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The learning set was created on the first day of the course. Members were chosen at random based on their seating position in the room and that fellow work colleagues could not be part of any group. Our set therefore consisted of six strangers from different backgrounds and organisations. No direction was given about learning sets theory or practice.
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We met as a group over a period four months. Initially we struggled with making our learning set work. At times we wanted to apply formal structures. For example in week 3 we tried a self evaluation exercise from a text book (Pedler, Burgoyne, & Boydell, 2007).
Whilst that was helpful from an individual perspective it did not fully clarify what we were meant to achieve via the set or satisfy the eagerness of some members to put structures in place.
However over a period of time the group has now gelled and is less negative about the concept of the learning set. We are still not fully behaving as a set as defined by theory e.g. we don’t always spend time at each meeting to discuss specific issues, often digressing into wider debates (Revans, 1978)
As a group we have followed the various stages of Tuckman’s classic team development model. (Alan Chapman/Businessballs.com, 2010). The application of this model is shown in Appendix 1
Account of Learning Gains
I was initially critical of the learning set process, as like others, I could not see where it was going beyond being a ‘talking shop’. Nonetheless I can see now that the process has developed me personally. This is not uncommon.
‘for those who have persisted with the process (of action learning sets) this “talk” has proved to be a powerful agent of personal and business change’ (Clarke et al, 2006).
I have learnt about my own and others learning styles. My learning style is ‘activist’/pragmatist (Appendix 2) compared to others in the group who were more in the styles of reflectors/theorists and therefore wishing to apply a more rigorous approach before engaging in the process. The set has allowed me to reflect on this style and I am now more reflective in my actions. I now consider options before acting whereas before I would almost identify the route to resolving a problem and determine my actions accordingly.
My reflective diary shows that I have become more aware of group dynamics and how people behave in groups (appendix 3). This in turn has helped me make changes to my managerial style and behaviour in situations at work.
It has also made me realise that as a manager you need to be continually reflecting and re-acting to deal with an ever changing world. I can now see that learning can be a social process and that learning is dynamic and affected by social context. Whilst we as a group have only had limited ‘formal’ learning set time, what has really been effective is the ‘informal’ time we have had as a learning set and as a cohort with other learners. In that time we have shared our experiences and learnt from each other. I have also developed friendships through this process.
I am a now also more questioning and challenging of assumptions I may have held. The academic reading has helped me to do this but so too has having the opportunity to question and be questioned in a safe environment. At times this has been uncomfortable but the rigour of keeping a reflective diary has been invaluable in enabling me to see this.
A Learning Set Process Review
One of the key issues the set struggled with was not having a facilitator or any formal input to guide us from the onset. This had the potential to make the set a talking shop, which in the early days it was. Some timely input was provided but as Revans stated it is by being ‘comrades in adversity’ i.e. having to make sense of the learning set for our MBA that we managed to progress. (Revans, 1978). On balance I would say that having a facilitator to provide the set with a steer and maintain focus would be something I would change in future.
Alternatively an introductory session on the principles of learning sets would have been helpful, though I appreciate, having been through the process, that this could potentially bias the learning that could be achieved.
Bourner et al found that setting up set randomly had the potential of creating a group of group of leftovers’ who did not benefit from the learning set process. (Bourner & Weinstein, 1996). This happened in our overall group and did influence my thinking about whether I should move sets but my overall comfortableness with ours and what I had surmised about others clouded my own thoughts around whether I should move sets (appendix 3).
We had consistent attendance from members, except for one person who missed the initial sessions as well as the mining museum event. He subsequently did not return. I would argue that for the process to benefit an individual then s/he must attend regularly so that relationships as well as confidence to question can be built up. Commitment to the process is therefore critical.
Time in meetings was also a critical factor. We probably only have had a handful of set meetings where we followed our agreed structure of each member putting forward an issue for debate. As we met only once a week meetings often did not get going and on occasions the time was taken up with other course related activities. We should have created opportunities to meet outside the set or used electronic means to communicate.
Having people who were outside of each other’s work context helped set members gain views that are independent but also enabled members to talk frankly without fear of breaching confidentiality or work related sensitivities. This is a very powerful tool as often managers do not have access to such individuals. However that does require a certain amount of trust between members. This particularly helped me with the issue I brought to the learning set (appendix 3).
The process also allowed us to have some thinking time outside of normal day to day work activities, again something that managers don’t often find time to do. One hour just was not enough. I would change the time to at least one and a half hours.
Ability to build sophisticated relationships with a variety of stakeholders and customers to help meet strategic organisational goals
Dynamic leadership and management skills to lead and motivate individuals and teams to achieve targets and outcomes
Excellent negotiating and problem solving skills
Excellent influencing skills with excellent interpersonal and communication skills, both oral and written
Children’s Workforce Development Council
May 2008 – present
Manage a team of 3 staff over seeing England wide youth workforce reform projects totaling over £4m
Member of management team for overall youth workforce reform programme with a total three year budget of £25m
Interim Head of Operations, North of England/East Midlands
Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
October 2007 – April 2008
Managed the setting up of four English regions for the newly created EHRC
Provided leadership and direction to help each region produce strategic scoping reports mapping the equalities terrain to help inform future planning
Regional Director, North of England and East Midlands
Commission for Racial Equality (CRE)
Oct 2006 to Oct 2007
Directed 4 regional offices with 13 staff based in Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Nottingham and ensured very effective working relationships with key regional agencies
Prepared, delivered and evaluated the regional business plan
Introduced and managed innovative art based projects in Merseyside, West Yorkshire and Middlesbrough respectively to support local level equality voluntary sector
Carried out a fundamental review of equality networks across the North of England
Diversity Director, North of England (secondment)
April 2004 to October 2006
Managed Acas’ equality work for the North of England
Specialist diversity lead on three person Acas team that delivered collaborative working training to the United Nations in New York
Developed first ever Acas/North West Development Agency Memorandum of Understanding for work on equality and diversity across the whole North West region
Managed the first ever joint Business in The Community/Acas equality conference in March 2006
Conceptualised and project managed the first ever Fair Employment Zone with a budget of £200k to provide employers with support, guidance and training on equality and diversity
Head of Private Sector, Commission for Racial Equality
October 2002 to March 2004
Lead the CRE’s national private sector team of 12 staff based in multiple locations and a budget of £600k
Developed and managed the CRE’s new strategy for working with the private sector
Negotiated sponsorship of £100k from HSBC and Post Office Ltd for the CRE’s Guide to Small to Medium enterprises
Oversaw the production of the revised CRE Statutory Code of Practice in Employment
Director, Equality Direct
June 2001 to September 2002
Successfully set up and managed the first ever national government helpline on equality and diversity for employers.
Trained, managed and supported 8 helpline advisers
Drafted the Department for Education and Employment’s 10 point plan for employers
Various positions including Head of Regional Strategy, Head of Legal Action Team, Social Policy Officer, Employment Officer, Commission for Racial Equality
January 1988 to May 2001
Successfully project managed five public education exhibitions attended by over 2000 individuals and employers
Managed the CRE’s funding (£1m)of Race Equality Councils in the North of England, which included supporting the development of new organisations
Developed in conjunction with the Rugby Football League the first ever campaign to tackle racism in Rugby League- ‘Tackle It’
Deputy Supervisor/ Trainer, Dewsbury Trust Fund
March 1984 to December 1987
Supervised a Community Programme scheme which provided and created training and employment opportunities for over 20 long term unemployed ethnic minorities
ANALYSIS OF THE CHILDREN’S WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL
The Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) is an England wide executive non-departmental public body set up in 2005 whose vision is to create a world-class workforce for Children, Young People and Families. It does this in two ways by supporting people working with them have the best possible training, qualifications, support and advice and by helping children and young people’s organisations and services to work together better (CWDC, 2010)
It receives an annual grant from the government’s Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) for distinct projects and core management costs. Its budget and staffing have seen massive growth over the last five years.
The organisation is strategically managed by a Board of Directors and operationally managed by a senior management team (SMT) consisting of the Chief Executive and five Directors. The SMT is supported by a small planning and performance unit (Appendix 4). Each Directorate consists of smaller teams which are responsible for programmes of work and projects. Woodward refers to these as ‘task’ functions, namely the basic activities related to producing organisational outcomes. Central functions such as IT, Finance and Procurement, Human Resource Management referred to by Woodward as ‘element’ functions i.e. those activities that support the task function sit within separate Directorates. (Woodward, as quoted in Mullins, 2007).
The HQ is in Leeds with a small number of home-based staff. The majority of these are senior staff, but also includes singleton regional managers in the nine English regions.
Appendix 5 shows how the delivery of programmes for the workforce is managed within one of the directorates. Projects are grouped into programmes consisting of small project teams. Each programme is answerable to a programme board consisting of key officials from CWDC and its sponsor body, DCSF.
Appendix 6 provides a SWOT analysis for CWDC. This shows that as a public body it operates in a complex and challenging environment, facing pressures and demands from a large group of stakeholders/sources.
CWDC is an infrastructure body that does not provide direct services to the workforce it serves and is attempting to upskill and reform the workforce to make it more effective in working with children and young people. To achieve this CWDC has put in place a significant bespoke electronic project management system into which all projects relate. This has yielded benefits in terms of consistency, accountability and close management of projects. However it is a heavily bureaucratic system which takes up significant staff time and has lead to a feeling that the system is driving the organisation.
Accountability has become a key driver for CWDC and is influencing its way of delivering its aims. All projects have significant sign off processes including SMT approval. Outward facing activity such as press releases, publications, conference speeches also require sign off at this level. Whilst this is appropriate as it ensures alignment with organisational strategy, it does create a risk averse culture and makes decision making feel longer as well causing managers to feel that they can’t make decisions.
CWDC’s structure is a tall hierarchical one that has evolved as it has grown in size. The SMT have large directorates and responsibility for staff is devolved and within Urwick’s ‘span of control’ is within the optimum number of six. Fayol’s ‘scalar chain’ showing the direct line from the top to the bottom is clear and well understood across CWDC. Whilst this brings advantages in terms of clear lines of authority and accountability, it can also lead to demotivated and disempowered staff, where staff may feel that they have no say or involvement in decision making.
Having a centralised base enables CWDC to ensure that there is a consistent approach to strategy and implementation across the organisation and enables more interaction between directorates. On the whole this is effective but having the majority of its senior staff as home workers and out of the office on a day to day basis can mitigate against this. To avoid this there is a significant use of emails and teleconferencing as well as two all staff conferences each year. The excessive use of email is however potentially counterproductive as it can lead to poorer communication, information overload, be a substitute for face to face contact, be used as a control tool thereby creating stress to staff.
CWDC’s limited regional staff presence also has the potential to create distance between the end user (the workforce) and CWDC. This is however compensated for via strong links with representative or employer bodies as well as regional roadshows.
A DETAILED ANALYSIS OF THE MANAGERIAL JOB ROLE.
Definition of Managerial Role
Despite the fact that the theory on what a manager is or does have developed significantly over the last 100 years ago, it is not easy to define the role of a manager.
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In the early 1900s, F. W. Taylor pioneered the idea of ‘one best way’ model to manage employees and structure to achieve maximum performance. Taylorism put forward the idea that the role of the manager was different to that of a worker. Around the same time. Henry Fayol identified five key functions of a manger namely planning, organising, co-ordinating, commanding and controlling. These hold true today though arguably the function of commanding has been replaced with motivating staff to achieve. (Stewart,1999)
The work of Stewart and Mintzberg several years later took a slightly different approach to the work of the manager. They identified some key aspects such as managers not operating in orderly well organised worlds, managers interacting and managing relationships with lots of people not just their direct staff, and continually having to work in a fragmented world of variety, at pace and with little free time. (Stewart 1999,) This is particularly true for me where I find that day to day plans can easily be thrown out of kilter due to unplanned events or circumstances.
Mintzberg identified ten roles common to all managers, which he put into three categories as set out below. Mintzberg suggested that a manager had to perform various roles dependent on the particular situation or context. The table (appendix 7) sets out the groupings alongside examples from my work practice:
In today’s world, many of the roles identified by early theorists are relevant, however the world has changed dramatically since then. The significant advances in technology, impact on how managers carry out the informational roles Mintzberg refers to. For example in my experience e-mails, internet and the company intranet now play a major role in enabling information to be disseminated without the need for the manager to do so.
Today, managers also need to have the right set of ‘hard and soft skills’ to manage the complex and ever-changing world, including interpersonal skills.(Mullins 2007).
Important issues for the future include managing change, leadership and motivation of staff, managing diversity, the development of human resources..(Mullins 2007)
Making operational decisions
On a daily basis I make operational decisions namely those decisions that concern the day to day running of my area of responsibility (Teale et al, 2003) and those whose impact is immediate on the organisation (Beckford 2001). Such decisions tend to be ‘programmed’ ones namely those that relate to recurring problems that have occurred often enough to enable a standard response (Daft & Marcic, 2009).In my context such decisions include decisions on which supplier to use, use of agency staff, procuring of supplies, recruiting, retaining staff. The factors I take into account, dependent on the context, will include:
existing organisational policies and practices. This is to ensure consistency as well as compliance to company processes and policies
whether I have all the facts available to me or if I need to obtain further information
budget availability e.g. when replacing staff, or sanctioning costs for services
risk evaluation e.g. considering the risk to the organisation in the decision. Most of these operational decisions will be minimal risk as they fall under my command of control. However on occasions for example terminating a contract may have wider ramifications which may well involve consultation with more senior staff
impact on staff in team e.g. making decisions of staff leave requests and whether cover is available
whether I need to consult with others to help arrive at the decision
Options available to the manager for influencing senior managers
Research has identified the importance of ‘upward influence’ as a key factor in the effectiveness of managers (Case, Dosier, Murkison, & Keys, 1998). There are a number of options available to do this. ‘Reason’ or using a logical well prepared and presented argument with supporting data and documentation appears to be an effective one when trying to put a case forward (Case, Dosier, Murkison, & Keys, 1998; Bhatnagar, 1993). An example of this in my practice is attached at Appendix 8.
However there is more to influencing than just having a good argument, building relationships is extremely important. (Paulson, 1991). A manager will therefore need to:
See things from their senior managers perspective
Keep the manager informed to enable them to do their job
Be friendly but keep a professional distance
Put forward solutions to problems
Support the manager but not to the point of being a yes person and express reservations in private
This last bullet point has some relevance to me. My reflective diary (incident of 14-16/10/09-appendix 3) shows I need to recognise this aspect more and where appropriate challenge my boss.
Operational management-level meeting
A key to the success of any meeting is preparation (Kendrick, 2004). Appendix 9 shows an example of how this works in my meetings.
This particular meeting refers to the contract inception meeting with a contractor for a complex £4m project. As such prior to the meeting I met with one of my team and agreed all the areas to be covered. An agenda is always produced, based on the purpose of the meeting and expected outcomes from it. The agenda is structured in such a way that it allows time for reviewing action points from previous meeting and prioritising the major items for discussion in order of priority. It also includes an item at the end for round of agreed actions. This is to ensure that participants leave the meeting with a clear understanding of the nature of and owner of the agreed actions.
A note taker is critical in key meetings to ensure accurate note taking and enable me to chair and facilitate the meeting. Minutes reflecting the key areas of discussion and action points are always produced within a few days of meeting, so as to ensure completion of actions in advance of the next meeting. Following the meeting a de-brief is held with the note taker to ensure all points have been captured but also to check that the meetings objectives have been realised (Kendrick 2004).
Due to the importance of these meeting I chair them. This enables me to ensure control as the contract manager. However my style is participatory and informal to allow full contribution from all participants, as it is in the organisational interest that contractors work together with us to deliver this project.
Time is at a premium for a manager (Stewart, 1999). Delegation is necessary to ensure that decisions are made at the lowest level to save organisational cost and free up time for management duties (Mullins 2007). However delegation must not be seen as a reason for merely ‘dumping’ work onto staff or ‘abdicating’ managerial responsibilities (Jones, 1979). Not all work, though, can be delegated e.g. supervision, planning, disciplinary matters which must remain with the manager (Ghazda, 2002).
The key to successful delegation lies in having a planned and systematic approach to it (Mullins, 2007). Before determining whether to delegate the manager needs to be clear on the task and whether the task is being delegated ‘for results or for employee development’ (Ghazda, 2002).
Assumptions should also not be made about the willingness of the employee to take on the task (McConalogue, 1993). They may be afraid of failure or lack confidence (Jones, 1979). Managers need to be aware of this.
The manager should also set clear objectives and identify with the employee what the expected results are (Ghazda, 2002), which should be written down (Jones, 1979). Guidance and support should be provided throughout without being too instructive as this will inhibit employee development (Mullins, 2007; Jones, 1979). Employees must be able to feel that authority has been passed on without fear of the manager constantly interfering or checking on them i.e. having the ‘freedom of action within agreed terms’ (Mullins, 2007). Monitoring of the task is important and should be defined at the onset through agreed milestones (Ghazda, 2002). Manager should also check progress informally and through ongoing supervision.
On reflection my practice covers most of the requirements for effective delegation. However I need to do more on formally considering employee willingness to carry out the tasks delegated to them and write down clear objectives as per paras 18-19 above.
Mentoring and supporting others
There are numbers of definitions of mentoring, but one that is interesting is below which highlights that mentoring can be beneficial to both the mentor and mentee.
‘Mentoring is a learning partnership between two people with different levels of experience and with the potential to achieve new learning, new insight and personal growth’ (Poulsen, 2006)
Mentoring uses all types of ‘helping to learn styles’ i.e. coaching, counselling, guiding and networking (Clutterbuck, 2004). Mentoring can be formal and structured or informal, but for it to succeed it needs to have a structure but operate informally (Clutterbuck, 2004). On reflection, I can say that I have not formally mentored my staff but I believe that at times I have followed the four learning to help styles primarily in a job task completion context. Nor did I realise its potential development benefits for me and staff. A follow up action is for me to informally mentor a member of CWDC staff and this has been incorporated into my Learning and Development Plan (see Appendix 10)
Training and Development History
Appendix 11 sets out my personal training and development history.
My development has been primarily related to my previous career within the equality industry. In particular my development has been through spending twenty years rising up the ranks at the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), achieving a high level position managing four regions within England. During that time I also went on secondment twice to enhance my knowledge and experience of working in other organisations.
Following closure of the CRE, I became a consultant. This did not last long as I found the lack of uncertainty around work to be unsuitable and I missed the security of working within teams an established organisation. My self analysis using Belbin’s eight group roles showing me as a team worker supports this (Appendix 12).
I therefore chose to take a lower level job in a new area (workforce reform policy) on the understanding that I would, within 2-3 years, obtain a higher level position within the new company or outside it.
Learning and Development Plan
My learning development plan (LDP) at Appendix 10 is based on my work related appraisal (appendix 13), issues arising from my assessment against the CMI standards (para 10 below) as well as the completion of the University of Huddersfield’s Guide to Reflective Practice Workbook (appendix 14).
A key area I would like to focus is developing my own resilience to deal with situations in a more rounded manner. This will require me to be continuously reflect on my behaviours in different contexts. I have found the rigour of using a template for reflection for my learning set particularly useful and have started to extend this to other situations.
A significant strength that has been identified is my competency to develop effective working relationships both within my team and externally. Comments from my line manager support this:
‘One of your strongest competences (working with others). You inspire others to work with you and balance a range of personal and external demands. The learning on your management course is beginning to pay dividends and providing a theoretical background to your personal approach. It is helping you to achieve at the higher levels of this competence (Appendix 13)
Reflection on the significance of the MBA programme
The programme is significant for me for the following reasons:
It will provide me with a qualification to support my 20+ years of management experience, which in turn will lead to new opportunities for progression to a more strategic management position within my existing employer or externally
It will enable me to engage with current and new management ideas and practices thereby influencing my future practice.
I will hear views and perspectives from other managers from other sector
Both of the above will make me a better manager and leader.
I am already benefitting from attendance on the programme. In particular it has helped me identify my strengths as well as areas for development. My knowledge of the theoretical aspects of e.g. managing people is also influencing my approaches to work situations. Attendance on the course has particularly given me the confidence to think differently and if necessary challenge in situations where previously I would not have.
Progress in meeting the Chartered Manager standards.
Appendices 15-16 provide a self assessment against the Chartered Manager standards using the National Occupational Standards for Management and Leadership. (http://www.management-standards.org).
This shows that I meet many of the required standards either in my current role or through previous experience. Areas for improvement are:
Consistently apply strategic thinking
Adapt leadership style to take account of diverse situations
Identify opportunities for change and development
Establish information management and communication systems
Manage complexity to positive effect
Optimise use of financial and other resources
Demonstrate resilience on achieving personal goals
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