Management Skills: Missing in Action

Even before the most difficult economic climate since the Great Depression, "middle management" talent was in short supply. Team-based organizational structures and leader-less teams promoted the idea that individual performers, using consensus decision-making, could set goals, supervise and motivate each other and gain sharing would take care of fair compensation practices. Thus many organizations did not actively create management career paths, and supervisory and management skills training was frequently optional, if offered at all.

Fast forward to 2008-2009, and it comes as no surprise that a SkillSoft survey of approximately 6,000 workers in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia and Spain indicates that 74 percent of workers, on average, report that they are being asked to do tasks for which they feel they are insufficiently trained, and those reported to be the most in need of training for management skills were supervisors and line managers.

Think about your business. How many current supervisors or managers were great at their jobs as individual performers but who struggle managing people and projects? You may be familiar with the business concept of the "Peter Principle," coined by Laurence Peter, a psychologist, who indicated that in a hierarchical structure such as most companies, employees are promoted as long as they are performing their current duties competently. Peter believed that sooner or later, employees would be promoted to a role where they were not competent, which he called that their "level of incompetence." Thus, competent employees will be promoted until they reach their level of incompetence, and they will stay there.

Over the years, the Peter Principle has, unfortunately, held true in many organizations, but there have been two actions that have helped poke holes in Peter’s theory. The first is that supervisory and management skills are "trainable," and the second is that organizations do take action to move employees out of managerial positions if it is evident, over time and after training, that they do not have these management skills.

However, if the SkillSoft survey and our personal experience and observation are accurate, then organizations need to resurrect the basics when it comes to supervisory and management skills training. How good are your supervisors and business managers at motivating and managing their work groups? How good are they at giving both positive and constructive feedback and conducting formal performance reviews? Coaching for performance and behavior change is another critical skill for those who need to demonstrate management skills. How would you rate your supervisors and managers on this skill?

It is unfortunate that during economic downturns, leaders make revenue creation and pursuing new business their top priorities, while finding, training and keeping the best talent is put on the back burner. After all, it will be your top employees who will help their teams increase productivity and help you maintain a competitive edge. Without skilled middle management, this job may fall to your senior leaders, or, worse yet, it may not get done at all, and management skills will continue to be MIA.