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A manager’s role-playing game. How to develop yourself to tackle a demanding business challenge?(P1)

Updated: May 27, 2020


The challenge

Let’s imagine that in about six years’ time you would like to lead a strategic transformation programme with an international character, launched to deliver commercial goals and ensure the company’s future competitive position. The underlining goal of the programme is to increase revenue by increasing the market share and improving the company’s structure and processes. The company itself operates in the retail/manufacturing/services industry and is well established in Europe. Your role in a programme is pivotal, as you are a Director/VP/Programme Manager responsible for the execution and coordination of ­­­­strategic initiatives within an organisation and the introduction of its global presence.

Strategic transformation program managers - business change management and organisational change
Strategic transformation programme - London

Programme management is different from project management; therefore it demands different skill-set (Lycett, 2004). There is a number of approaches towards categorisation of programmes. Some of them consider more technical factors such as the moment of inception of projects and their business influence (Vereecke et al. 2003) or the quantity and location of projects (Evaristo and van Fenema, 1999). Other rely on a more holistic approach which is more relevant to your programme. Ferns (1991) distinguished three types of programmes: strategic, business-cycle, single-cycle. The strategic model which is adequate to your situation stems from a change in a company’s mission or major objectives. Accordingly, you are interested in the broader scope of its application – across an organisation – corporately. Maylor et al. (2006) proposed different typology based on the organisation of projects within a programme – chain, portfolio, and network. Your programme falls into the last type because a network organisation represents a set of projects that overlap each other and are interconnected.

(...) three types of programmes: strategic, business-cycle, single-cycle. The strategic model which is adequate to your situation stems from a change in a company’s mission or major objectives. Accordingly, you are interested in the broader scope of its application – across an organisation – corporately.

Who you need to become? – THE GAP

Nevertheless, to define the characteristics of a person effective in a role depicted above the most relevant typology is the one proposed by Pellegrinelli (1997). He distinguished three types of programmes concerning the structure which corresponds to the reason of their inception: ‘’to coordinate distinct projects using a common resource or skill base; to develop completely new systems, infrastructure or services; and to enhance existing functionality or service delivery’’ (p. 143). According to the typology, you aim to embark on a heartbeat programme which means the last of the possibilities above. However, the types differ from each other by some underlying details. Consequently, your endeavour will be transformational because an overlay on a regular project management functions would not be sufficient to reconcile the nature of the programme. It has to be aligned with business demands, and not to affect the ongoing operations negatively. Therefore, your role will encompass managing relationships between the programme client and the business clients in the first place, whereas more technical aspects of project management will constitute a smaller chunk of the work. The focus of the initiative is rather on direction than just solely on coordination. The objectives are grouped into projects with clearly described outcomes which are technically coherent and aim to improve the performance of the business - ‘’the heartbeat programme seeks to create as seamless a mesh as possible between change and stability’’ (p.144). It means that the endeavour encompasses an evolutionary change in the organisation and the life cycle of the programme reflects its infrastructure which makes it quasi-permanent.

Ferns (1991) describes a manager of programme as a well-rounded leader who should possess technical skills such as maximising return or proper control over general metrics but cannot succeed without social skills and business awareness such as supporting his team and ability to align projects with business objectives. However, a more precise description of the competencies necessary for conducting programmes was introduced by Miterev et al. (2016), who used typologies introduced by Pellegrinelli (1997). The general outcome of the research is that there are two overarching competencies in the area regardless of programme type or characteristics: communication and leadership. Additionally, a successful programme manager in a heartbeat initiative will need contextual awareness, scenario planning skills, political skills, courage, and networking. The competence profile suitable for this challenge has been named convincer, which strongly contrasts with the remaining two typologies mentioned in the paper – coordinator and commander. These findings correspond to what Crawford and Nahmias (2010) presented comparing the competencies necessary for change managers and programme managers. The common themes between the two that emerge are communication, leadership and planning. Supporting results were also introduced by Partington, Pellegrinelli, and Young (2005) in their model of programme management competence. Your type of programme classifies as level 4, which means that it demands the highest level of contextual awareness with a focus on the future. Lastly, Maylor et al. (2006) confirm that in a network programme according to his typology, a big picture and ability to survive in a complex environment is vital.

A perfect programme manager should be well-rounded. It is therefore important for the person embarking on this role to bridge logos and mythos, which means to be logical in their perception but still imaginative and being able to convey a metaphorical meaning of communicates (Shelburne, 1988). This combination corresponds to the multi-dimensional, well-rounded picture of the programme manager. I argue that there is another piece to be added to the creation of a person well suited to the role - pathos as empathy which allows understanding the feelings of others (Howe, 2013). Krznaric (2014) went further and brought about a concept of outrospection according to which we should be able to step outside and look at ourselves and others from a different perspective. This ability would help to support a team, negotiate with other stakeholders and connect with the programme environment. The last ingredient to the creation of a successful programme manager is an ethos which stands for character and integrity that should complement a leader (Hannah, Jenning, 2013). This factor is crucial and is believed to be the base for the remaining elements because without integrity an aspiring leader will not be credible in the eyes of people around. Thus, they may be reluctant to follow him because ‘’leader ethos, which resides at the intersection of the character of the leader and the attributions followers make of the leader’s credibility, based on the leader’s past and current actions’’(p. 15).

Different culture, different competencies

When describing a suitable person for the role I cannot omit the culture, which makes a big part of the environment. Business transformation programmes, in general, need more facilitating and flexible culture. The parent organisation should communicate the programme objectives and progress and thus engage employees (Armenakis et al., 1993). Ferns (1991) pointed out that strategic change efforts often stem from changes in business objectives; therefore, they impact functional departments. This makes their boundaries more liquid, and the programme culture may permeate with the culture of the organisation (Leifer, Delbecq, 1978; Lehtonen, Martinsuo, 2008). Following Goffee and Jones (1996), we can describe four organisational cultures within two dimensions – sociability and solidarity. The culture suitable for your programme corresponds to the communal organisation, which is high in both sociability and solidarity. According to the authors, this kind of culture works not only in start-ups but also within large organisations. The most supportive characteristics of this kind of culture concerning your programme would be cooperation, market awareness and sense of urgency. However, there is a danger that has to be properly managed – a constant tension between sociability and solidarity, which differ in their extreme forms. An aspiring programme manager would have to use his political skills, and the nature of convincer to deal with the situation.

Cameron and Quinn (2011) offered a different typology giving a possibility to more in-depth analysis. They distinguished four types of culture: hierarchy, clan, adhocracy, and market. They also identified forces that influence the cultures and identified managerial competencies which are needed in each structure. The best culture to execute this kind of programme would be a mixture of each culture with adhocracy and clan as a dominant base. Adhocracy is associated with transformation, innovation, and agility. The corresponding leadership type is connotated with entrepreneur, innovator and visionary. Clan, in turn, stands for commitment, communication, and development, so the leader act as a facilitator, mentor and team builder. A presence of factors assigned to market and hierarchy will give this configuration a better control and prevent the team from losing eyes from their goals.

In summary, I described in detail an exemplary programme of your interest, including your role and responsibilities. However, I was not satisfied with general information regarding the characteristics of a programme manager. ThusI dived deeper into typologies of the endeavours to extract more detailed data. Ichose the typologies relevant to the nature of your programme and correlated them with types of cultures. This way, I received the following dominant characteristics which constitute a benchmark for the outcome of PART 2 of this analysis and future development efforts.

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Author: Radek Jaros, MBA, MSc (Oxon)

©️ 2020 Radek Jaros. All rights reserved.

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©️ 2020 Oxford Business Journal - Oxford Business Consulting. All rights reserved.


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