Now that the old certainties of stable employment, a professional qualification leading to a job for life, and regular training on the job are disappearing, to be replaced by a plethora of activity under the general banner of “lifelong learning” – it is reasonable to ask “what responsibility do we have for our own development?”
On the upside, taking responsibility for our own development makes sense in an era where there are an ever-increasing range of opportunities and where flexibility, adaptability and openness to change are key competencies in themselves. On the downside it may feel that change is thrust upon us, not all of which is positive. It is difficult to see your way through making decisions about options and plans amid so much uncertainty.
Managers have to be prepared for uncertainty, which can only be dealt with by using creativity, insight and imagination. These characteristics are developed through experience, they can’t just be learned in class.
The future may be a different country but once we get there a lot of it will seem familiar. We can’t be sure what to expect but if we are well grounded in what we do now, we will be well placed to deal with the differences competently.
If we adopt a positive outlook while fostering opportunities for change and development we can open our minds to the possibility of personal growth. Taking some responsibility for this helps us feel change is being done with us not to us. All change will house a wobbly moment where the creaky floorboards of the old uncertainties have to be abandoned, but if you make the move you will find your knowledge, skills and confidence increasing.
So how do we go about this? A good starting point is to appraise honestly where you are now – what are your strengths and potential learning areas? Consider dividing your list of skills, knowledge and abilities into three areas: say, managing yourself; managing others; and managing the service. It would be foolhardy to attempt to suggest a comprehensive list of things to cover, but we can suggest a flavour. Under managing yourself you might want to consider your ability to set, review and monitor objectives, communicate your values, express your feelings, manage your time, handle criticism, manage stress and pressure, manage your performance and so on.
Even if you feel you have strong self-critical awareness, it’s still valuable to have a thorough appraisal from your managers and, if appropriate, perhaps even ex-managers and colleagues who know you well and might feel more able to offer advice freely. Also seek out any other people – including your own staff – willing to provide honest (retribution-free) feedback. Take a look at the job description, personal specification and job competencies of a position you most aspire to. Evaluate yourself against them in a mock application. By knowing where you are you’ll have a better idea of where you want to go and, importantly, the route you need to take. It’s a road map to the future.
On your map you should mark the priorities for your development – or your learning lay-bys. Don’t keep perfecting one area where you are comfortable, remember you must come out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to become a more rounded manager.
And this doesn’t necessarily mean signing up for expensive training or qualification courses and wiping out your organisation’s budget for the next decade. Most learning can be achieved at work (we will look at work-based learning in the next Managementality).
So how do you decide what is the best way to develop your learning? Look around your organisation and see what’s available. Don’t just ask to go on a course during supervision. Think about asking the human resources manager to brief you, ask a more senior manager known to be a good supervisor to coach and mentor you, find out about distance learning, e-learning and self-development packages; or just buy a good book and read it.
If you manage a small independent or voluntary organisation or project, you can do much worse than make contact with the local social services training sections to sound out possibilities of linking in with their planned programme. Naturally their own staff will take precedence but often they have under-subscribed courses that they may let you attend either for free or at some nominal rate. Or see if you can come to a reciprocal arrangement if you have training that you could provide in return.
Change is like a muscle – the more you use it the stronger it becomes. But be careful not to flex it for the sake of it. Whether change for you is about promotion or just about expanding your horizons – the real outcome is that you will bring energy, freshness and creativity to your job. And this can only result in better outcomes for the people who matter most – those who use our services.
Christine Doorly is regional director for the National Care Standards Commission; Kathryn Stone is director of Voice UK.
“When I was…
…running a ‘women in management’ course, the participants learned so much from each other – as well as the course. Firm friendships were set over the three days and some of the women are still in contact with each other 14 years later.” (KS)
…newly appointed to a management post I gave a social worker who was having trouble engaging effectively with a care home where three of his clients were, a book on positive practice in residential care. His manager saw him reading this in the office and the next day duly allocated him four more cases. His manager clearly thought he had too much time on his hands.” (KS)
- Be honest about your self-assessment – and seek feedback on your abilities from as many sources as possible.
- Acknowledge your development needs in front of your staff – they will appreciate you setting a reflective style for them to follow.
- Talk to key people – find out all options available.
- Confidence comes from only doing things you can do well.
- Your employer is responsible for training you so wait for them to come up with the goods.
- Only consider things that will help you do your current job better.