The future for management development: the need for new thinking and new practices? HR Management

In concluding this chapter, we might speculate on the future direction of management development. Perhaps the first thing to note is that the development of managers – like so many aspects of organisational life – is in a state of considerable flux and transformation. This is giving rise to a number of issues and tensions that are continuing to influence the way management development is interpreted, planned, organised and implemented across a wide range of contexts, and these have been touched on in this chapter, e.g. competency-based development. To close the chapter it is useful to pause and, building on the preceding discussion, to speculate about the future shape and direction of management development.

  • Is management development fulfilling its strategic role?

It has been argued throughout this chapter that an open systems perspective offers a valid and useful perspective within which to view management development. In practical terms, management development has to be integrated with organisational development and change in a way that recognises their mutuality and interdependence. As we have seen, for many organisations, management development has now become a strategic imperative for organisational success.

But if we are to achieve and maintain the required level of strategic fit, management development has to be managed in a way that accepts and accommodates contextual diversity and organisational complexities. Managing development therefore has to be seen as being just as important as ‘doing’ development. So to what extent is management development fulfilling its strategic role in this contextual and contingent manner? The answer has to be a qualified one.

There is evidence of success – cited mainly in organisational case studies (Prokopenko, 1998; Syrett and Lammiman, 1999). But there is also evidence that in some situations management development might be considered to be ‘failing’ in the sense that it is not fully delivering anticipated organisational and individual outcomes (Meldrum and Atkinson, 1998; Currie, 1999; Doyle, 1995, 2000a).

The notion that management development is somehow ‘failing’ is not a new one. A number of highly critical reports published in the late 1980s (Handy, 1987, Constable and McCormick, 1987) identified managerial ‘underdevelopment’ in the UK as undermining UK competitiveness. Since those critical reports, research has shown that organisations have increased their commitment and investment in management development (Storey et al., 1997; Thomson et al., 2001).

But while investment and commitment may have increased, there are still reservations and doubts about the overall efficacy of management development and its ability to deliver increased performance and organisational success during times of radical and far-reaching change (Doyle, 1995, 2000a). With a sense of déjà vu perhaps, and on a somewhat depressing note, we see that managers are once again being singled out by the government and others as being a key factor in the poor performance of UK companies:

Of course, it is legitimate to point out that management development is only one of a myriad of influencing factors determining UK performance and evaluating the relationship between managerial and organisational performance. Cynics might argue that UK managers are once again a convenient political scapegoat for government ministers to blame. mBut there are grounds for critically evaluating the contribution that management development is making.

As we have already noted in this chapter, just increasing commitment and investment in management training by itself may not be enough to deliver managerial effectiveness. In complex, diverse and radically changing organisational contexts there may be internal and external factors preventing management development delivering what stakeholders expect and need it to deliver. There may be structural, political, social and cultural barriers that may be ‘interfering’ with measures to develop managers and contribute to improvements in organisational performance (Hopfl and Dawes, 1995).

Another possibility lies in a fundamental lack of awareness amongst key stakeholders as to what constitutes management development, e.g. the dominance of formalised models and practices at the expense of more contextual, work-oriented models (Simpson and Lyddon, 1995). The future challenge, therefore, for those with responsibilities for developing managers may be to shift from merely ‘doing’ development (designing and delivering training courses) to managing development in ways that address the wider contextual barriers that inhibit or block effectiveness (Doyle, 2000a; Mole, 2000).

But as we have seen throughout this chapter, any shift towards a more systemic perspective to manage development may require a significant reorientation in thinking and practice amongst the professionals involved. For instance, one such reorientation emphasises the greater use of work-based approaches to development (Woodall, 2000).

  • The need to increase the emphasis on work-based development?

One way to address the issue of contextual diversity and complexity is to place a growing emphasis on developing managers within the context in which they manage rather than just in the classroom, the training suite or the hotel conference room. Of course, work-based development has always occurred in less formalised ways through activities such as coaching and mentoring. However, with cost considerations, time pressures, desire for flexibility and relevance in development activity, the need is for organisations to turn towards the greater use of ‘reality-based’ tasks, projects and assignments (Vicere, 1998; Paauwe and Williams, 2001).

Premised upon an experiential, action learning philosophy, such approaches offer the possibility of overcoming some of the simplistic, generic and contextual problems that have bedevilled management development for so long. However, as Paauwe and Williams note, work-based development does have some disadvantages in terms of the level of cost, commitment and support required. Woodall (2000) cautions that the whole issue of work-based development is not well understood – even amongst those HR professionals who purport to organize and manage development in the workplace (see above).

  • The evolution of the corporate university

A significant development in recent years has been the growth of corporate universities. In the USA, corporate universities grew from 400 in the late 1980s to some 1000 in the late 1990s (Greco, 1997). A similar pattern is emerging in the UK where there are now an estimated 200 organisations professing to have established a corporate university. Organisations include: Anglian Water, Unipart, Lloyds TSB and British Aerospace.

What has led to this expansion? There are a number of factors:

  • Dissatisfaction with the generic nature of academic programmes which do not always address localised and unique management problems and issues (see above).
  • Technological development facilitating new approaches to learning and networking that can be delivered with ease and cost-effectively.
  • As organisations grow increasingly more complex and ambiguous, the establishment of a corporate university becomes an important symbol and mechanism for knowledge management.
  • It raises the status and prestige of the HRD department.
  • It delivers HR benefits, e.g. access to a high standard of development facilities, aiding recruitment by demonstrating commitment to develop.

We can thus see that corporate universities represent a coherent attempt by organizations to plan and organise the whole panoply of training and management development in such a way that it meets the needs of the organisation and the individuals within their workplace reality. In other words, it becomes a way of directly addressing the issue of strategic fit and overcoming the problem of how to meet the needs of contextual diversity and complexity by customising and shaping HRD to suit contingent circumstances.

Their aim is ‘to align training and development with business strategy while also sending out a clear message to employees that the organisation is prepared to invest in them’ (Arkin, 2000: 42). However, there are a number of issues to address. First, there is a risk that some so called corporate universities may be nothing more than re-badged training departments where the motive is more political or PR than learning or development (Prince and Beaver (2001).

Secondly, at forecasted rates of growth, there is a fear that corporate universities will overtake and become a challenge to traditional universities (Vine, 1999). However, organisations refute this. Rather, what they say they are seeking is a collaboration with Higher Education institutions, e.g. to validate their degree offerings. But there are fears that the values that underpin university education (independence of thought and critical analysis and debate) may not be welcome in some organisational cultures.

Thirdly, there are practical concerns too. What happens if students are part-way through their studies and the company decides to close its corporate university as a cost-cutting exercise? Universities too may be chary of linking themselves too closely to a single partner when there is a risk of commercial failure (Arkin, 2000). It remains to be seen how far this ideal will evolve in the years to come.

■ Filling the gaps and meeting the challenges?

A final item for our futuristic ‘agenda’ is the extent to which the whole notion of management development is seen to fit with the everyday experience and reality of the changing nature of the managerial role. Recent evidence points to some fairly significant shifts in the context and nature of managerial roles, e.g. a greater emphasis on intellectual and influencing capacities (Chapman, 2001). There is also evidence of a growing awareness of how management development should respond – in both theoretical and practical terms (Vicere, 1998; Thomson et al., 2001).

If we look more critically at the current frameworks, approaches and methods still employed in designing and implementing management development, it is not too difficult to identify the gaps, the incompleteness and the sometimes oversimplification that exists when compared with the challenges facing most managers. For example, the development of political skills is often cited as a crucial competence for managerial effectiveness (especially during times of radical change), so why does it not appear in the mainstream course syllabus or competency blueprints and frameworks discussed earlier?

Why is there so little apparent attention paid to developing political skills (Baddeley and James, 1990; Buchanan and Badham, 1999)? The development of change management knowledge and skills is another area that, superficially, receives attention but on closer examination, it becomes clear that the provision for developing change expertise and capability is inadequate (Buchanan et al., 1999; Doyle et al., 2000; Doyle, 2002).

Finally, while the acquisition of functional knowledge and skills dominates individual and organisational development activity, has the time arrived for managers to acknowledge and accept that they are not ‘Masters of the Universe’ – that they cannot control everything and everyone through the application of rational models of managing? Should development now focus on turning the heads of managers away from generic


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