Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New management skills contd.

Continuing to identify some new skills needed by senior managers:

*Be an expert in multiple areas of the business.

Toshiba starts its engineers and scientists off in the sales department so they can learn first-hand about the customer’s needs. In earlier days, Chrysler encouraged the development of broad-bandwidth expertise by giving senior executives multiple responsibilities. For example, when Tom Stallkamp was head of purchasing, he also ran Chrysler’s minivan operations. Executive vice president Francois Castaing ran international operations and was also in charge of engine and transmission development. Lester Thurow, a former dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management, noted that when financial managers were running American steel companies, they didn’t understand important new technical processes such as continuous casting. As a result, they decided to wait and see how the process worked in other countries before committing to it themselves. By the time they gained that knowledge, their companies had fallen too far behind to catch up. “You don’t have to be a scientist,” observed Thurow, “but you must be able to read the material and know how to proceed.”

*Have excellent interpersonal skills.

Abba Eban, the former Israeli foreign minister, commenting on a Group of Seven Nation's summit conference, observed that although the leaders who attended represented an extraordinary concentration of power and intelligence, their meetings didn’t result in much progress. He added, “Perhaps, it’s because each of the leaders was thinking individually, not collectively.” Getting senior managers to work together takes a lot of effort, particularly when they grew up and became successful largely as a result of their own individual initiatives in a highly competitive, conflict-averse culture.

Early in their careers, managers spend most of their time dealing with situations where the rules are relatively clear. When they’re promoted to senior positions, they find more gray areas, especially when dealing with other people. In their new roles, success springs not so much from what they know as technical specialists but from their connections, relationships and ability to work with and influence others. While disagreement and conflict fuel the creative process, experience shows that most companies smooth over contentious issues and avoided confronting them at least half the time. Another 30% of the time they lead to non-productive fighting with no clear resolution. Only in 20% of cases is contention truly confronted and resolved.

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