Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Transitioning to General Management

The last sixteen months , I have been struggling to design and deploy a Management Development program which would help Functional Managers to take up General Management roles. My first intervention was launched exactly a year ago. The intervention was a good attempt, but probably did not meet its desired objectives. My passion for the subject made me go back to the drawing board and explore some of the fundamentals of General Management with all its cognitive and affective issues which impede the transition from Functional to General Management.

Most of us in the business of Talent Management and Development know of The Leadership Pipeline ( Ram Charan , Steve Drodder , and Jim L Noel ) and the 6 leadership passages ( passage 4 being From Functional Manager to General Manager) . While the treatise of Ram Charan and Co succinctly capture the key challenges of this transition, it does not help us in “How-To” build these capabilities. The “How-To” of transitioning into General Management was my key intellectual endeavor.

This post captures two key perspectives that I gained in the journey, and hopefully would leave the reader with some insights worth examining .

The Key issues

a) "The Common Myth- Doing more of the same is the recipe to success” –Most successful managers transition to general management after proving their capabilities in a functional track (viz, Operations, Marketing, Technology, Finance etc). General management incumbents do not recognize that General Management is a completely different skill set and hence continuing to operate as functional managers disaster is unavoidable . According to me, the primary reason for this behavior is a deep rooted fear of charting into an unknown territory and knowing only to use their signature strength (read –key competence) to manage issues which do not necessarily require functional expertise. The consequences are not hard to guess …..Sub-optimization of resources, heightened functional conflict etc etc ….From a development perspective it is important to make managers unlearn and ensure that they recognize the fact that their signature strength would be their signature weakness going forward .The way to build general management capabilities is to identify managers who display intellectual flexibility early in their careers (while they are working in their functional streams) and continuously give developmental inputs. I would reckon that to create a successful General Manager requires at least 3-5 years of planning ,which I guess most Indian companies would be unwilling to do , but indeed there are no short cuts !!

b)Integration and Managing Complexity –The Key competency : The key competencies for General Manager's are Integration and Management of Complexity , things that the Indian manager are never trained at. The concept of integration is alien to us, as manager we prefer to operate in functional silos and perpetuate silo behavior in our teams , I have seen this territorialism in almost all companies that I have either worked for or consulted with . Most of our performance objectives are set functionally and the General Manager is measured on tangible business outcomes. While I don’t have a quarrel on setting functional measures for functional managers , but at a General Management level I do have a problem when only financial metrics are used to evaluate their performance . According to me a General Manager has to create sustainable value for the enterprise and the only way to do is to integrate functional inputs seamlessly so that the value for the firm is optimized, what happens in real life is a sub-optimization of value based on the functional predisposition of the General Manager . Ex- If a General Manger is from a Finance background , I have noticed a deep rooted desire to reduce costs , increase productivity , improve supply chain efficiencies (at least from a sourcing perspective etc ..) similarly if an operational manager assumes general management responsibilities his endeavor will be to reduce maintenance time , process innovation , reduction in product change over times etc . While you maybe aghast at my generalizations, the point that I want to make is simple ….as a General Manager one cannot and should not have any functional pre -disposition , his goal is the management of value from a firm and systemically ensuring that the value is sustainable , and hence his measurement metrics should be much more different that is today .This is a fundamental shift from the way General Managers think . I do not have a ready made solution , but I do believe that Systems Thinking is a key competency that helps in integration , most Indians are culturally tuned to thing linearly and so it’s a rather difficult challenge to see the cause effect relationship in a longer time horizon


In the follow up posts, I shall document other cognitive challenges of General Management which are also very important . The next post will be on the concept of Local versus Global Optima and the time horizons of success for a General manager..keep reading J


donkeySOUP said...

For few CEOs, it has now become a habit to show profit only thru inorganic growth or cost reduction.

Keep posting.

Rajib said...

I liked your last blog. The same thing I see prevail in many organization in US as well.

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