Managing the “Peter Principle” – Developing Key Leadership & Management Skills

Managing the “Peter Principle” – Developing Key Leadership & Management Skills

by  Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

What are the risks of poor leaders, what are the key skills and capabilities a good leader needs to have, and how can you do this?

Introduction

Effective leadership requires a blend of skills – commercial, relational, managerial and cognitive.  However, many organisations suffer from having leaders who lack these skills in full or part.  Often such leaders are victims of the “Peter Principle”.  It was formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, a humorous treatise, which also introduced the “salutary science of hierarchiology.”

In summary, the Peter Principle assumes that people are promoted because they are competent, and that the tasks higher up in the hierarchy require skills or talents they do not possess. It concludes that due to this, a competent employee will eventually be promoted to, and remain at, a position at which he or she is incompetent.

An alternative version of this is the “Dilbert Principle”, a 1990s satirical observation by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams which, by contrast, assumes that hierarchy just serves as a means for removing the incompetent to “higher” positions where they will be unable to cause damage to the workflow, assuming that the upper echelons of an organization have little relevance to its actual production, and that the majority of real, productive work in a company is done by people lower in the power ladder.  This is beautifully illustrated here and below.

The Dilbert Principle - Leadership

What We Need From Leaders

Whichever principle you subscribe to there is an underlying theme – leaders who lack the necessary skills, experience and insights can cause considerable damage to the business. This can happen even if the leader is acting in what he or she believes is the business’ best interests.

Leaders need to be able to listen and respond, be flexible, adaptive, and be able to develop innovative solutions whilst handling multiple and conflicting priorities.  The speed and complexity of business is becoming faster as is the rate of change in the business environment.  This means that important and significant decisions have to be made quickly, often with incomplete information, which can carry significant risks.  Leaders need to be able to handle this and more, they cannot rely on the skills that got them to their current position to keep them there – they need to grow themselves and develop new skills and capabilities on a continual basis.

From this it is clear that leaders and managers need a broad general management development that focuses on commercial, relational, managerial and cognitive capabilities. We need to ask some tough questions about how our organization is training its leaders and managers to develop these vital elements. Those responsible for commissioning, designing and/or delivering leadership and management training must ensure that programs move beyond task-related knowledge and skills and emphasize a fuller range of general management competencies that are needed to manage increasingly complex markets and business relationships.

Critical Leadership & Managerial Skills & Capabilities

We have identified four categories of skills and capabilities that leaders and managers need in this new environment: Commercial, Relational, Managerial, and Cognitive.  These comprise of 10 specific yet integrated skill sets that exist.  These are listed and detailed below:

Summary of Business Development Skills & Capabilities

Commercial Skills & Capabilities Financial Insight
Business Acumen
Customer Insight
Relational Skills & Capabilities Managing Relationships
Inspiring Trust
Managerial Skills & Capabilities People Management Skills
Openness to Change & Adaptability
Influencing Skills
Cognitive Skills & Capabilities Innovative Problem-Solving
Ability to Identify Opportunities

Commercial Skills & Capabilities

Financial Insight

This includes understanding the implications of the proposed work for the company – revenue, margins, profitability, cash flows and risks associated with the work and the associated opportunity costs.  It also includes the ability to forecast and analyse client work, budgeting and prioritizing the work accordingly. The leader needs to be able to identify, uncover and anticipate the financial aspects of current and proposed work in terms of being able to assess the costs associated with the status quo, the benefits and associated value of the work, and its impact and implications on the achieving key financial metrics and objectives.

Business Acumen

This is the ability to understand the implications of the technical/specialist work and how it applies to the client’s business at both the level of the work being done, and how it impacts other areas of the business and the business as a whole.  This includes being able to translate technical outcomes and benefits to those of the business, and to align them with the business’ objectives and goals and those of the economic buyer(s) within the client (the individual(s) who have the authority and budget for the work and who have a vested interest and responsibility for the outcomes of the work).

Customer Insight

The ability to understand the client and to adopt their perspective, ensuring that current and proposed work is aligned with the clients’ needs and requirements.  This includes having a good understanding of the client’s company, industry, competition and key trends.  This allows the company to orientate its positioning and work around the client, and ensure that the outcomes are aligned with the client’s needs.  This ensures the company is not focused what it does, but it focused on the outcomes the client needs (these are often not what the client wants).

Relational Skills & Capabilities

Managing Relationships

In complex business situations there is a need to be able to manage multi-level, multi-functional relationships to uncover, identify, develop and manage business opportunities.  Externally, the company needs to identify and address the economic buyer, key decision-makers and influencers and to understand their respective roles, interactions and what they need to progress the relationship, and how to build it according to their personal preferences. There is a need to ensure that the right people with the right technical and commercial skills are matched appropriately with their peers in the client’s organisation to ensure a proper communication flow, and for the company to integrate itself into the client organisation at multiple levels.  Furthermore, how to manage and influence stakeholders is key.

Inspiring Trust

Trust is the essential component to being able to uncover and win opportunities with clients, as well as maintaining and developing key stakeholder relationships.  This takes time and effort, and requires creating rapport, understanding and establishing common areas of interest where the individuals in the company can demonstrate and prove themselves as helpful, relevant and of use.

Managerial Skills & Capabilities

People Management Skills

Much of business-to-business selling is done via teams and cross-functionality.  There is a need to manage the demands on the company in internally managing the resources and people required in winning client business, and the ability to handle people and deal with conflict in doing so. Business is based on relationships, and the ability to both manage the people and the associated relationships is important.

Openness to Change & Adaptability

Businesses are subject to change at an accelerating rate.  This requires the company to be able to adapt and meet these changes to survive and thrive, and to maintain focus and direction as priorities change and create conflicts.  Leaders and managers need to anticipate and to facilitate this. Similarly, the company also has to manage the effect of changes within the client’s organisation (e.g. new key people joining, existing contacts leaving etc) and in its markets and industry (e.g. deferment of projects with a fall in market demand).  This requires leaders to be able to take a holistic view of the company’s opportunities and understanding how and when to address changes or anticipated changes.

Influencing Skills

Complex sales in the business-to-business environment frequently involve working with personnel from the client and third parties over whom the company has no formal authority or control.  The ability to influence and negotiate with such people, as well as with people within the company, is key to dealing with changes and driving successful client outcomes.

Cognitive Skills & Capabilities

Innovative Problem-Solving

More work is won by companies who think in terms of developing a solution to an emerging client problem.  Being able to uncover and anticipate problems, whilst creating an innovative solution which creates real value for the client, whilst avoiding the risks of the status quo, differentiates the company and drives business opportunities.  Being able to put structure to this approach, without compromising the level of innovation, and to leverage this throughout the company’s different departments and other clients provides growth opportunities.  Leaders need to create, build and sustain the environment to foster and develop this.

Ability to Identify Opportunities

With rapid change occurring so there are a plethora of opportunities that can be identified and exploited.  Many more can be identified working in conjunction with the clients.  Being able to identify, capture and prioritize these opportunities in conjunction with innovative problem-solving and excellence in managing relationships and people will strengthen the business.  Leaders need to identify such opportunities, prioritize them and resource them properly to ensure there is the optimal opportunity for success.

Next Steps

Applying the business development diagnostic across the four areas of Commercial, Relational, Managerial, and Cognitive is the start of the process which comprises of three steps.  These include:

1. Understand Your Organisation’s Business Development Skills & Capabilities

Understanding the importance and interdependencies of these 4 areas, and how your organisation’s leaders and managers overall rate in each of the 10 skills and competencies, is the first step to understand what foundation you have to build from and to allow you to address the gaps.

2.  Focus on Developing & Implementing the Required Skills

Once we have determined this we need to prioritise how we leverage and develop this skill base, and to determine which priorities to address first in achieving our business goals and desired outcomes. On-going assistance with actual business development opportunities helps to drive this, and improve both the skill level and understanding.

3. Maintain, Review and Improve

Creating an on-going process of continuous improvement in the area of business development, and extending the skills throughout the organisation helps to deliver better and more sustainable results.  Enabling those who have developed their leadership and management skills to achieve mastery is done by having them coach and mentor others in this area.  This helps to create a common approach to business development, establishes best practices across the organisation, and shared insights and experience.

What has been your experience of this? What issues have you had, and how have you resolved them?  How would you like to raise the performance of your managers and leaders?  Share your ideas, insights and experience here – someone, somewhere has resolved the problems you face, just as you have resolved ones that others face.

Share the knowledge, share the wealth!

To find out how Growth & Profit Solutions can help you in developing your leaders and their critical leadership and managerial skills please contact us as below.

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