Ruth Spellman

Ruth Spellman - Managing the managers

According to Ruth Spellman, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, three-quarters of today's managers don't have appropriate qualifications. So what's to be done?

'There are a lot of unqualified managers out there,' says Ruth Spellman, before stating the eye-opening statistic that three-quarters of professional managers in the UK today have no management qualifications at all. Spellman is chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) in London and we're sitting in her office in Savoy Court overlooking the Strand. Savoy Court is the only road in the country where you must drive on the right-hand side, a quirk that literally goes against the flow. With only a quarter of her market qualified to do what it says on their business cards, this must be a feeling that Spellman – whose job it is to get more managers qualified – knows only too well.

Spellman, who was awarded an OBE in 2007 for services to workplace learning, thinks that the public underestimate the job of manager. We think of management as an 'innate skill', probably because it's not formally included on any degree syllabus. 'You'll only encounter management as a discipline if you read business studies at university. Only a small minority of students does that. Today though, with the launch of Campus CMI we're rolling out a plan to get management into schools.'

To qualify, or not to qualify...

The management qualification dilemma is a problem that can't be underestimated and Spellman has made it one of her main objectives to ensure that half of the UK's managers are qualified by 2020. If you want to be a lawyer, doctor or accountant, you need professional qualifications before you can practice, but with managers, says Spellman, there's a widespread assumption that if you're a decent component designer or software engineer, there's no reason why you can't lead a team of people. 'There's an old school of thought that says amateurism is good enough when it comes to management, that you can bumble your way through. The problem is that you can't.'

She explains that the work of the CMI is to give people a clearer image of themselves as managers, to challenge their current behaviour. 'We look at what's working for them and what isn't, and then develop a programme that addresses those issues. Even if you have said that you don't want to be a team manager, and that you don't want to do management, the chances are you are managing. And more and more, it's not just traditional managerial jobs that have managerial responsibility. Today quite junior jobs can include that.'

These professionals are part of an expanding group of 'accidental managers'. A typical case might be that of the electronics engineer designing board-level components. According to Spellman, this person may have two technical degrees, with as many as seven years specialist tertiary education, as well as on-the-job professional training in their technical disciplines. And because they are extremely good at their job, their company wants to retain their skills. But, confronted with the requirement to increase their level of compensation, organisations tend to have no option but to shunt them upwards into management positions they're not qualified for, and quite possibly don't want. These accidental managers account for the core of the 'missing 75 per cent'.

'Nobody's really calculated the cost of the accidental manager,' says Spellman. 'But we know these people are in managerial jobs without understanding what a manager is.'

Spellman says that while this progression is understandable, there is no guarantee that personnel involved will successfully make the transition into management. 'People fall into these roles who have no emotional intelligence, don't know how to communicate and don't see these things as part of the day job. But it is. As you rise through the ranks, you find you do less of the technical aspects of your job, and more people management.'

This is a theme that Spellman has developed in 'Managers and Leaders who Can', a book that sets out to cover what she sees as seven key aspects of management. 'The last person to seriously examine what defines the manager was John Adair, and he only covered three areas.' Adair's idea was that management was about 'task, team and person'. Now, Spellman argues, you're also managing stakeholders, risk and uncertainty, change and your brand.

Spellman thinks that the Adair model is important because as the science and art of management develops there's 'more to know. Most of us nurse illusions about ourselves, but senior people find it hard to get objective feedback. Being able to hold up that mirror is key. If we're going to transform productivity and get more out of the workforce, improving the quality of the manager is crucial'.

Origins of a manager

Spellman embarked on her professional career as an economist, which sparked her interest in the 'human aspect of managing organisations'. For the first five years of her career she worked in industrial relations in the coal industry, 'which was also interesting because of the sheer dysfunctionality in the way that sector was working'. She explains that there were lots of mine workers risking their necks to haul coal out of the ground, while their relationship with management was 'incredibly poor'. It was at this time she saw at close hand a 'conflict style' of management that she 'wished to avoid for the rest of her life'.

Following on from heavy industry Spellman moved to the consultancy practice Coopers and Lybrand, where she came face-to-face with the problem of how to manage people. 'Whether you're in textiles or the high-tech end of industry, I found the lack of management communication was having an impact on the business.'

She says she'd go into a client, analyse what was going wrong, play this back to the client and devise an action plan for how to fix it. Working in these environments helped her to gain a deeper understanding of the human interactions involved. 'For me, the timeliness of the intervention and the way that zeroes in on the issues at stake is very important. Then you have to demonstrate how your impact is paying back the business. That's really what managers need to do. You have to demonstrate a positive impact. Otherwise, why have them?'

Spellman then became chief executive of Investors in People – via an intensive change-management stint as HR director at the NSPCC – a role she 'lived and breathed for seven years'. One of the most important principles of the Investors programme is that it 'always had to be owned and driven by the CEO. You had to get the business as a whole committed to managing people properly, and not just see it as a side function of the HR department. That's when you see the benefits'.

One of the things Spellman has observed during her career is that 'you occasionally see someone who is really good. But if the organisation doesn't value that person or provide a development framework, then that manager's role can be a lonely place to be.

'What Investors did was take on the culture of an organisation and track the difference it made over time. That's why small businesses wanted to do it. They didn't do it because the government had told them to. They did it because they wanted the business improvement process.'

From Investors in People, Spellman became the first female chief executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in its 150-year history. 'I think I was an experiment as far as they were concerned, but they did know that they needed to change. We spent a year and a half on strategy and then cascaded that all the way through.'

Out of this consultation came the four primary themes that the IMechE focuses on today: energy, transport, education and environment.

From the IMechE Spellman came to the Chartered Management Institute. 'What I found here was a huge number of dedicated and skilled people. But there wasn't much of a visible outward mission. The first thing for me was to try to corral some of the talent and energy into a plan for what the CMI actually wanted to do for the next five years.

'We have to be pretty good at the CMI,' says Spellman, 'because we stand for something in the public eye.' What this means is that Spellman concentrates on value and quality 'and always will do for as long as I'm leading the CMI. The message is: keep the standards where they should be and to widen the access'.

Growth through management

'You need scientists and technologists to drive industry,' says Spellman, elaborating by saying that 'we need a healthier and more dispersed manufacturing base to prepare for future economic growth. We've gone through a lot of contraction and it's time for us to rethink our industrial strategy. Maybe time to actually have one, for a start. The government is never going to invest on any major scale, but we should be asking what we need to encourage economic regeneration.

'First we need good managers. We need qualified managers. We need a lot of them. And they need to cover all the sectors. We need them in public services too. Although people say that this isn't part of the wealth creation process, I think it is.

'You tell me one private sector industry that doesn't rely on good education or transport systems. And so the issue of how we transform management goes across the sectors. You can't have a healthy private sector that makes no demands on the public sector. The generic skills of management go across the piece. Let's not think 'private sector, good: public sector, bad'. It isn't that simple. But in a recession the key lessons are that the private sector needs to behave more ethically, while the public sector needs to be more efficient. Now that is a huge generalisation, but having said that, this is what we at the CMI are trying to encourage.' *

'Managers and Leaders Who Can' by Ruth Spellman is published this month by Wiley, £18.99

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