Management Development: Or, “Fergodssakes, don’t let the kids walk to school!”

Alex Ferguson (image above); “Who is on the pitch and are they capable of getting the ball in the net?”

Napoleon was right, we are a nation of shopkeepers. 96.7% of all UK Businesses (and a similar number in the U.S.) turnover less than one million. So, why can’t perfectly good businesses scale up?

I can tell you for sure that it isn’t our technical expertise. We are brilliant at inventing stuff and solving problems.

Having spent years working as non-executive advisor to SMEs, there are two common themes.

  • The ability of the leaders to let go of the reins.
  • The ability of the Senior Management Team to run the business.

I can’t tell you the number of businesses I have known that have grown and then fallen back because ‘the numbers are getting too big’ or ‘I don’t have enough bandwidth to manage all these guys’ or ‘I can’t trust these guys not to make a big mistake’.

So, you’ve got ‘kids’. Why don’t you let them walk to school? In other words delegate responsibility for the running of the business.

As I have seen, and in most cases, management are hired because they are brilliant at what they do, work extremely hard, are passionate and are prepared to work long hours. To quote Joe Lycett, the UK stand-up comedian, this “buttereth no parsnips” in management.

These excellent guys get into the senior management team and have no concept of what finance does, what marketing does, haven’t a clue about legal frameworks, don’t understand profit and loss, how to delegate and so on. All the stuff that the MD or Owners live and breathe. This begs the question, how do we move to a new understanding in the business?

In order to let the ‘kids’ walk to school confidently, the MD needs to be able to let go of their vice-like grip in everything that goes on. The ‘kids’ need to demonstrate that they are willing and able too. This is easier said than done…

I often say that the only KPI for an MD, is to wake up every morning believing they are acting like Alex Ferguson.

If you don’t train them, how do you expect to change this paradigm?

Remember that some people are natural managers and many are not; just because someone isn’t born to manage does not make them an idiot. Very far from it. Different strokes.

Most advanced thinking organisations pay people irrespective of hierarchy.

In today’s society, we are taught that leaders should be brilliant showmen (like Branson), wonderfully self-deprecating and incredibly even-handed. Incredibly, all at the same time. In the same way that I worry about my two girls growing up with the expectation that they should be a size zero, it’s no wonder that business leaders are confused.

If I may be clear, training and investing in your management team is the best thing you will ever buy. Before you dive in, have a thought for those creating training programmes for business; my colleague wrote this piece last week: The Top 5 Challenges For Learning and Development Professionals in 2018.

Tim Dew is the founder of Games Without Frontiers and inventor of the ROCKET business simulation.

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