staff. "It’s often interpreted by staff as arrogance which not only de-motivates them, but also reinforces the need for managers to be involved so they can practice these new learnings in the workplace," he tells Dynamic Business.
A comment Paul hears frequently when conducting training programs is, where are our managers? The obsession with performance numbers and the bottom line are often reasons why some owners avoid their own training. Business owners and leaders sometimes think they don’t have time to attend training because they have to ‘stay on top of things’. "Some also believe that training, particularly management training, is soft. They don’t understand that it’s this soft human side of management that drives employees to work hard, day in and day out," Paul says.
Having the right people and relationship skills is critical nowadays as employers struggle with the growing skills and labour shortage. According to human resources manager, Geri Rigg at Australian Business Limited (ABL) State Chamber, leaders or business owners with inappropriate management skills, particularly people skills, can damage relationships, often losing valuable individuals to the business. "Employers need to not only have a good understanding of people, they need to be self aware as well as continually learn about leadership through their own experience and education."
Rigg advises employers to establish a training needs analysis to determine the skills they require in the workplace to improve their leadership and management. "These are courses devised by coaching experts and involve a mix of theory, practice, and workshops to give managers and the CEO valuable knowledge and hands-on experience."
ABL State Chamber uses the services of Australian Growth Coaching, an organisation specialising in working with people who recognise that the quality of leadership is one of the most important drivers in improving performance whether at the individual, team, or organisational level. "Leadership coaching enables individuals to develop responsible behaviour, facilitate change, drive earnings, retain talent, enhance relationship management, build stamina and discipline for sustained learning and development, and improve leadership and management techniques," says Mandy O’Bree, founder and director.
"Coaching presents an opportunity for business owners and leaders to have a coaching partner; a person who is impartial, provides feedback, and acts as a sounding board, who explores that individual’s strengths and weaknesses, and embeds and consolidates the skills necessary for effective leadership and management."
A major study of businesses in 2000 by the International Personnel Management Association shows that training alone delivered a 22-percent improvement in productivity, while training coupled with coaching delivered an 88-percent improvement. And 17 of the top 25 ASX companies have an executive coaching or training program.
"There has been a noticeable increase in the growth in leadership coaching in Australia and a leadership coaching style is evident in most successful organisations in Australia," O’Bree says.
Aubrey Warren, situational leadership master trainer with the Australasian Centre for Leadership Studies, knows how beneficial the services of a coach or mentor can be to a business owner and their business, especially when adapting communications and behaviour to build relationships. "Adapting a leadership style isn’t about compromising integrity, it’s about taking the initiative to understand the other person’s perspective and needs," he says. "It’s about accepting that ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t apply to human relations, and that the ‘my way or the highway’ approach has long passed its use-by date."
Warren believes leaders should learn to develop a healthy self-awareness, an understanding of how to diagnose situations and needs, an appreciation of interpersonal dynamics, and some expertise or, at least, familiarity with different influencing and interaction styles. He also suggests employers get a mentor to assist with their development, to debrief learning experiences with this mentor or a colleague, or enrol in a tertiary management program or executive development course. "We can teach leadership, but learning about it requires commitment, and that commitment goes beyond the individual. The commitment to personal and organisational leadership capacity is a natural part of any organisation’s ongoing commitment to the pursuit of excellence."
Developing Management Skills
Useful starting points for any business, in particular small businesses, are the services offered by state governments to help employers identify and develop the skills they require. Online courses cover skills needed for start-up, putting together a business plan, researching the market, and learning the basics of selling. Seminars and workshops also address common business topics.
Marketing officer for the Queensland Department of State Development, Trade and Innovation, Chaleeya Supunyachotsakul, believes the fast pace of business today requires business owners to keep up with changing practices. "Gaining a comparative advantage and increasing business performance means continually acquiring skills in financial management, people management, the application of appropriate systems, and so on.
"Our organisation provides business information and packages including diagnostic tools for business owners to conduct regular health checks on their business as well as compare average performances with businesses in the same industry," she says.
Employer groups such as ABL State Chamber, the Australian Industry Group, and state-based and regional business chambers, provide a range of products and services, events, publications, and online facilities to assist business owners.
"Business owners need to seek external advice to become smarter business operators," says ABL State Chamber’s CEO, Kevin Macdonald. "There are numerous industry and business organisations such as ourselves that offer employers support. We provide business owners from small to large enterprises with products and services to increase their knowledge (and skills) when dealing with workplace relations, occupational health and safety, trade, business planning, coaching, diagnostic assessments, reporting and action planning, as well as environmental sustainability."
Business owners, leaders, and senior management need to consistently demonstrate an impressive array of skills and abilities unknown a generation ago, suggests behavioural scientist and author, George Dudley. "Telling people what to do isn’t enough."
Dudley believes there are unmistakable benefits associated with having business owners, leaders and senior management more directly involved in training. "Some are self-evident, such as the organisational endorsement of philosophy and content that follows from contact with senior management within the context of training. But there may be other advantages that are not so obvious."
He cites the example of Australian business owners and managers who are willing to directly oversee, rather than merely delegate.
"Senior management should be directly involved in the acquisition, application and assessment of training practices designed to shape the behaviours that will ultimately result in immediate (and longer term) performance objectives being accomplished."
Involved and positive leadership of this type, he believes, helps explain the success of some of Australia’s top CEOs.
There is no simple recipe or formula for effective leadership considering the numerous temperaments, types of people, and traits displayed in the business world. Successful businesses are run by owners and leaders who understand the value of not only training their staff, but also themselves. Some things, such as showing humility and giving credit when it’s due and taking the blame when necessary, can only be learned through experience.
Starting Management Training
• Reflect on your experience of what works easily for you, what challenges you and how you tend to respond to those challenges, what’s rewarding, and what brings your best results.
• Take a reputable self-awareness instrument (like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, TMS Team Management Profile or Human Synergistics Life Styles Inventory) and carefully debrief the results with a skilled coach.
• Ask for feedback from trusted colleagues about one or two things they see as your key strengths and key areas for improvement.
• Participate in a group interpersonal skills program, either with colleagues or in a public program.
• Develop a reading program including books like People Skills by Robert Bolton and Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.
• Use casual and apparently incidental interactions with colleagues to intentionally learn more about them, observe their approach and listen to their perspectives uncritically.
* Aubrey Warren, Situational Leadership Master Trainer with the Australasian Centre for Leadership Studies.
Case Study: Business Training
Treudie Kaehler runs a successful florist and party hire business in Ballina, on the New South Wales North Coast. Like many small business owners, she was at a loss when it came to business planning and understanding some of the complexities of running a business. Relying on the expert knowledge of a business coach enabled her to give the business a solid platform within which to change direction and increase business profits.
"While flowers are my passion, I soon realised the need to seek external help in the form of a business coach. This has allowed me to look closely at my target market and unique selling point as well as feel comfortable with reading profit and loss statements and handling budgets," she says.
Over the years, Kaehler has regularly attended trade shows and participated in workshops and seminars conducted by florist giant, Interflora. She has also attended countless seminars on business planning. But has found there is often a lack of practical help. "It can be quite daunting, and as a business owner, you often think: I just want someone to show me how to start, what to do, and where to go."
Building up her knowledge within the industry and with her business coach’s advice has enabled her to produce a working business plan, something she neglected in the past.
It seems she’s on the right path now. With the advice of her business coach she has set up a loyalty card system, introducing some 1,000 users; offered customers $20 of fresh flowers for every $100 spent after nine purchases; produced a hard copy and online newsletter offering customers a range of products, discounts, deals, a delivery service, and general tips and advice; and she has set up a website to allow for online transactions.
Her coach has also advised her to read a systems manual book to assist her in implementing appropriate business systems for that side of the business. "Everything we do in the business will be included in this systems manual and will include such aspects as how to deal with phone orders, customer complaints, the processing of orders, and so on. More importantly, my staff are keen to pursue my vision and they want to join me on the journey as we expand."
* Ron Krueger is public relations and communications manager for ABL State Chamber.