First struggle

This week was my first struggle week, where I found the content of the course a little difficult to digest, and also a little frustrating.

The biggest problem for me was the dawning realisation that while I’m solving so many problems as part of the course, and putting together so many SMART action plans, I’m never actually able to put any of them into practice because no sooner have I finished one, I’m onto the other!

I’m beginning to worry that the pace of the course is too quick for it to be of any real use to a practising manager. Maybe I just had a generally bad week.

Catching up with the mind maps

I’m now fully up-to-date with the diary, and almost up-to-date with my mind maps and Evernote lists. The studies are going well, I’m enjoying the course, and I think it’s really helping me in my day-to-day job.

The hardest part about management is definitely the communication part, which is not easy for someone who has mainly talked to machines in code for the last twenty years. However, picking up all kinds of communication skills and developing what I already have is making me a better person.

B628 Week Eight

Week eight was one of the most interesting weeks I’ve done so far. In this week, I looked at the concept of leadership, what makes a leader, and what skills are required in order to be a leader.

The idea of leadership is a very difficult one to define, and there is some crossover between being an effective manager and being an effective leader, but I think I understand the difference.

I looked at several theories of leadership, including trait theories (which assume that leaders are born, not made), style theories (which try to identify the most effective way for leaders to behave towards the people they lead), and contingency theories (also known as ‘fit’ theories, which propose that what constitutes effective leadership depends on the context of the situation).

An interesting idea that I covered was what Seth Godin calls ‘leading from the bottom’. This of course is not how the OU describe it – they simply point out that it is possible to be a leader without having formal authority. It’s an idea I’m already familiar with, but it’s nice to discover it has academic recognition, too.

I also looked at how to develop leadership skills, assuming that leadership involves skills and capabilities which can be learned and improved (which I believe they can). One way of approaching this is to consider the core leadership functions, including developing a sense of direction in the group, defining the tasks necessary to achieve the group’s goals and making sure they are carried out effectively, and maintaining the morale, cohesion and commitment of the group.

Yukl (2004) has a similar approach which breaks leadership activities down into three different behaviours, including task behaviour, relations behaviour, and change behaviour.

The core leadership skills and behaviours are:

  • Be a role model
  • Do as you say
  • Communicate openly and honestly
  • Keep a sense of proportion
  • Set and manage expectations
  • Admit to mistakes
  • Network
  • Be an ambassador

I really enjoyed the last activitie for week seven, which involved looking at a problem which was caused by my own lack of leadership skills, and how to resolve it by developing an action plan to improve those skills. Very useful, and definitely a roadmap for my management career for the next eighteen months to two years!

B628 Week Seven

Week seven was an interesting week, and a difficult one. I’ve never had cause to consider myself an amazing communicator (although I do think I’m one of the better ones in the industry), and Understanding people at work was a title that made me feel as though I was about to come unstuck!

Some of the concepts in the chapter were difficult to get my head round. The chapter seemed very vague, but having read it through a few times – including an active read – I now understand that this is necessarily so. People are vague and difficult to understand unless they wear their heart on their sleeve, and in business most people don’t.

I now understand how workplace behaviour is an interaction between the individual and the organisation, between individual needs and social convention, and between self-interest and what is allowed. I realise that no two people will have the same beliefs, values, and expectations, and that each may behave differently under the same circumstances.

The eight career anchors suggested by┬áSchien (1978) was a particularly useful one for understanding which beliefs, values, and loyalties shape individuals’ behaviour:

  1. Technical/functional competence
  2. General managerial competence
  3. Autonomy/independence
  4. Security/stability
  5. Entrepreneurial creativity
  6. Sense of service/dedication
  7. Pure  challenge
  8. Lifestyle

This framework helped me to understand how an individual’s behaviour can be quite consistent with their beliefs and values no matter how puzzling it seems on the surface.

The psychological contract was another good theory – and understanding how to avoid potential breaches in the contract can lead to increased trust, fairness, more work satisfaction, a better work-life balance, higher motivation, and less stress.

The Expectancy theory proposed by Vroom (1964) was also an interesting one – showing how effort is linked to performance and rewards/costs, and how people are motivated differently according to how achievable they believe a particular goal is. There’s a great Wikipedia entry about Expectancy theory, and also an interesting video about motivation and performance in this collection of ten vidoes that every entrepreneur should watch.

The chapter wrapped up by looking at some older theories of motivation that the OU now suggests are going out of fashion due to criticisms about their validity: Maslow’s Growth Motivation Theory (based on the hierarchy of needs), and Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory.

I already know about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but Motivation-Hygiene theory is a good one. It’s basic premise is that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not part of the same continuum – that is, removing dissatisfaction does not automatically result in an increase in satisfaction, and vice-versa. The idea of separate satisfaction (Motivation) factors and dissatisfaction (Hygiene) factors seemed very powerful for me, and I can see how addressing the two sets of factors could lead to an increase in motivation and satisfaction.

An interesting week. Difficult to fully understand what to do to understand people at work (because psychology is a difficult subject!), but it did shed a little light on why some people seem to behave unexpectedly.

B628 Week Six – TMA 01 is done!

Well actually it was done over a week ago. I’m still managing to stay two weeks ahead, which is good for the holiday I have coming up. My only concern is that if I go away for two weeks and don’t even look at my coursebook, I’ll come back so demotivated that I’ll struggle to get into my studies and will fall behind. I know what I’m like!

The report

Anyway, I chose the management information option for my TMA, simply because I felt that the management information problem activity I completed as part of week five was stronger than the one I completed as part of week four, when I looked at a management control problem.

The TMA wasn’t that hard to do, but it did involve a lot of study of the assessment booklet, and checking off of requirements that I needed to fulfill. I can see how so many people get this wrong, and miss things. Thankfully, my experience as a tester, and dealing with complex requirements paid off, and I think I’ve put together a good TMA.

One of the hardest things at first was padding out the exercise I did as part of week five. There weren’t enough words in there, and I knew it wasn’t enough as it stood. The solution was to work through the requirements and make sure everything was fulfilled. This pretty much padded out the assignment length to the required 1400 words for the report.

Statement on practice

The statement on practice was eye-opening, because it required a little soul-searching to complete.

I very nearly messed the statement on practice up because I missed a critical requirement specified in the assessment booklet – that is to only consider improvements I have made that had corresponding activities from one of the preceding weeks. I very nearly wrote about potential problem analysis, but then spotted this little requirement, and changed to writing about general management control loop improvements – part of which was implementing potential problem analysis.

The activities

One of the biggest pains about the TMA was putting all the activities together into one document. This isn’t technically a requirement for the TMA submission, but our tutor asked us to do it during the day school, so I did it to keep him sweet.