Wednesday, 19 May 2021

Taking management seriously

As an management educator, one thing that constantly appalls me about New Zealand is how poor most employers are about management training for technical staff, when those staff are to be promoted into management roles. 

However, it is not only large employers who show their disdain for management training: SMEs do as well, as New Zealand productivity rankings are under our OECD neighbours (Grant Thornton, 2014). Research has found that “One of the greatest opportunities for New Zealand to raise productivity lies in educating the owners and managers of SMEs [small to medium sized enterprises] in the fundamental principles of running and growing a successful business” (Grant Thornton, 2014, p. 2). In addition, in order to be competitive, New Zealander businesses require "better managerial skills" (p. 4). To put the nature of this finding in context, something like 97% of New Zealand businesses are SMEs (MBIE, 2016), meaning that a significant percentage of commercial and corporate owners and managers in this country are woefully under-prepared to deliver on their roles.

Many people who start businesses, or who go into small businesses, begin as technicians. As employees, their work quality may ensure a promotion into management; as entrepreneurs, they often start as owner-operator managers. 

But when stepping into management, we need an understanding of what management does, what our current level of skill is, and how we can improve our skills to move from the role of "a trained technician to a reflective practitioner" (Lloyd-Walker et al., 2016, p. 903). The trouble is that 'we don't know what we don't know'. For example:

"Frequently scientists are promoted into positions that require them to assume management responsibilities without preparative training for a successful transition into management or other leadership roles. The movement into non-scientific roles may adversely affect the satisfaction of scientifically trained members of the organization, especially if they lack prior managerial training" (Humphries, 2018, p. xiii).

The same concept applies to a plumber, an educator, a doctor, a forester, or a meat-worker. Deliberately setting out to learn what our new job actually entails, what it is that we don't yet know, and how to plug those gaps are critical to productive management. It is well known that "an untrained manager can create real problems for an enterprise and that a properly trained manager can make a real difference" (Longenecker & Fink, 2005, p. 25). 

It is time for Kiwis to start taking management seriously. 



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