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How competent are your managers? A five-step training cycle can help develop key competencies.

A five-step training cycle can help develop key competencies

Outstanding performance is key to business success today. But getting employees to perform to that degree can be a seemingly impossible task, especially given all the demands that organizational restructuring and rapid technological change are placing on employees.

To be high performers, employees must not only have the skills to do their job, they must also have the right knowledge and attitude. These three factors work together to shape an employee's behaviour. If one factor is missing, companies won't be able to get the desired results from an employee, whether in an entry-level position or in senior management.

In an effort to promote outstanding managerial performance, a number of companies are focussing their efforts on all three factors rather than merely skills development. As a result, the term competency-based training has become commonplace in many organizations over the last decade, especially at the managerial level. This type of training recognizes that all three factors must be addressed if employees are to become top performers.

In the 1980s, a number of leading U.S. organizations carried out studies to identify the competencies that really made a difference between high performing managers and their less effective counterparts. The following competencies resulted from that research. They are divided into four categories (the first two groups refer to people-handling skills, while the latter two involve task-handling skills):


* listening and organizing

* giving clear information

* getting unbiased information


* training, coaching and delegating

* appraising people and performance

* disciplining and counselling


* time management and prioritizing

* setting goals and standards

* planning and scheduling work


* identifying and solving problems

* making decisions, weighing risk

* thinking clearly and analytically

A manager's leadership style and personal values also contribute to managerial effectiveness. There are two main leadership styles: Autocratic (Parent-Child) and participative (Adult-Adult). Values fall into the following eight groups: intuitive, thinking, sensing, feeling, empathizing, critical, searching and advising.

Consider Janet, a supervisor whose highest competencies are those in the administrative category. However, her leadership style is parent-child - she fills the role of a benevolent matriarch. Instead of teaching her staff how to manage their time and set realistic goals, she does it for them. Her style is preventing her from developing her staff in the very competencies in which she is strong.

Before supervisors like Janet and others can become outstanding performers, they must know what competencies they are strong in, where their weaknesses are and how their style and values influence their behaviour.

The following five-step training cycle offers an effective way for Human Resource professionals to assist managers in developing key competencies.

Step 1: Assessing

Sending managers to attend courses is costly. Not only are there the financial costs of paying for the instruction, there are costs in terms of lost productivity - a manager's time is one of an organization's most precious resources. Thus, every hour or module of training must be targeted to meet organizational and individual needs. Yet, many organizations do not adequately assess their managers' needs before signing up for courses.

Although companies conduct needs assessments, these studies usually reveal wants rather than needs - managers often do not know what they need. In many cases, managers show up at classes they have been "invited" to attend without knowing why or what outcomes are expected of them.

To be effective, a needs assessment should be based on a comprehensive and objective analysis of each manager's competencies and qualities (style and values). From there, specific needs can be pin-pointed and individual development plans can be designed.

There are several computer-based programs available that managers can use to assess their needs and develop a plan to improve their performance. These programs can be offered on an individual basis or as part of a workshop. One such program, the MANAGERIAL ASSESSMENT OF PROFICIENCY (MAP[TM]), runs participants through a one-day assessment that combines case studies and simulations via video and personal computer. During a series of episodes, participants watch and interact with a fictional department head and four supervisors.

After each episode, managers answer multiple choice items based on various actions taken by the department head. This yields a bar graph for individual managers, showing their relative strength in percentiles on the 12 competencies, two managerial styles and eight values.

The participants use the graph to assess their development needs. And a composite bar graph for the entire training group goes to top management and the training department as a developmental status report and needs assessment.

Step 2: Interpreting

Once managers have identified their strengths and weaknesses, they need help in defining behaviours that contribute to outstanding performance. They need feedback on what their scores mean, why they scored as they did, where their performance does and doesn't echo the behaviour of outstanding managers and how they can improve.

Feedback and interpretation should be given in 'class' where every one can interpret the bargraph showing group needs. This is also the time and place to establish a common understanding of the competencies and subset behaviours that are the hallmarks of an outstanding manager.

After the workshop, participants should discuss their own assessment with their manager who, along with a training professional, can assist them in selecting appropriate courses and support them in their development endeavours.

Step 3: Planning

New employees and those in entry-level jobs can expect supervisors and instructors to train them. But when people become managers, they take on the responsibility of development for themselves and their work groups.

Thus, every manager should have an individual development plan. To develop the plan, each manager will need past performance appraisals; objective measures of performance, opinions of key stake holders such as peers, managers and family members; awareness of all available personal development options; and a model of a good individual development plan.

The plan should list all the development activities a manager intends to undertake during the next 6 to 12 months, along with a time frame and expected results for each activity.

By sharing this plan with key stakeholders, a manager widens the support base and deepens the commitment to implement the plan.

Step 4: Training

To gain the desired competencies, managers have a number of options; taking training courses; doing self-study; mentoring by an expert; joining professional associations; sitting on a task force; or attending national conferences.

The type of training a manager selects will be based upon his/her needs and those of the organization. Costs and time away from work will be factors in determining the best training methods. If a manager chooses to take a course or engage in self-study, the length and number of courses will vary depending on the manager's and the organization's needs.

Step 5: Reassessing

To what degree has a manager's performance improved as a result of training? What opportunities exist for further development? How does the cost of the program compare with the benefits? Where does the training program need to be strengthened?

These questions can be best answered by reassessing participants at an appropriate interval after training has taken place. Given the cost of training today, organizations are no longer content to evaluate courses solely on the basis of participants' reaction at the end of the training. Effective evaluations measure the manager's performance against the same standards used to assess his/ her needs prior to the course. Generally, an interval of three to six months is sufficient to determine whether or not performance has improved.

For companies using computer-based models, reassessment can be done by having managers go through the computer exercises again and compare results. Another way to evaluate the effectiveness of the training is to have the workshop participants and their managers meet as a group several months after the training has ended. The participants can report on the results of implementing their plans.

In today's competitive business world, high performers are a necessity, not a luxury. Managers who have a thorough understanding of the competencies that are expected of them and how to achieve those competencies will be in a good position to move themselves and their staff forward. For companies looking for a competitive edge, this can only be good news.

Lloyd Field is President of Performance House Ltd., a management consulting practice which has specialized in strategic organization development and human resource management since 1975. As an author, he is a frequent contributor to international business publications. His book "Unions are Not Inevitable! " - a Canadian best seller - will be published in the United States shortly.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Canadian Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Field, Lloyd M.
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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