In an age where disruption comes in all forms, from the success of startups to major discoveries in technology, there is a vital need for organisations of today to be agile and adaptable in order to continue to grow and succeed.
Being agile also leads to an increased likelihood to find innovative ways of approaching the market, and discover creative ideas that help tackle any challenges that arise.
In my role as a Talent Management Consultant, I have had the opportunity in the past months to work alongside organisations and their Management Associates.
These experiences made me realise how organisations, through these programs, are actually investing not only in their future (which is commonly the assumption), but also their present.
A well-designed Management Associate program has the potential to become a key driver for an organisations change and growth for many years to come.
First, Management Associates can help direct and implement changes in ways a senior management executive is not able to. Just as it is more difficult for a oil tanker to change its course compared to that of a tugboat, a key challenge organisations face is the difficulty to implement top down changes, especially so in large established organisations.
This was the case with General Electric, and one of the key motivations behind why the century old conglomerate decided to break itself down into smaller divisions (https://www.ft.com/content/b41ad01e-79d4-11e8-8e67-1e1a0846c475).
Management Associates are able to work on management directed projects, but instead of trying to do it from the top, they are able to take a much more localised approached, implementing and steering changes alongside those affected by the changes.
For example, it is strange and almost impossible for the CEO of a multinational company to sit on the factory floor everyday while new equipment is being introduced, due to other responsibilities the role entails.
However, for a Management Associate, the nature of their role allows for them to do exactly that, working alongside the staff while managing and reflecting on the change.
In addition, for the staff on the ground, being able to see someone throughout the process of planning for change, rather than just being on the receiving end, allows for greater acceptance and adoption of the changes being made.
At the same time, having to report back to executives, Management Associates allow the management team to maintain real-time oversight of these changes that are happening.
Second, Management Associates make implementation of change both faster and more efficient. One of the most difficult changes to adopt within an organisation is a change of culture.
Culture is an aspect of work that is deeply embedded in the DNA of the organisation, and often involves more subjective traits such as values and attitudes.
Thus, it is often a time-consuming and dynamic endeavour to define, communicate and implement these changes at all levels across an organisation. This is made more complex if written communications is the main medium of choice within the organisation, making the idea of culture change a “fuzzy” and vague concept that’s hard to translate to behaviour and ways of working.
However, despite being difficult to implement, it is becoming a growing necessity for organisations to be able to communicate and effect culture change, in order to adapt to the nature of work and productivity we see in today’s world.
With the advantage of individuals being rotated around different departments, Management Associates becomes a valuable tool for the advocating and transporting traits, attitudes and behaviours across the organisation.
Personally, I have witnessed how an organisation was able to change its working culture from one that values tradition and old practices, to one that is anchored by innovation and technology adoption.
This was done through in no small part through the efforts of just a few Management Associates, backed by a sophisticated talent and communications strategy, within a period of two years.
As an added advantage, Management Associates are among the few individuals within the organisation that have personal access to all levels of Colleagues in the business, and across geographies and working units.
This creates an effective channel for feedback regarding change adoption within the company, and gives the management greater awareness towards the sentiments and motivation of staff on the ground.
This directly results in the organisation being able to make changes to their strategy much faster compared to competitors that rely on more traditional feedback methodologies such as surveys and management meetings.
Third, having Management Associates is one of the best ways to train future management team members to be agile and adaptable.
Niccolo Machiavelli, an Italian philosopher once said: “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
One of the most difficult things for leaders to do is to lead change, and that does not come naturally to most people. It often takes years of experience, coaching and guidance managing change within organisations for leaders to learn such skills.
Through well designed rotations, Management Associates build up such experience, providing individuals with an innate understanding of how changes are perceived, and how it can be done more effectively.
In addition, through working on different projects from different departments/countries, Management Associates learn about how to be agile, and culturally adaptive.
This allows for future leaders of the organisation to become dynamic, adaptable and agile leaders. Rather than simply working with your current leadership team to develop agility and change readiness in their teams, invest in Management Associates who can carry this capability forward into the next generation of your organisations growth.
In short, we’ve had the privilege to see how Management Associates can not only be a smart early-careers program, but a strategic driver for talent success.
A well thought out program becomes a talent magnet for the top graduates, who seek out and compare brands for their rotation, mentoring and development exposure. An organisation that invests in it’s Management Associates does so with their eye on the prize of agility and change capability for decades to come.