Building the Management Tool Kit for the New Innovation Economy

June 18, 2013
by Clark Jordan

Over the last 20 years, business organizations have made great strides in getting “lean.”  They have adopted just-in-time production and service techniques; installed labor saving equipment and software systems; moved operations to low-labor countries; optimized their supply chains; and enhanced their internet connectivity and marketing outreach.  Simultaneously, companies have thinned the ranks of middle managers and upper level executives to further reduce costs.  The accumulated result has been a dramatic increases in productivity, huge increases to the bottom line and sky-high management frustration with the complications of running these modern enterprises.

Thus the frustration is rooted in the far greater span of control and the greater business complexity that managers face today.Consider a research or engineering project manager who once oversaw the efforts of 10-15 colleagues must now keep track of 25-40 direct reports.  At the same time this individual must directly interact with representatives from functions outside of the technology arena such as Marketing, Finance, IT and Operations among others.  These other functions impose reporting and control requirements and speak in a “language” that the engineering manager often has no familiarity.  Gone are the project team members who, in the old days, interpreted and responded to the needs of other functional areas and generally ameliorated the “friction” among the various business areas.  These “mediators” have been swept away for the sake of flattened organizations and improved profitability.

But a major problem is becoming apparent; desired cost improvements are getting harder and harder to obtain. Despite professional dedication, frictions and the subsequent frustrations with those frictions are slowing product development and operational productivity and threatening previous gains in profitability. Enlightened corporate leaders are coming to the realization that they need to re-invest some of the company’s profits into broader personnel development up and down their executive and management ranks.  These key players need to develop skills and utilize management tools that allow them to more effectively lead their large creative teams while at the same time more easily interface across the functional boundaries of other business areas.

At the Rady School of Management’s Center for Executive Development (CED), we are responding to this growing need by working with corporate leadership along three concurrent paths.  The first is our Leadership Assessment activity which is a good place for many managers to start.  Unlike some such assessment programs which only measure communication and interpersonal skills, we also include functional business acumen.  With reports to both the participant and his/her superiors, developmental opportunities can be more precisely identified and subsequent improvement plans designed with a focus on the individual.  In the long run, this can save money by not investing in a one size fits all capability improvement effort in areas where an individual manager is already proficient.

The second path covers developmental opportunities in interpersonal communication and leadership.  With ever larger and more diverse teams to manage, leaders must continue to hone these so-called “soft” skills.  Communicating in the Work Place, Negotiation, Conflict Resolution, Emotional intelligence, Public Speaking and Leading Innovative Teams are some of the courses most often requested by our client companies.

The final path covers the so-called “hard” skills such as those in Marketing, Finance, Supply Chain Optimization and Project Management.  Returning to the example of the project managing engineer; we seek to provide an individual with an understanding of the “language” of these various functional areas. 

Better management capabilities provide better individual performance and self-confidence, which at the same time reduces frustration.  The investment in improving those capabilities will provide extraordinary returns.