Cranfield School of Management’s Mike Bourne on what he believes are the fundamentals of good management
For me, the best kind of manager is a relaxed one who focuses on the outcomes to be achieved while providing people with the coaching, mentoring, support and resources they need to succeed. The fundamental objective of a manager should be to get people to understand where their organisation is going and to encourage them to buy into that vision and engage with it. This applies to all areas of an organisation from sales through to procurement strategy, which should be set at a senior level, but delegated to appropriate departments. Once you outline your vision, you simply need to give people the freedom to actually deliver on that in their own way.
One of the biggest problems I see in companies is micro-management, which is when managers tamper too much. This is when people look at small amounts of information and see trends that aren’t there and they should be looking at the bigger picture.
Delegation is key
Delegation is a really important part of management, but it’s how you delegate that matters. It’s important to understand that you always retain overall responsibility when you delegate tasks because ultimately you are responsible for what happens.
I remember being told by a group MD at a large firm I worked for: “You have my authority to make purchases on my behalf, go ahead and do the deals” and while that can be daunting, it’s the best way to run a business. Had I made a mistake it would still have been his responsibility but he knew that he could trust me not to, which allowed him to concentrate on wider business strategy rather than smaller purchasing decisions.
Another issue I tend to find at a lot of organisations is that the senior team – the CEO, MD, FD – are doing the job of the people a level below them. This is understandable because many senior managers have got to where they are by being very good at the day-to-day work, but they struggle to step away from that work and focus on strategy and thinking about the company’s future. It’s essential that these senior figures are putting the management systems in place so that the business is equipped to meet its strategic goals: if they don’t do that, then no one else will.
"The most important thing is making sure that your supplier understands what you want and delivers a suitable level of service, and this needs to be passed down from the top"Mike Bourne, Cranfield School of Management
Using procurement as an example, I’ve never been too concerned about price- and cost-cutting. It has to be a factor, but the most important thing is making sure that your supplier understands what you want and delivers a suitable level of service, and this is one of the management processes that needs to be passed down through an organisation from the top – senior management should set strategy around these issues and it should be actioned by the appropriate stakeholders below them.
Good managers can be created
When it comes to the skills involved in being an effective manager, a certain amount comes from natural ability, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be trained. I firmly believe that anyone who wants to be a good manager can become one quite easily through formal training combined with experience. Sadly, there are a lot of people in management positions who are not good managers – they have reached the position by being a good engineer, salesperson or accountant, but it doesn’t follow that they will be able to manage a team.
For example, a good engineer may be tempted to solve other people’s problems themselves, yet that isn’t the role of a manager. The job of a manager is to manage resources and provide support and let people solve their own problems.
So how do you judge whether someone who reports into you, and you yourself, are good managers? It’s important to look at how productive a manager’s team is, not how productive the manager is on an individual level. In addition, are people being promoted and progressing under that manager? Only half a manager’s role should be based on sales for today – the other half should be looking at developing talent for the future.