Management development programmes are no longer about giving managers a qualification to put on their CV. They are about changing the organisations culture in response to a harsh financial climate. No longer being able to afford to do things the way they have always been done means things must be done differently.

Most management development programmes fail to change the organisation’s culture for two reasons. They run out of steam before they reach the critical mass of managers and they fail to build on the initial programme.

The harsh financial climate means that organisations have cut back on training and management development. However organisations need to deliver a transformation agenda in response to budget cuts and they need to do it at a time when some of their most experienced managers have taken voluntary redundancy or early retirement.

The resulting skills gap needs to be met by an in-house programme that can train up large numbers of managers quickly. This is about a cultural change since these organisations will look and behave very differently as a result of 30 per cent budget cuts over three years.

Corporate management development programmes are not new. Sometimes they are delivered in partnership with other agencies in the locality; often there is an input from a university or management consultants. They start at the top with senior managers with the aim of working their way through to middle managers and eventually cascading down to all managers but invariable run out of momentum and money before significant numbers of middle managers have been on the programme.

Organisational change will only happen if a critical mass is reached in numbers and tiers of management. Whether the programme is delivered as a block or one day a month such large scale programmes typically take years to deliver and all the time there is a turnover of managers.

What’s more, like any training, if it is not built on its impact on the individual quickly dissipates. Then a new chief executive arrives and asks: “what we have got for all this money we have spent over the last few years?” and the programme gets scaled back or wound up.

You can reasonably predict that in a medium to large organisation if you get two thirds of managers through a management programme within three to four years you will have dramatic and powerful organisational cultural change, provided you have installed the follow up to build on the initial programme. This critical mass may vary from organisation to organisation and may depend on how dramatic the shift required is.

Programmes fail when not enough planning goes into achieving a critical mass within a realistic time scale and insufficient thought goes into supporting managers when they come off the initial programme. Inevitably over a three to four year period there will be shifts in priorities and changes of policy what won’t change is the need for managers with good people management skills.

The aim of the programme should be to get senior managers to have a common understanding of what type of managers and what type of management behaviour the organisation wants. The management development programme is just one way of reinforcing this message. Managers can be supported and the programme built on through mentoring and management learning sets.

A detailed case study of a successful management development programme in a large organisation can be found in Equipping Managers for an Uncertain Future published by Russell House.


The health secretary will hear you now

The politicians may claim to be listening but what’s the betting at the end of the consultation there will be many who say they were not heard. By consultation a politician doesn’t mean “we are seeking a consensus”, what they mean is “we recognise that what we propose is unpopular in some quarters but we think that if people better understood our plans more would support them”.

Politicians recognise that it is not simply about making a good business case for these change; there are interest groups to placate and a calculation about whether short term unpopularity will carry through to the next election.

Put another way politics is always a balance between pragmatism and idealism: what a politician says and what they mean.

So when a politician says “We have no plans to privatise this service”, this does not mean they are not thinking about it.

”There will be a full consultation process before any decisions are made” translates roughly as the politicians and their political advisors know what they want to do.

“Nothing has been agreed until it has been put before Parliament”, but the cabinet have already calculated what they can get through.

Some compromises may be made along the way, a few sops to the more vocal pressure groups, a phased introduction or a toning down of some of the most radical changes in response to the more powerful interest groups - but the plans that were consulted on will be implemented.