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Raising SME Manager Skills

Opinion Written by John Berry on 29th March 2017. Revised 15th July 2018. Reading time: 3 minutes

Meeting Discussion Talking Sharing IdeasThe UK Government statistics suggest that fewer than 20% of the UK’s managers are trained for the job.

Most are of course competent in the technics of their job (as accountants, engineers, doctors and the like).

Few recognise that management science is as big, if not bigger, than their core discipline.

Most are what is termed “accidental managers” – they were in the right place at the right time when promotion was offered or have somehow been considered worthy of promotion to management.

What Management Skills

Any management development must commence with an analysis of what’s needed. We outline the 23 key competencies in a comprehensive paper. But in essence, the manager must learn to conceptualise and make rational decisions on those concepts.

This demands that managers must be high in abstract reasoning. Management is not a job high in neuralistic decision-making where today’s decisions are based on past successes. Managers don’t see repeats of situations. They can’t just be taught a compendium of scenarios-versus-actions. For them, every day is different, every analysis is different and every outcome is different.

Managers must therefore learn concepts, models and methods ready for when they are called on to mash a specific combination of the three to determine an action.

Learning Management Science

Management is a science. Few managers – accidental or otherwise - would dispute that claim as they struggle to motivate their staff or manage recruitment. Management is non-obvious and complex and hence must be learned.

There are several approaches to learning management. Of the plethora, two perhaps stand out.

The first is to learn on the job. This assumes that there is someone to learn from – some role model or expert with whom the apprentice manager can discuss issues and probe solutions. In this case the role model is behaving as a mentor, taking the apprentice manager under her wing.

The second is to go to school – to undertake some sort of formal learning. In this case, there’s a whole management training industry offering courses in this and that. Here it’s not if, but what, the apprentice should try to learn.

One useful approach in this tutored method is to benchmark the level of training to external standards. The National Occupational Standards is a useful source but does suffer from contribution from a limited number of organisations. An alternative is to look towards organisations like the Chartered Management Institute.

You can also learn by browsing this website or by listening in and engaging with our 21-part Level 7 Manager Development Programme. It’s completely free.

Raising SME Manager Skills

In essence, one can boil it all down to this:

For those in a technically complex environment taking supervisory responsibility for others, they should complete a course at NQF Level 3 or 4. A suitable course is the Certificate in Management Studies, typically lasting one year, part time.

For those in a technically complex environment taking management responsibility for others (where this extends to budgets, technology and people), they should complete a course at NQF Level 5/6. A Diploma in Management Studies would be suitable. Typically this would be done part time over two years.

For those involved in a less technically demanding environment, other approaches may be more relevant.

Management Learning

As the statistics suggest, many managers have done little or no management learning. As a result they may also benefit from immediate training on specific, locally important topics like ‘how to heighten commitment in the staff body’ or ‘how to instil a particular culture in the workplace’. After all, it will be a long time to wait for apprentice managers to complete their qualifications.

This two-tier structure with short, targeted learning starting immediately, followed by CMS and DMS courses for specific individuals gives a good overall approach to management training in the SME. This can even be augmented by mentoring to boost both short-term and long-term skills enhancement.

Once in place, the approaches can be established as a company norm.

When Learning’s not Enough

We note above that management is not a neuralistic activity. But many technical jobs are. Firefighting is. Firefighting is taught with reference to history as the source of knowledge.
As the Grenfell inquiry heard, “The repeated view of firefighters was that this was a fire beyond their experience; but it is also clear that it was a fire beyond their training or indeed LFB’s strategic contemplation”. This suggests that for firefighter managers to succeed, they must have seen the scenario before, or something similar on which to base their decisions.

Managers of firms would fail daily if the same were to apply to them. For an SME manager, every day is different. Managers must be selected in the first place for their abstract reasoning abilities. Of course, they need experience, but they must always use theory and models to adapt it to fit the current situation.

Management involves making sense of scenarios, then using concepts, models and methods in order to deduce (or induce) decisions.

Next Steps

As a consulting firm, TimelessTime is able to advise on the development of a management learning approach for any firm and is able to deliver certain types of management learning and mentoring.

And we offer a free programme at NQF/SQF Level 7 for all managers.


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