Nearly half a century ago Laurence J. Peter published his seminal work on selection and promotion, “The Peter Principle”. In this satirical look at why things go wrong in businesses, he argued that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence.” His theory is so convincing that you feel it must be one of those natural laws that is just simply true, and indeed the Peter Principle is based on the behavioural observation that there is a strong temptation for people to use what has worked before, even when this might not be appropriate for the new situation.
Over the last couple of decades I have had the impression that the Peter principle is either out of fashion or no longer as relevant. Management training is now so widespread that all managers are now allegedly agile, change agents, ace communicators and inspirational. Yet intuitively I have always felt the Peter Principle in its elegant simplicity must still hold true, so you can imagine my relief when I came across an article in the Times by Alexandra Frean entitled, “Rise of the accidental manager lies behind UK’s low productivity”. She uses the term ‘accidental managers’ and explains “they have excelled in their role and are rewarded with promotion to a management position that is entirely different from the job they have been doing, only to flounder when they get there.” Does this sound familiar? The focus of her article is that accidental managers are more prevalent in the UK and account for the UK’s poor productivity. According to Ann Francke, head of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), four out of five bosses in Britain are accidental managers; so 2.4 million managers are probably not delivering to full capability. And international comparisons indicate UK managers perform 30% below the benchmarked countries of Germany and Scandinavia. Francke does not agree that good managers are born not made and makes an impassioned plea for more and better training.
Which neatly brings us on to the question: What does effective management training look like? Here are four thoughts to consider:
Building skills, knowledge and behaviors in young managers can provide spectacular results for years to come! Simply teaching and training simple skills for managing the task, the team and the individuals, does yield real returns. More investment at the beginning is a must especially training solutions for when they first move into management .
Show the managers that their managers care about the training
Research consistently shows that when a training participant’s manager shows interest and involvement this is the single most important factor in transferring the training to the workplace. Involvement starts with explaining the purpose of the training and linking it to values, strategy and concrete business needs. It finishes with senior managers who are committed to delivering results through developing performance. And keep this human!
There are hundreds of management, communication, team, interpersonal dynamics, and strategy models. Good management training understands that models can be useful BUT they need to be simple to grasp, easy to remember and actionable. And be aware of trying to bend a model out of shape just to fulfil a trainer’s desire to show how everything fits. Managers can deal with complexity too!
Skill drills beat bullet points
It’s not what you know it’s what you do as a manager that counts. Discussing the role of feedback, exploring SCARF, sharing horror stories can be useful BUT the most important things is to get managers practicing, practicing and practicing. Skill drills change behaviors and build confidence. Yes, role-plays aren’t real but they give you an opportunity to experiment and practice! And my experience is that investing in business actors always add value too. This is why Target’s own leadership and management programs focus on doing (again and again).