Management Training- All Sheep Dip & Bulls**t Lingo?




Management Training-All Sheep Dip & BullShit? or Something That Needs An Overhaul?

Wow, I have really had my eyes opened about management training recently. There is a saying that a little bit of knowledge in the wrong hands is a dangerous thing, well imagine what happens when you have a lot of it!

Prior to setting up SerialTrainer7 and working as the Head of Training for one of the countries largest publishers for 16years I have had the privilege, and it is a privilege, to have interacted and met some really great trainers, sitting in on many training courses including lots covering management skills. So many of these trainers have masses of management models and theories locked up tacitly in their heads, ready to spring forth on the next training session they lead.  Whilst these trainers are from many different backgrounds and areas of expertise, it is this knowledge and how it is delivered that I have a problem with.

Many of these trainers have been quite the most lovely people but something happens to them when they get their hands on the management training materials.  I am not sure whether it is a full moon or what, but somehow, the material starts to take over and they become someone different. They start talking to delegates about models and ideas that actually bear no resemblance to the real working world at all.

Take for example the management objective setting tool SMART.  Have you ever noticed that as soon as you bring it up in a training course, the sound of delegates eyes scraping the ceiling as they roll them ever higher seems to resonate in the room? It suffers with what I call Maslow-itis, the same thing happens with that model too. The problem is that businesses have evolved away from these models and new managers, (especially new managers) want a no-nonsense, no management bullshit approach to the way they manage their teams.  The days have long gone where some of these models might have worked.  So back to SMART. New and experienced managers do not have the time to sit down with all the ‘objectives’, sorry ‘tasks’, that need to be allocated and make them fit this model.  It is far easier to show them a cut down, real world version that actually makes sense and talks their language. So, in this case, What needs to be done? By who? By When? The sound of a meercat’s voice declaring “simples” chimes out. If we start to clutter it with the achievable, relevant, realistic and measurable elements then it gets further divorced from the manager and the process, staying firmly in the management textbook. Don’t get me wrong, they have a place, but maybe in a different way.

Referring to these processes is of course sometimes essential, but my point is that they need to be adapted to the modern world.  I often talk about Henri Fayol. His views could be described as old and outdated, e.g. Esprit De Corps and Commanding, but if these terms are brought up to date and applied with relevant examples then they work.  Recently when I was leading a session, someone mentioned that the ‘commanding’ element of Fayol’s model sounded too much like something from the military. Well, I was delighted, this is what I look for from delegates and this started other delegates joining in and agreeing, one of them mentioned that yes it was military but what was wrong with that? The military offers discipline and part of management is good discipline.  I was keen to explore what these new managers understood the word discipline to mean. The stuff that was coming back was incredible, check out some of these interpretations:

  • full control
  • doing as your told
  • punishable
  • being sensible
  • OCD
  • What control freaks do
  • Rules to be broken
  • an approach to get things done
  • no messing about

No management-speak there. I then offered them an example definition of ‘discipline’ to play with “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience.”  This was not welcomed at all. Hmmm. So I noticed  that whilst ‘commanding’ might be associated with military management, which was not welcomed by the group, it in turn could be interpreted as a sense of discipline, which was welcomed. However the literal definition of discipline was also not welcomed, and neither was each of their individual definitions. Interesting huh? They come up with their own interpretations but actually don’t like them. Now if a simple word like discipline can have such a wide range of interpretations and meanings, then we could end up with very many different ‘flavours’ of manager, good in some parts but if the behaviour is not consistent, or worse in line an internal management process then we could have problems. The HR department could go into meltdown with all manner of performance related problems, purely because the managers interpret the whole game of management differently. No wonder many managers abdicate their difficult conversations to HR! The group chose to apply the words ‘scrupulous’, ‘exacting’ ,’standards focussed, and ‘service driven’ as alternatives to ‘discipline’ making the meaning more fitting to them.

Of course we cannot have a one size fits all approach, but we can observe the differences within, such as personality and situation. The big problem with this is that training courses do not allow for these differences, they basically sheep dip delegates through the models and disciplines hoping that some will stick.  Furthermore, just like sheep dip, it also disinfects the delegates of their personality and working methods, leaving instead the antiseptic smell of management training along with some pretty awful new methods as each one tries to put it into practice.  Want the evidence? How many times have you witnesses a member of staff come back from such a course and start spouting management speak and behaving differently? Their colleagues then react, often saying behind their backs, “don’t worry, they have just come back from a management course, they will calm down soon.” Sure enough they do ‘calm down’ reverting to their congruent behaviour, because it is more comfortable and acceptable. If they happen to stay at the ‘just trained’ level then they go the other way and turn into David Brent, or Michael Scott depending on where you are reading this. Why? because management training does not observe individual differences, mostly because there is no time, but also because companies who buy management training don’t demand it of trainers.

So what is to be done? I am not sure that there is a panacea for all of this, there is no way to just dump all of this wonderful knowledge that is for sure, but we do need to adapt it, tailor it and calibrate to that it makes sense and can be applied.  Here we have only looked at two small examples of ‘management speak’ that is often driven into managers on courses so I repeat from earlier what happens when the rest of it is applied?

What I have learned about management training.

The management training that I have developed, and I call it a ‘journey’ as I believe that all managers go on many of these journeys, needs to reflect where they are depending on length of time in the role, not on the name of the position they wear like a badge. My journey focusses on three key elements:

  1. Self awareness of themselves performing the role of a manager, looking at what they understand the role to be, what gets them going, and how they can influence others.
  2. The team, how they look to build a team, the stages teams evolve through and how to get them do the right thing, at the right time in the right way.
  3. The effects of management, how what they do day to day impacts on themselves, their team and other departments. on this latter point how other departments can become a dependant to the manager especially HR with all the support they can offer.

I believe firmly that when people manage other people, these three factors need to be given attention. Using relevant, useful and applicable language that actually means something to the manager and the team, so that the dreaded management speak can be left somewhere else where it can rot. So many so called senior managers are not in any way senior in their approach to management activity, they might be an expert in their field such as accountancy, lawyer, gym manager etc senior in the business, but a senior manager…nah. Which is why these three areas need to be addressed depending on experience.  It is time that companies who buy management training push back on suppliers and demand less ‘management speak’ and more applicable skills that are aligned to their own internal processes, especially appraisal and performance management systems. Furthermore companies need to stop trying to put large groups through courses. I have done this myself and it does not work. Small groups of managers from specific areas work best, they can exchange relevant information and bring examples that will not alienate other people but enrich their experience in the session.  Of course this does put pressure on training budgets, however it is far better to have a robust and relevant training session to a smaller group than a larger group with a diluted message.

To take this further I also believe that management development works better in shorter sessions where possible, that way the training can bring to life each of the elements, giving the delegates the time to reflect and apply the skills, returning to the next session equipped with specific examples and questions relating to their people and their role. This approach whilst sounding overly ‘ideal world’ delivers the overall outline of the journey.  It brings more relevance, and the transfer of skills from the training room to the work place, which let’s be honest is the hold grail of development, is far more likely to be implemented and used day to day, until the next part of the manager’s journey is required.

If you would like more information on the ‘Leader/Managers Journey’ please visit or contact me, Simon Hares at Thank you for reading and considering my services.

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