EXECUTIVE DEVELOPMENT Executive Muscle – Tone up or waste away

Consider this. In 2006, personal career development may be more important to key executive than money – and that’s good reason to get serious about career development programmes, say human resource and people management experts. Last year Denis Orme, chief executive of the Insurance Brokers Association of New Zealand, told employers at Robert Half Finance and Accounting breakfast that staff loyalty has little to do with the amount of money they receive. Instead, Orme advocated developing mutual trust, job challenge, and quality of collegiate relationships, along with work-life balance and mentoring and buddy programmes to aid staff retention.
In June, the results of an Employment Trends Survey of 300 employers commissioned by Select Australasia and Clayton Ford found the four most successful staff retention strategies were attractive pay and benefits, personal development opportunities, formal induction programmes and ongoing structured learning and development programmes.
Fast forward to last November, when visiting generational HR expert Avril Henry told the New Zealand Herald that people aged 28 to 40 (generation X) crave constant change, career development and learning, and to be better managers than previous generations – money alone won’t cut it, said Henry, because both generation X and Y want good-looking CV. She also cautioned employers against assuming older executives have one eye on retirement and little interest in career development – an assumption that is often wrong, says Henry. Meanwhile, half of the organisations surveyed by Select said it is important to have an attraction and retention strategy that makes allowances for generational differences and the development needs of the older workforce.
For organisations that listen, the message is clear: executives of all ages and stages value career development opportunities more than ever before. HR and people management experts believe if these needs are met, an organisation will enjoy greater staff retention and satisfaction, ‘smooth sailing’, increased productivity, reduced recruitment costs, and confident and able key employees.

The who and how
Former General Electric CEO and management guru Jack Welch would have you believe every employee can benefit from formal career development programmes. In his recent book Winning, Welch says passionate managers are not only found at executive or senior levels of companies, but on the front lines as well – business owners, middle managers, those running factories, line workers and university graduates. What ties everyone together, argues Welch, is the desire to win.
However, Welch is American. In New Zealand, while it’s true that people at all levels of an organisation would benefit from ongoing career development, the size of the profit made by smaller New Zealand businesses dictates some selection between individuals. But before you draw up shortlist, be sure budget is the problem and not attitude, warn the gurus.
“New Zealand organisations suffer from bit of the ‘she’ll be right’ and ‘near enough is good enough’ attitude. This limits the potential of New Zealand managers,” says Mike Watson, spokesperson for the New Zealand Business Excellence Foundation (NZBEF).

What’s best?
There’s veritable smorgasbord of executive development options; the most common include one-to-one coaching, group coaching, face-to-face mentoring, distance mentoring, and formal management training that might be adventure-themed, philosophy-focused or conducted in classroom, online or outdoors. So which is best?
NZBEF’s Watson says the best programmes are those selected by organisations armed with an accurate knowledge of their executives: what is the character of each individual like? Who is laugh minute, sociable and outgoing and who is conservative, private and serious? Who is combination of both? If it is team, do they meet socially outside of the work environment? Where do they go? What environments do they enjoy? What elements have to be in place for team meeting to be successful?
Beyond teams, Watson says the career development needs and favoured learning styles of individuals are all-important – some people learn poorly in classroom environment, others can be utterly miserable on any kind of development programme that requires them to “bond”, exercise or commune with nature. Some brilliant executive managers are dyslexic and struggle to absorb information from endless booklets.

Call me coach
In 2004, David Scott, principal learning and development consultant in Australasia for Hudson Global Resources, said coach could be used to help manager formulate goals around specific event with specific outcomes. Coaching, he said, differed from generic training because it focused on skill gaps that leader or potential leader might need to work on.
Geoff Lorigan, director of the Institute for Strategic Leadership and professor of strategy and MBA director at the University of Auckland Business School, is also on record as saying that organisations targeting people who are already high performers don’t need to develop many of those people to get significant return on investment.
Mark Ternent, business coach for Action International, says the structure and duration of coaching varies according to client need.
“Business coaching can generate life changing results; this does not happen overnight,” says Ternent.
Coaching skills can also be passed on once the basics are understood – which is how Ternent sometimes finds himself coaching on coaching. So what’s the difference between coach and mentor? Ternent says mentoring uses wiser, more experienced person to pass on knowledge to lesser experienced person, while coaching is mutually supportive relationship with the aim of improving or developing specific business skills.

Musing with the mentor
David Brown, mentoring services manager for the New Zealand Institute of Management (NZIM), says mentoring is good option for people who have arrived at career crossroads and are trying to decide how to develop their career further, and in what direction.
“A NZIM mentor is primarily an empathetic sounding board; we don’t coach. Protégés usually come to their own solutions with guidance from their mentor,” says Brown.
Because mentoring places more experienced manager in supportive rather than instructive role, mentoring rarely succeeds without mutual respect and trusting relationship. Brown says NZIM uses detailed matching process to decide who will mentor who, an important consideration for the individuals involved.
Mentoring is currently in demand; the NZIM programme has around 50 active mentoring relationships with demand stretching from Auckland to Dunedin. further 16 people are waiting to be matched. The mentors – who take part in workshop – are typically high profile former or present public service CEOs and senior private sector managers; and are also Fellows or Associate Fellows of NZIM.
Brown says mentoring can work well for people who have been through number of career changes or are caught in the midst of poorly managed change management strategies.
“As you progress up the management path, stresses and demands on your time begin to take over your private life,” says Brown.
Illustrating the diversity of reasons executives might need mentoring (or have it recommended to them), Brown says executives of one career discipline can be placed in charge of people of different disciplines; or young executives may find themselves suddenly promoted or amalgamated into department with older colleagues or staff. Women who take time out to have family and have returned to the workforce also seek female mentor who has managed that transition successfully. Other examples include senior managers who find they are working with board for the first time.
“A lot of mentoring is about ‘how do I get on better with my boss?’,” says Brown.

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