In one of the consulting firms that I worked in, I nicknamed the HR Manager "The Plague". The reason was obvious. This gentleman brought death and sickness with him wherever he went. His job at the best of times was to spy for the top management and at the worst to "settle the accounts" of alleged non-performers. Though his role was quite the antithesis of what a good HR Manager should do, there was no arguing that he was terribly competent at his job. Do you want to know how?
My definition of a "Competent Manager" does not restrict itself to one who does his allocated tasks clinically and efficiently. It goes beyond that defined role. In over a quarter century of my association with HR Managers and organisational situations, I give below some qualities that would define a competent manager.
1. SPOKE-IN-THE-HUB: I use this expression to signify that the output of a manager at all times should strengthen the overall business needs of the organisation. This means a clear perspective of what the business is doing and what his own role in it is. The negative is to carry out tasks and assignments without realising how they fit into the overall business plan of the organisation
2. SERGEI BUBKA APPROACH: Taking a leaf from the life of a world record holder who constantly serves to better his last record, I would recommend setting your own internal standards (higher than organisational expectations) and more importantly, constantly improving on them
3. ATOMIC PRINCIPLES: I would recommend going down to the fundamentals of knowing why you are doing what you are doing. The ability to carry out your work not necessarily as a repeat of the past, is a key determinant in doing it well
4. EYE-OF-THE-BIRD: The three competencies above are what I call "input" competencies. This one is an "output" competency. This is the ability to focus on results, quite like Arjun did when he had to shoot at the moving image of the bird. Delivering results includes the quality of what you do; quality in turn includes aspects such as cost and time effectiveness.
5. WARM HUMAN BEING: I do not think that you have to be great at interpersonal relations, so long as you are recognised as a warm human being. Being great at interpersonal relations in today's world is often a con job. What counts more are your feelings.
6. POLITICAL ASTUTENESS: This last in my competency list is what I call a "catalyst" competency. It is useless by itself, but without it the other competencies are not powerful at all. This competency involves recognising the environment in which you work, the key forces at work, the key players and their philosophies and making sure that you do not go against the tide in the long run.
Now the vital question arises: How do you gain these competencies? My answer is mainly by keeping the windows of your mind open. There are certain inherent strengths and weaknesses that you bring to an organisation with you. These include your knowledge gained through qualification and experience, your values, the limitations of your thinking. Certain other aspects you need to consciously cultivate chief amongst these is the perspective of what you do versus what the organisation does. At the same time you need to be conscious of the political environment in which you perform. Here, I must add a word of caution. Do not play political games, unless that is your only competence. The reason is that there are others who are more expert than you and if you cannot bank on their inherent strengths, you will end up being on the losing side. At the same time, recognise the people and events around you, so that you can be aware of all the traps and pitfalls.
Are there any programmes that can help you in becoming a competent manager? I do not think so. Most programs and methodologies concentrate on a few diverse aspects, but do not address the generic needs of a competent manager. Nevertheless, the important part is to recognise these competencies and work towards them.