Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball stopped me in my tracks as soon as I read about the ’5 talents’ of baseball. It forced me to ask myself two very important questions. One, did we ever get to grips with what the ‘5 talents’ of management might be? Two, has conventional management been made worse by traditional talent selection and management development? To answer these questions I decided to have a stab at what the equivalent, minimum, complete set of ’5 talents’ might be for a manager?
Here’s the list I came up with, in sequential order: -
- Analytical objective setting
- Decision making
- Planning and organising
- Monitoring, checking, feedback, listening
Now, before anyone jumps down my throat and says these are not ‘talents’ or I seem to have combined several different skills into one, or whatever other criticism you might want to throw at me, let me just make a very simple point. Whatever 5 you choose as your minimum the reason we are doing this is to go and check how good our managers are. If they do not have the ‘minimum’, or have a reasonable prospect of getting there sometime soon, they should not be a manager. If you do not accept this then the whole exercise is a waste of time anyway, regardless of which ones we choose or whether we call them skills, talents or competencies.
To answer my own question I will start with number 1 on my list – we can always change or adapt it can’t we? Isn’t this better than a dictionary of 4 zillion competence statements with different descriptors and different levels for each? Hasn’t conventional management development and ‘talent management’ completely bamboozled everyone by over-complicating what is essentially a simple set of disciplines? Should management be any more complicated than running a baseball team? Shouldn’t we just manage people according to what they are particularly good at but, when it comes to the role of ‘manager’, accept it is a bit of an all-rounder that requires an all-round combination?
If we consider the management sequence should it not always follow the one above? From analysis, to objective, to decision, to planning, to delegation, to action and finally through feedback (and learning) all the way back to the beginning again? Apply it to any managerial position you like. Managing does not start with a decision or an objective; it starts with an active mind being analytical. Whatever a manager is told to do by their boss, whatever task they have been set, whatever performance targets they have to meet, they should use their analytical power to check that what they are being asked to do is not only plausible and viable but of the right priority? An unthinking manager is an oxymoron (so is a non-evidence-based manager). Only when their own analysis of their task makes sense to them can they explain the sense of it to the people they manage. That is why analysis is always first on the minimum list but so often skipped altogether in practice.
Only from there can the other talents come into play. Managers should not dither or prevaricate, even though the majority of managers are afflicted by that ailment at some time or another. A point is always reached where a decisive action has to be taken (someone should remind EU ministers and bureaucrats of this). Only when a decision has been taken can planning and organising begin. This will require the delegation of tasks and responsibilities to the most appropriately skilled people. Then by monitoring, listening and taking feedback they can check what progress is being made and manage accordingly.
We could still debate whether these are skills or talents if you want to. Pragmatically though, if they are genuinely talents, then they cannot be taught, just as I could never be taught how to pitch a baseball to the standard required of the Oakland A’s. So let’s not pretend otherwise. If they are skills then rather than focus on developing a skill (or competence) let’s just concentrate on some stats, over time, and the more stats the better. As long as they produce a meaningful track record to distinguish between those who give an impression of a being a manager and those where supporting evidence starts to stack up. Regardless of the talents or skills that any individual might possess, Billy Beane’s experience should teach us that the only track record evidence worth looking at is what ends up on the score sheet.