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Professional Services - Why Professionals make Lousy Managers
Dear Ndarala Colleagues
One of the issues that I mull over from time to time is just why so many professionals make lousy people managers. And, more to the point, just what can be done about it.
I know that this is not a new issue. In engineering, for example, the problems involved in promoting good engineers into management positions removed from direct hands-on engineering has been a topic of discussion for years. In medicine, the sometimes inability of doctors to communicate with patients is well know. The inability of some senior partners in law firms to manage is infamous.
While the issue is not new, I was reminded of it the other day in a discussion with a senior professional on a management issue. The professional is highly intelligent, even brilliant in his field, and also has an interest in management issues. Yet he simply could not see the issue in question. He gave instructions, his staff should get on with it!
When I looked at the discussion later, I realized that the core of the problem lay in the role, training and even language of the professional as compared to the manager.
Managers vs Professionals
A good point in looking at managers vs professionals is to start with their varying roles.
A manager's core role is to manage the resources available to him/her to achieve the objectives set for the area. Performance is always measured, or should be, by the results of the area.
In contrast, the professional's role is to carry out specific professional tasks. The core focus is on the performance of the individual professional in undertaking those tasks.
This difference in roles is reflected in training.
The professional's training dates back to the craft system of the middle ages. It focuses on the individual acquisition and application of the knowledge, skills and values associated with the profession. The core focus is individual, not collective. The subsequent rewards offered by the profession, and especially the critical recognition of peers, are all based on individual performance. It is no coincidence that the Nobel prize is awarded to individuals, not teams.
The manager's training is different.
To begin with, we have to distinguish here between the acquisition of technical skills such as financial analysis and broader management skills. Many of those coming out of business schools become technical experts and should more properly be classified as professionals rather than managers.
Beyond this, management training focuses on managing people and other resources. Further, most managers become managers by doing, by actually managing with increasing degrees of responsibility.
Differences in role and training are also reflected in differences in personality. Perhaps more accurately, different personalities are attracted into the professions as compared to management. The professions tend to attract people who prefer individual endeavour, whereas managers are more collectivist.
I recognize that these are broad generalizations. Some professionals are very good managers, some managers are hopeless managers. Nevertheless, the differences are real and mark very different cultures.
The bottom line in all this is that it is not surprising that most professionals are not good managers and that professionals and managers can experience difficulty in talking to each other.
Now if the core of the problem does lie in the role, training and even personality of the professional, what then can we or should we do about it? That is, does it matter?
I think that it does matter. Increasingly professionals are expected to work in teams, to have the capacity to integrate their work with others, to manage others. This makes management skills important. So we need to look for ways to help professionals acquire those skills.
In doing so, we need to recognize that some professionals simply cannot or will not. A person may be a brilliant technician but lack the personality, motivation and skills to manage others. In these cases we need to be flexible enough to manage round them, to benefit from the person's skills without expecting them to do things they cannot.
We also need to recognize that the professional's core role lies in their professional responsibilities. As I see it, a core challenge in the management of professional services firms is to free the professionals up so that they can do their job without bogging down in administrative and management elements irrelevant to their core role.
Subject to these qualifications, I think that three things need to be done.
First and at the most macro level, training in management and associated communications skills needs to be built into the training of all professionals.
Now I must admit to a frustration here. Anybody who has been involved in training knows that there is a difference between knowledge and skills. Knowledge, the information about what has to be done, can be acquired through private study. Skills, the capacity to do, can only be acquired through doing.
Every professional knows this. When we train specialist doctors, we ensure that they gain lots of practical experience under the supervision of experienced specialists. Yet when you look at the communications and management training in many professions it tends to be knowledge focused. We need to do something about this.
Second, we need to ensure that professionals likely to be exposed to management issues receive proper training while on the job. Again, this must be skills focused. The only way to learn effective delegation is through the combination of knowledge acquired through training with practical, assessed, application.
Finally, performance measurement systems must be structured so as to measure, where appropriate, management contribution. When I see a system totally focused on individual production I know that there will be a delegation and management problem.
All for now.
Note on copyright
This material is copyright Ndarala 2004. It may be copied and used subject to due acknowledgement. If you wish to reproduce it or include it on your web site, then please include the following words at the end of the text: "This material is drawn from the Ndarala (www.ndarala.com) series on Managing the Professional Services Firm, is copyright Ndarala 2004 and is reproduced under license. If you wish to copy it, please include this acknowledgment."
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