Article: Self-skilling for managers


Self-skilling for managers

We now live in an ever more rapidly changing world. Without conscious effort to develop, we all stagnate. Here are a few ways through which managers can up-skill themselves.
Self-skilling for managers

It is now clear that, “The key differentiator of sustainably successful organisations is the calibre of their management and leadership”. Managers, are the engine of our organisations. Managers turn visions, missions, values, and strategies into practical plans and then, through their teams, turn those plans into reality. That requires a very large set of core skills. Weakness in any one of those will reduce a manager’s ability to succeed. In HR, we must take action to ensure excellence in management.

We now live in an ever more rapidly changing world. Without conscious effort to develop, we all stagnate. We lose opportunities to do interesting and challenging work; we lose relationships; we miss out on promotions; … the list is endless. So, what, given the constant pressure to achieve more for less, what can we say to our managers? Here is an open letter that I suggest you can send (and, perhaps even apply to yourself):

“Dear Manager or potential Manager,

I propose five things (5 Ws) for you to consider, five pieces of advice that will enable you to become good. They are:

1. WHY – Understand (truly feel) why Self Development matters

50% of jobs that exist now will be gone by around 2025, replaced by a similar number about which we currently know nothing. 

Gone are the days when loyalty and who you knew alone secured your next move. Gone are the days when your age and experience secured your career. Gone are the days when what you knew secured your career – YouTube, and other platforms have commoditised knowledge.

What matters now is the combination of (a) your ability to make valuable contributions through your team, and (b) who knows you have that ability. 

The only person who can develop you is you. So, take time to seriously consider all of the costs to you of not developing and all of the benefits of doing so. Until you truly believe in self-development – you believe it to be both important and urgent - you will never invest in it. 

What matters now is the combination of (a) your ability to make valuable contributions through your team, and (b) who knows you have that ability

2. WHAT – Make sure you know WHAT good and great really look like 

You cannot develop generally; you can only develop specifically. So, you need to identify the specific skills and knowledge you need, and to focus on acquiring or honing them. 

There is a comprehensive set of behaviors or skills that managers need to have in good measure. These skills are clustered into four dimensions which are:

  • Management – all the skills associated with optimising the use of resources to deliver the vision; making things happen … mainly through others.
  • Personal Effectiveness – all the skills associated with optimising personal contributions and impact.
  • Business Acumen – all the skills associated with operating in a complex and changing environment, including any job-specific or technical skills that the role demands.
  • Leadership – leadership is not a role. It is all the skills associated with creating a vision of the future, bringing it alive, and securing the commitment and resources to deliver it.

The profile forms a checklist for success, enabling you to self-assess and to plan specific development activities. (If you are in another profession, locate a suitable checklist for that!) Acquire and hone the comprehensive set of skills as your foundation. You can then use those skills in unique combinations, or develop mastery in a few, to become a truly great manager or leader.

3. The next “W” is, “Have a WAY of managing your development” 

You develop every single day but, “Is your development creating a better version of you?” or, “Is it reinforcing your current habits and setting you in your ways?” In order to be sure, you need to discipline yourself to REFLECT, PLAN and then ACT - frequently, not annually!

3.1 The first step of the WAY is REFLECT

Reflect means, “think deeply about”. Here are some of the things you need to think deeply about. 

First, think about the future demands on your skills, e.g.:

  • What are the challenges you are going to face?
  • What are your aspirations?
  • What knowledge and skills will it take to address those? Your comprehensive skills checklist will help.

Then, think about where you are now and how you got here e.g.:

  • What are your relative strengths (to meet the challenges or realise your aspirations) and are you making best use of them?
  • How did you master the skills you already have?
  • What are your relative limitations that could hold you back, and what are you doing about them?

And, lastly, reflect on the resources you have and can commit to your development, especially people:

  • Who are the 3 to 5 people who will have most impact on your career in the next few years. Are you already building relationships with them?
  • Who are the 3 to 5 people who can most help you to develop? How are you going to get them to do so?

3.2. Only then can you PLAN, the second step in the WAY

Your plan needs two key components, both kept up-to-date:

  • The goal – what development success will look like. This should be extremely clear i.e., it should define an observable outcome – a demonstration of new behaviour or knowledge, to a given standard, by a certain date. 
  • The actions you’ll take to achieve it. This is where most of us stumble, often looking for the big solutions or training programmes. But the good news is that we rarely need those because:
  • 70% of our capability is acquired on the job, doing meaningful work and learning from it;
  • A further 20% is acquired through interactions with others e.g., being coached, engaging in work together, or observing them;
  • That leaves only 10% being learned from formal activity, much of which is reading or research anyway.

So, you must keep asking yourself, “How could I use upcoming tasks and experiences to further my own development and career?” Then, plan it meticulously. With a bit of practice, planning is the relatively easy bit. It is carrying out the plan that becomes the challenge.

“The best day to start our development has passed. But, today is our next best option.” So, we have to DO IT, to ACT.

You cannot develop generally; you can only develop specifically. So, you need to identify the specific skills and knowledge you need, and to focus on acquiring or honing them

3.3.  So, the 3rd part of the WAY to develop is ACT

You may argue that you have a learning management system that houses many development videos and materials, and there is YouTube, and other platforms. Excellent – you have resources!

But, we all know that access does not lead to behavior change. If it did, on the whole, we would all be fit and healthy … since we generally have the freedom to eat healthily, and to take exercise!

Similarly, most of us genuinely intend to engage in development but rarely do it. That may be because we allow urgency to drive what we do, rather than importance, or we simply procrastinate. 

That process, REFLECT, PLAN, ACT will enable you to apply a systematic approach to your own development. But, you have to set yourself up for success. So, the fourth idea is - WITH:

4. WITH - ensure you have on-going support; people and things that are going to work WITH you to make development happen. 

Some of these may be technology such as Calendar Reminders, ToDoLists, Collaboration tools, etc … and others may be people. You need to include four types to create:

4.1 Triggers to do the things you don’t currently like to do, don’t want to do, find difficult, or delay doing;

4.2 Waypoints of Checkpoints to help you to track and measure progress;

4.3 Detailed feedback to tell you if what you are doing is working or not, and how well you are progressing;

4.4 Reinforcement and rewards to encourage you to repeat things that worked.

And, lastly, the fifth “W” - you need to have the WILL to make this all happen.

5. Get your head straight – “I WILL take control of my own development” 

There are three things to consider here:

5.1 Positivity

“Most of us are limited more by our negative self-beliefs than we are by our talent.” That is so true. If you don’t believe in you, why should anyone else?

5.2 Perspiration

You are the engine room – it’s hot, sweaty and noisy. It’s part of the job – be prepared for it.

5.3 Perseverance

Most of us hate being made to do things we don’t want to do but are then often pleased we were made to! Afterall, it is handling the challenges, not displaying the skills that we already have, that produces development.

Apply those five Ws and you will become a happier, less stressed, and more effective manager; a GOOD manager, perhaps even a GREAT manager.

- Your friend in HR.


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Topics: Skilling

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