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    Challenging the academics


    Here’s the ugly truth the multi-million dollar management training and development industry doesn’t want you to hear: Australia’s businesses are being hoodwinked by academics.

    aa18-oct-nov-2006-challenging-the-academicsWhen an article by Harvard Business Review / NY Times Service appeared recently claiming business schools were under attack for structuring their MBA programs on the basis of scientific research and academic excellence rather than actual business practice, I felt like throwing my hands in the air and yelling, “Amen!”

    The report reiterated the frustration felt by Australia’s senior managers that leadership, management and communication training has yielded only limited returns… in the workplace.

    With many years’ real-life experience at Conceptual Management Development (CMD), in one study of 780 “key” working relationships (before our intervention), we discovered an astounding 66 percent of workers were under-performing by playing safe and making passive commitments. And in almost one in four cases it is because they suffer a serious lack of trust. The result is, at best, mediocrity.

    These relationships have proven counter-productive to building more open, transparent and constructive relationships in the workplace, where it counts. The evidence builds when you recognise that only six percent are constructive and high performance relationships.

    Those training programs have cost businesses plenty, in terms of dollars spent and working hours lost. What have they achieved? Well, people are seen to be getting along better and the workplace may be more harmonious, having provided insight and greater self-awareness.

    But do harmonious relationships make for effective and constructive relationships? And do these programs address the real issues in the workplace?

    Unlike other training enterprises, my company has developed practically-orientated diagnostics, which in more meaningful ways measure the changes in behaviour and communication – in the workplace. Following CMD interventions, a sample of nearly 400 key working relationships across 19 companies was transformed. Initially, only 23 percent had formed constructive and high-performance relationships, this was turned around to achieve a high of nearly 70 percent. In turn, those playing safe, keeping the peace, shrank from 77 percent to 33 percent after our one-on-one involvement.

    Too many scientifically-validated programs simply don’t work. An analysis of 74 senior management relationships reveals that in a staggering three out of four, communication effectiveness is rated at just 3.7 out of a maximum 10. In practical terms, this means managers are modifying their natural behaviour from “constructive” to “playing safe” when communicating.

    The problem with these training programs is, while sound in theory, they lack a “workplace context” and are limited in their practical application. They develop a more harmonious workforce, but have been woefully ineffectual when it comes to enabling people to discuss their differences, establishing mutual objectives before collaborating on a workable solution.

    After undergoing such training, managers must ask:

    • How effective are these programs at measuring, in meaningful terms, the changes taking place within specific relationships … in the workplace?
    • Do people in the workforce feel safe in discussing their differences and needs with trust and confidence?
    • Are people motivated, committed and prepared to challenge the status quo, or simply playing safe?

    Australian businesses need to throw down the gauntlet to the academics, the so-called international gurus and consulting firms who purport to have the answers. Many Human Resources managers would agree that training is not going far enough, nor is it gaining traction or sustainability in the workplace.

    If the current training practices persist down the same pathway, people will continue to play safe and keep the peace. And, by extension, personal motivation and drive will be depleted. As a result, Australian businesses will become less competitive when international markets necessitate our best efforts.

    Neale Percy is managing director of Conceptual Management Development Pty Ltd, a consultancy specialising in improving interpersonal communication in the workplace by improving relationships and workplace effectiveness.

    For more information contact [email protected] or phone + 61 3 9568