Management Development: 3 Simple Strategies

By: Verne Harnish “Growth Guy”

Sept 30, 2010 2:00:00 PM ET

In today’s networked economy, having a brilliant, visionary leader alone isn’t enough to keep a company growing. You’ve got to have a well-trained executive and frontline management team to execute the vision-one that can out think the leadership team at rival companies.

However, according to a recent McKinsey study, “while frontline employees receive extensive training and development, their managers-who may have had no previous experience leading others-do not. At all levels, executives believe that the little training they do receive fails to prepare them to take on leadership roles successfully.”

Fortunately, there are some simple ways that every CEO can help his or her team learn how to work better and smarter, without the huge investment of time and money large companies spend on their corporate universities. Try these strategies at your own company now.

Pay to Read

CJ Advertising, based in Nashville, specializes in helping personal injury law firms dominate their markets. Founded in 1994, the growing, profitable firm brings in about $40 million in revenue annually.

One secret to its success: Its book club.

To keep its team inspired, the company actually pays its people to read management, marketing and self improvement titles and report back on what they’re learned to colleagues in this club. Inside the cover of each book, management indicates what an employee will get paid to read it.

“You can make up to $400 a year just reading,” says Arnie Malham, president and founder. Employees love participating. CJ Advertising has spent $43,650 rewarding them for reading since the club was founded in 2006. The most active member has earned more than $1,800.

Why pay professionals to read? Shouldn’t they be reading on their own anyway? Malham is a pragmatist. Given how busy his associates are, he knows they won’t get around to it otherwise. “They say they will but they won’t,” he says.

Management selected the books originally-“Jim Collins’ Good to Great was what started the whole thing,” recalls Malham-but the program is such a hit that employees now make the picks. “We’ll put anything an employee wants or desires in the library, as long as it’s reasonable,” says Malham. “I hope it inspires them every day.”

Virtual Learning

If your entire management team can’t attend a conference in person, look into whether some members can soak it up “virtually.”

Hagerty Insurance, a company in Traverse City, Mich. with 430 employees, did just that when it sent a core team of executives to the last Fortune Leadership Summit that my company, Gazelles, organized in Houston. A group of managers back home watched the presentations from the comfort of their offices.

“While we were there, we were receiving real time feedback from some of our managers,” says Eric Okerstrom, director of strategy. That made it easier to build alignment around the ideas the executive team brought back to the company later, he says.

MOM’s Organic Market, a $60 million retail food chain based in Rockville, Md., is also taking advantage of short online seminars taught by Pat Lencioni, Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell and other business thought leaders.

The company frequently convenes the senior management team to watch topics that will help them become better at their jobs. The company makes its gatherings into a much-anticipated event by encouraging candid conversation about each online seminar.

“We know we’re going to be exposed to something new,” says Jon Croft, vice president of produce. Some of these sessions have lasted as long as three hours, guaranteeing the management team has time to decide, specifically, how they are going to implement what they’ve learned. 

MOM’s is planning to push this online education down to their store managers next. With a goal of opening 28 stores by 2015, MOM’s isn’t leaving the success of its teams to chance.

Peer Group Learning

Take a page from the successful forum process used by CEO groups like the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), and Vistage—and engage your senior management in phone-based peer groups.

Once per month, Eric Flanagan, VP of store quality for La Jolla, Calif.-based Event Network, a company with $137 million in annual sales, dials in for a 90-minute phone forum with a handful of peers from various industries. On the professionally moderated calls, the executives update each other on their news of the past month, discuss pertinent learning from the online education they have been assigned, and help each other with challenges they are facing individually.

“I like our group a lot, and enjoy bouncing ideas off each other,” explains Flanagan. “Recently the group discussed various training and on-boarding programs, which I’ve subsequently brought into our company.” 

By building a book club, virtual education, and peer group learning into your monthly routine, you can inexpensively keep everyone at a midsized company-from its frontline managers to senior team leaders—prepared for the challenges of the business.