Developing managers from early in their careers can increase performance, strengthen organisations and improve their competitive edge, say experts – and their economic influence in an economy may rival that of entrepreneurs.
Jenny Boxall, who runs the New Manager Programme and Programme for Management Development at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB) that focus on managers in the early to mid-phase of their careers, says companies are increasingly realising the importance of investing in management early on.
“There is often a lot of emphasis on developing leaders at executive level, but before you can become a leader you need first to learn the skills of good management and self-mastery,” she explains.
Other scholars agree. A solid leadership pipeline strengthens the function of a company by cultivating emerging talent while enhancing organisational capability, according to a recent White Paper developed by the Insights Group.
“Developing a leadership pipeline starts with identifying and then nurturing talent by exposing high-potential individuals to a variety of developmental opportunities and experiences. This leads to a more wide-ranging and holistic knowledge of the business and its inner workings,” argues the paper.
And better management at all levels can, in turn, unlock economic growth by energising lacklustre job performance – say researchers in Harvard Business Review. There’s more to progress than technological innovation, argue Richard Straub and Juliet Kirby, breakthroughs can also result from innovations in management.
They point out that managers are among “the great rule inventors and implementers of the world” and ask, “Could we collectively innovate in the practice of management so much that we ushered in a new era of growth?”
Warwick business school’s Keith Glaister agrees that “… in the modern free market economy management’s role is at least as important as that of the entrepreneur.” His research on the topic has revealed that the quality of management, and the adoption of appropriate management practices, matters and directly impacts economic growth.
Research from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), the world’s leading study of entrepreneurship is also increasingly recognising the role that innovation from within companies can have in an economy. Traditionally a study that tracked the rate of entrepreneurship in economies around the world, GEM now includes a rating of Entrepreneurial Employee Activity (EEA), measuring the rate at which employees launch new services or activities for their employers rather than starting their own companies. The benefits of EEA are widely recognised, both for employers – who benefit from the contribution – and for entrepreneurial employees, whose creativity is exposed to less risk.
The bad news, says Boxall, is that Africa lags behind the rest of the world in this area, with the lowest rates of EEA globally at just 1%. “So there is significant scope for organisations here to up their game and find ways to unlock the spirit of innovation amongst their managers,” she says.
With South Africa facing an economic future of constrained growth and limited resources, a focus on talent development within organisations should be as important as fostering an environment that is conducive to entrepreneurship, argues Boxall.
It is a trend that is gathering momentum around the world too. The Financial Times reported in 2015 that there has been a steep increase in people seeking executive education training, with the overwhelming majority being sponsored by their employers.
“Managers and management have a pivotal role to play in shaping organisations and growing the economy,” asserts Boxall. “Business and government alike should be looking at developing the management skills of promising individuals at all levels of organisations, while also paying attention to the stage of their development since their functions become more complex as they progress.”