In the fall of 2013, Richard Paton published The Politics of Management: Thinking Like a Manager. For over 25 years, Paton has been teaching a practical management course in the Masters in Public Policy and Administration program at Carleton University. The course was designed to help young public servants and staff of non-profit organizations begin the process of learning how to be effective managers.
Paton has drawn on both his academic training at the Kennedy School of Government and experience as a senior executive in the federal government in positions such as Deputy Secretary in Treasury Board and as president and CEO of a business association, the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada. In the following article, he reflects on the importance of, and need for, leadership development that focuses on the transition to first-time management positions.
After teaching several hundred students over the years, I have found that there is a major need for what I call “real management development courses,” or a program with a focus on the role of the manager who must now manage in a complex environment and making critical decisions relating to the organization.
The Politics of Management was developed to provide some key insights, concepts and strategies that can help young professionals begin to develop their management talents and hopefully survive in their first two management jobs.
First time managers
A key focus of the book is the transition for first-time managers and the stress and strains they face in accepting their first management position. The research done on this transition in the private sector indicates that it is very difficult for most first-time managers to adapt to a management role. They face considerable challenges accepting that they must manage their relations with their superiors and deal with key areas such as budget and personnel performance issues.
First-time managers cope with difficult challenges in developing their own managerial identity and, for at least a year, they are likely to be both frustrated and confused about their worth to the organization.
My conversations with executive coaches confirm that the degree of difficulty that government managers are facing at all levels and, particularly for first-time managers, is exceptional. These jobs are more and more complicated and the success rate is not good. It is important to understand why some managers do well and others falter. In her research, Linda Hill of the Harvard Business School found that first timers can prepare themselves for this role. Knowing the experiences of others, and what has worked for others in their position, definitely helped in the transition.
For this reason, there is no doubt that the right management development programs could help first-time managers cope better with these transitions. A positive transition could have important implications for the rest of their careers.
Unfortunately, there has been little progress in the field of public administration when it comes to teaching management. There has been some improvement in government programs in areas such as understanding leadership styles. But overall, there is little available in terms of courses, cases or literature that would help a first-time manager or any manager, for that matter, improve the chances of being effective in their job.
What is real management development?
If public sector organizations want to develop effective managers, there are at least six elements that are essential.
1. Start early. To develop managers, public sector organizations should start the development several years before managers take on these roles, because it takes time to absorb the essence of being a manager.
2. Understand organizations and management dynamics. A good program should help potential and existing managers understand organizations, the dynamics of decision-making, what makes management excellence, and key concepts to assess challenging situations.
3. Develop self-knowledge. A full program should aim to help potential and actual managers develop the self knowledge required in terms of management style and their impact on others. Some progress has been made in this area in governments over the past 20 years with leadership style courses.
4. Develop literature specific to the public and non-profit sectors. Management development programs should be rich in literature, cases, and examples of managers managing in various situations such as: how to manage a region; how to manage a service or policy or regulatory organization; how to manage a science organizations; or how to make the transition to a new job or first-time management job.
5. Encourage reflection and continuous learning through networks. An effective program would help managers constantly reflect on their experience, learn from others and mentors, and deepen their abilities to understand and manage in complex situations.
6. Evaluate progress of participants. Finally, there has to be some evaluation process to determine if participants are absorbing the concepts and insights and how to apply them to management roles. This seems to be a weakness of most public service programs and a real strength of university courses that meet the requirements for degrees.
The dark side of the state of management development today for the public sector is that we are still a long way from having a strong platform that will help public sector and non-profit staff make a healthy transition to a managerial role and then maintain their effectiveness as a manager throughout their careers.
Why have we not made much progress when the need is so great?
For the academic community, there is a huge challenge to develop the research and literature that deals specifically with managing public sector organizations, especially for first-time managers. This kind of research requires studies of real managers and the strategies that they use to be effective. This is not generally the focus of public administration in Canada. This also requires a level of interaction and synergy between academic institutions and governments or non-profits that is not well developed in Canada.
The book is just the beginning of what we need to do to help the next generation of managers cope and be effective within the realities of modern public organizations. We need a full program of research, cases and literature, combined with a development program, to make a significant impact on the managers of the future.
The Politics of Management: Thinking Like a Manager ($24.95) is available from the publisher, General Publishing House, or from Richard Paton.