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Why much management training is missing the mark.

Why much management training is missing the mark

Remember zen leadership? Or accountability leadership? Or even grown-up leadership? What about business-process re-engineering? Or quality-function deployment? Or one-minute management? Or management by walking around?

The past 20 years have seen hundreds of management fads come and go. They usually follow the same cycle. Books appear. Consultants adopt them as their speciality. Business-school curricula are changed to accommodate them. They briefly carry all before them. Then they fade from the collective consciousness like the view from the window of a high-speed train, only to be replaced by the next 'big idea'.

The result is a staggering amount of mumbo-jumbo surrounding what leadership actually is - and a dangerous confusion about how effective leaders can be identified and developed.

In the June 2008 issue of Human Resources Peter Crush reveals that while HR departments are spending more than ever on leadership development, fewer than half of organizations in the UK believe their leaders are effective. Much management training is simply missing the mark.

It's the same in the specific area of sales training. In Volume: 65 Issue: 6 of T+D Dave Stein laments that, when sales begin to slow, companies 'often turn to additional product training or one-time motivational events'. But, warns Stein, neither will solve the problem.

So what's the answer? It almost certainly involves introducing new ways of selecting and training people for the top jobs.

Too many HR departments choose their leaders of the future according to how they perform in 'normal' times in the present. Companies may do better, instead, to concentrate on those who really come into their own at times of turbulence - with new and radical ways of thinking that can help the organization to get out of the mess.

Crush quotes the example of Sony UK and Ireland, which is training its 250 leaders of the future in what it calls 'innovation leadership'. Participants form rock bands from scratch, then promote them online and try to secure as many Facebook followers as possible.

The exercise develops fast decision making and creative a collaborative culture. More importantly, says Crush, it relies less on top management's perception of what leadership should be and more on the views from the bottom up. In this way, it helps to bring to light leaders that the HR department might not otherwise have spotted.

That's not the only refreshing thing about the Sony programme. The company fully expects 'innovation leadership' to be a temporary phenomenon - just one more step on the constant journey to defining what leadership should actually be. More than a fad, it is the latest stage in the company's quest to discover what it can and should be doing better to meet the challenges of today's ever-changing business world.