Management as a Professional Practice
I believe that people who are promoted to manager are doing the best they can with what they have. People do not want to be bad managers, or to be compared with the (sadly) prototypical manager from Dilbert.
To shift the seemingly foregone conclusion that organizations will have bad managers and employees will be disengaged — i.e. the Dilbert scenario, we need to start by treating management as a professional practice just as doctors and lawyers practice their professions.
A professional practice means integrating learning into a consistent and accepted structure within the workplace. As mentioned above, a method to establish this structure is by establishing a Management Community of Practice as a discipline within an organization. The primary activities of this Community of Practice include: assigning time for continuous, regular study and application of the science of organizational and personal behavior and performance; the sharing of experiences within the community; and the availability of group and individual coaching.
The Structure of the Management Community of Practice
When creating this community the crucial starting factor is to design around the needs and curiosities of the management team. Each session should be designed around identified concerns, time availability and resources.
One way to structure the Community of Practice is to start with an open invitation to all current managers and those interested in management to attend a two-hour weekly seminar. During this time, one or two management topics are presented and discussed in a conversational-style dialogue. Participants are asked to complete one weekly reading and respond to a series of reflective questions.
The management topics are chosen by the participants and the organization’s senior leadership to address current needs and interests. These topics may include: the cultural tradition of management and managers; the nature of human beings, groups and organizations; effective work cultures; developing trust in the workplace; accepting mistakes as part of the process; working and communication styles; how to create self-organizing teams; hiring and retaining employees; and other topics of interest and relevance. The structure of this community is dynamic and organic with a focus on relevancy and immediate applicability.
Participants may request one-on-one time with an advisor to deepen and broaden their new understandings and skills. This time is important, and in my experience, has allowed me to further customize the learning and application of an individual’s management abilities.
With a Management Community of Practice, the benefits include not only the augmentation of management skills, but also the creation of a community of learners in the organization. Individual managers gain a team of peers to compare notes, bounce off ideas, and generate new perspectives on the challenges facing a team or organization.
In effect, these Communities of Practice become collaborative management teams, and create the foundation for a sustained learning organization that produces highly skilled, collegial and innovative managers. A culture of coming together to converse, share ideas and generate new ways of thinking is developed, which leads to more inclusivity within an organization and closer bonds between managers and employees.
The results from this cultural shift are significant. I have observed front-line managers and Senior Leadership show greater loyalty to the organization as well as higher productivity demonstrated by teams and individual contributors. Managers show a greater degree of unity, cross-functional collaboration, increased innovation and improved effectiveness. Ultimately, organizations who invest in their managers become the exceptions in the Gallup Polls – and are the places we want to work.