Management Articles


Correct Diagnosis is Key to Solving Management Problems

By: Robert H. Kent, Ph.D., CMC

President of The Mansis Development Corporation, Dr. Kent is a specialist in the structure and management of small and medium-sized organizations, and frequently serves as a personal coach and management consultant to executives for solving their management and employee performance problems. Before founding his consulting company, Bob held senior management and executive positions in federal and provincial government and private corporations. He has been a director of several health care and service organizations and a consulting member of private and government task forces in the areas of government finance, organization structure, personnel management and executive development. Since 1972 he has lectured in management at several Canadian and American universities in the faculties of Management, Administrative Studies, Medicine and Continuing Education where he has been an award winner for excellence in teaching and professional expertise; and he has published over 125 books and articles on management.

Many executives, recognizing the need to have well trained management, place a priority on management development. They identify skill deficiencies in individual managers, usually by a training needs analysis, and prescribe training. However this "logical" approach to improving the performance of managers can be very inappropriate and counter-productive. Often the absence of management skill is symptomatic of organizational problems rather than deficiencies of individual managers.

The CEO of Company A was disappointed with the personal performance of her department managers. Quality, morale and other production problems were getting out of hand and she saw little constructive effort from her managers to resolve their problems. Department heads appeared disorganized and they constantly fought between themselves. Interdepartmental cooperation did not exist. To this CEO, the need for management development was critical and obvious. As a solution, the company training officer was instructed to undertake a training needs analysis. He interviewed the CEO on her observations of the managers' performance, and presented a list of management skills to the managers for them to priorize. Subsequently, the managers were enrolled in training courses on problem solving, time management, team building, conflict resolution and human relations.

Unfortunately the situation never improved. In fact it worsened! Scheduling the training took forever and until the managers were able to attend each specific course, they felt no obligation to improve that specific aspect of their job. The techniques and ideas eventually presented in the workshops were not used by the managers; in part because the concepts and skills didn't solve any of the managers' perceived problems, and in part because the managers weren't held accountable for changing their former work habits. Finally, failure to improve teamwork, problem solving, human relations, conflict resolution and time management was conveniently blamed on the training programs.
Exit the CEO of Company A.

The problem in Company A was that the initial diagnosis was incorrect. Organizational behavior is a very complex phenomenon. Techniques like "training needs analyses" are often too simplistic and they presuppose not only the existence of discrete independent skills and that performance problems are caused by individual skill deficiencies, but also that employees can objectively assess their own lack of skill. These needs analyses seem to identify a need for a "skill" only when a problem has arisen. They aren't good tools to prevent problems. In fact, they are more often a shopping list of wishful solutions to a manager's job frustrations.

The new head of Company A took a different approach and it worked much better. Probing deeper into the cause of the managers' unproductive behavior, the new CEO asked questions like, "Why don't the managers and their departments co-operate? Why would they try to perpetuate a hostile climate? How is it that senior managers are appointed to their positions lacking in some fundamental management work habits? Why weren't these management performance problems identified sooner and resolved? The answers to these and more questions revealed to the new CEO the the managers themselves had never been managed. They had no understanding of their role as a senior manager or as a member of the executive team. Their ineffective work habits had been ignored by their coach (the former CEO) and the managers were permitted, over the years, to do as they saw fit. In fact, they were able to problem-solve, manage their time and a host of other management tasks, but they were never told or made to do so. As a result, the managers habits evolved out of self-preservation and convenience.

The new CEO saw that two things were needed in the company. First, the company needed a general management system for making sure that fundamental management practices took place, independent of individual personalities or preferences. For example, this system must have procedures to ensure that, as a matter of course; the roles of all employees would be continuously clarified; that departments would experience benefits from working together and have procedures to facilitate cooperation; that performance problems would be identified quickly and resolved in equitable, constructive ways; that all management would perform constructive people-management practices; and many more basic management activities. This general management system would make sure that these practices would become the way "the company" behaved (the culture) and not just the way individual managers might behave, should they choose.

Secondly, the managers needed to be managed. They had as much right as the rest of the company to get clear direction from their supervisor and to receive supportive coaching. Their roles needed to be clarified and they needed to find out what specific expectations the CEO had of them. To do this, the CEO would use the general management system. In this way, management practices would be consistently applied to all employees, starting from the executive suite and throughout the company.

© Copyright 2001 The Mansis Development Corporation

Other Articles by Robert H. Kent, Ph.D., CMC

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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