At a glance
Updated 8 June 2023
Even the biggest and best companies in the world are prone to selling themselves short when it comes to the development of managers.
Many leading organisations are only about half as effective as they could be, with public sector organisations especially poor when it comes to getting the best out of managers in their roles, according to leading Australian business consultant Peter Mills, author of Leading People: The 10 Things Successful Managers Know and Do.
“Manager development is a critical issue for most organisations, but many managers are still unclear as to their role and do not have the knowledge, skills or experience required to perform effectively,” he says.
“The causes of ineffective individual performance may start in the organisation, but ultimately they are owned by the manager, who sets the environment and tone.
“The skills can be learned, like driving. But in the same way as driving, people can get distracted, lazy or develop bad habits. That’s when accidents happen.”
Mills bases his views on his experience in his consulting firm, The Leadership Framework, as well as his background in senior positions at Sydney Water, Canon, Warman International and Caltex. He provides an integrated, holistic model for action so managers can get the best from themselves and the teams they lead.
He believes many managers are promoted to their position because they have proved capable in another role. The management task, however, is to organise others, not do their jobs for them. Mills believes one of the most common problems is managers not setting appropriate expectations for team members, including that they will work together and continue their development.
“Management training, when it is provided, is often piecemeal and drawn from a confused mix of models and practices,” he says.
“To make things worse, many managers often find their own manager has been ‘developed’ under the same process, so you see the same mistakes being repeated, especially in relation to the basic question of the role of the manager.
“The management profession could learn from the accounting profession, where there is a consistent framework and set of principles. And I say that as someone who studied accounting before moving to the HR side.”
Mills points to the resources sector as an area where the quality of management is generally fairly high. Individual strong performers can, of course, be found in many places.
Business schools, he says, do a good job of providing technical and analytical abilities, but often fail to impart knowledge regarding people management. Most short courses for executives also focus on improving technical capacities rather than a cohesive framework.
“In the end, good people management is the core of good management,” Mills emphasises.
“That holds true whether you are managing a team of people doing technical work or if you are managing a team of managers.
“At the upper levels, there is more about strategy, but the importance of getting management methods and messages right cannot be underestimated. The senior executive who talks about the people ‘down there’ is on the path to certain failure.”
10 key components of effective management
- Understand your role as a manager. You need to achieve the business goals set for you and provide an environment that allows your team to be effective and satisfied while developing their potential.
- Understand the roles of others. This requires a clear understanding of their accountabilities and authorities and of the nature of these working relationships.
- Build a team. Effective teamwork requires a shared understanding of the purpose of the team and the shared goals. The duty of a manager is to encourage a good flow of information in all directions.
- Develop mutual trust with each team member. Productive work is enabled by systemic trust and fairness.
- Have an integrated model. There needs to be a clear model that integrates roles, skills and people.
- Create effective roles and put suitable people in them. The selection process is the start of building a relationship of trust.
- Effectively assign work. A critical point is to assign work that achieves corporate goals and allows for the satisfaction and development of the team member.
- Coach the team. One duty of a manager is to give team members the skills and tools to do their job, as well as aid their development.
- Recognise performance. Acknowledgement of achievement can be varied but should relate to the individual goals of the team member. It should be structured to enhance fairness and trust.
- Identify improvements. An ongoing responsibility of a manager is to implement positive changes and lead the team through the innovation process.