Study Skills for Managers


Bill Mayon-White

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    Any manager looking ahead to the 1990s will be aware of the increasing rate of change of contemporary organizational life. Increasing competitive pressures in the 1980s started a trend which now continues apace. Information technology is still causing major changes to the office environment. Other systems based on the same technology are also changing the factory as computer controls for machine tools and process plant revolutionize all areas of industrial life. Robots in the factory and the computer network in the office are but two of the dimensions of change which must be met by today's managers.

    Other important changes have taken place in the human side of organizational life. Old-style autocratic structures are giving way to more open and flexible ways of working which reflect a shift in values and attitudes in the workplace. Some of these changes have been driven by legislation, but most reflect our changing expectations of ‘job’ and ‘work’. The hours of work have been reduced, while incomes have grown, with the result that many of us enjoy greater leisure and a higher quality of life than our parents' generation. But simultaneously there is growing awareness of stress in the workplace and a concern for the implications of a fast-moving and fast-changing world for the individual and for society.

    Not all the changes can be viewed as beneficial in the short run for in the early years of the decade the run down of non-competitive concerns and of manufacturing industry in particular had a high cost in the human currency of lost jobs and unemployment. An economic policy which aimed to increase competition had the effect of increasing unemployment. This in turn saw the introduction of new agencies such as the Training Agency (formerly the Manpower Services Commission) with a brief to retrain and reskill. The continued and growing interest in management education can also be seen as another delayed, but inevitable consequence of this restructuring.

    The task of coping with change must start with an acceptance that new knowledge and skills will have to be acquired, not once but several times during a working life. The concept of lifelong learning is no longer the sole province of bodies such as the Open University which specialize in distance learning for adults. The idea of self-directed or open learning now has widespread support and enjoys the endorsement of both government and industry. Schools, colleges, training agencies and management development specialists within companies have always recognized the vital contribution that training and education can make to motivation and performance, but never before have training and education been so highly valued by society at large.

    A manager has several sources of support for his or her development – family, friends, colleagues, as well as the professional adviser and trainer – but the trend is towards individual responsibility for self-development. This book is intended to provide you, the reader, with some practical help in this task.

    Anyone picking up a book which aims to be a handbook or guide relies on the author for clear unambiguous prose which is both stimulating and interesting. Thus there is a special challenge facing an author setting out to provide advice and help to managers on self-development, study skills, reading and the preparation of written reports. Can I practise what I preach? As the reader you will judge whether or not the ideas in this book have been conveyed in a clear and helpful fashion.

    Self-development is still a relatively new term: the concept is still evolving and being refined, and other authors have written about study skills for the younger university or college student. By bringing the two strands of study skills and self-development together in one book I have attempted to synthesize a selection of material which will prove effective and stimulating for any manager at any stage in his or her career. Any selection will be eclectic, but where I have missed the target or where there are shortcomings then, of course, the fault is mine.

    The material in this book is derived from more than a decade of teaching adults in face-to-face settings and through distance learning. Whatever their reasons for study and whatever their previous educational experience, such students bring to their studies a wealth of knowledge, and yet all face similar problems in getting started in their courses. If the chapters which follow help you and show that self-development can be fun and stimulating my task has been worthwhile.


    With any project of this kind my job as an author would have been much more difficult were it not for the help and advice of those who were prepared to read and comment on a series of drafts.

    Most important has been the feedback from Open University students over the years: in tutorials, at our summer schools and residential courses. Their comments and reactions have pointed the way towards the study skills discussed in these pages.

    My thanks go to the following organizations and individuals for permission to include material in this book. To London Transport Limited for permission to include in Chapter 4 the diagram of the London Underground System. To Geoffrey Hancock for permission to include in Chapter 5 his article ‘Quality brings sales dividends to Jaguar’. To Professor The Revd Jack Mahoney SJ, Director, King's College Business Ethics Research Centre, London for permission to include in Chapter 5 extracts from his article ‘Morality at boardroom level’. To Her Majesty's Stationery Office for permission to include in Chapter 7 the diagram 7.1 on coping with stress.

    Special thanks must go to Sarah Brunner, Eileen Scholes and Sandy Taylor: all three were involved as clients for an earlier project for a study pack for managers who were starting out on courses designed to give them the opportunity to progress to an MBA degree if they wished. That study pack preceded and gave rise to this book. Rosemary Smith of the Open Business School gave me useful feedback and comments on the penultimate draft and Marianne Lagrange of Paul Chapman Publishing encouraged and supported me through the difficulties which accompany any writing project. Most patient of all were my wife Joyce and our two daughters Elaine and Rhian, who responded to the inevitable interrupted weekends and late-night writing stints with cheerful good humour.

    IBM and Filofax are registered trade marks.

    BillMayon-WhiteLondon. September 1989

    Introduction: Management Education and This Book

    This book has been designed as a starting point for any manager who wishes to tackle his or her own ‘self-development’ or to return to more formal study after some years away from school, college or university.

    During the last few years two studies, one by Charles Handy and the other by John Constable and Roger McCormick (1987), have had a major impact on management education. Both reports addressed the lack of provision for managers in the United Kingdom and made suggestions for improvements. Perhaps the most important contribution made by these studies has been to provide a focus for debate and to draw attention to the major issues.

    One of these issues is the relatively small proportion of managers receiving training of any kind. Thus Constable and McCormick (1987) estimate that of some 130,000 entrants to ‘management’ in any year about 90,000 might be expected to have ‘serious management responsibilities’. Their report (1987) then states that ‘most of the 90,000 new managers-to-be will receive either no formal introduction to the elements of business or will wait until mid-career at which stage over one-third will still receive nothing’.

    One direct result of these studies has been the formation of a partnership between industry and educators in the form of the Council for Management Education, and progress is being made to reorganize and extend the provision of management education and to rationalize management qualifications.

    One outcome of this initiative is certain; a growing level of participation in management education by people of all ages. There is a link between management skills and the study skills which are the subject of this book. For example, time management is a skill which is common to both and its application in either field will have benefits for the other. Communication skills, both verbal and written, are also common to both and it matters little whether these are acquired or refined under the heading of ‘management’ or ‘study’ skills. Indeed at the core of the concept of self-development is the maxim: ‘Manager manage yourself!’

    This book is designed to build on these links and through study skills lead to improved management performance. You should find that it is a useful source of help and advice which will allow you to acquire new skills. It is intended to be a practical rather than comprehensive guide to self-development and study skills.

    The research into learning skills is a huge but diffuse field, ranging from studies of the relationships between mothers and children to neurophysiology. This book does not attempt to link study skills to research; indeed it could be argued that many of the links are tenuous and overstretched in some study skills texts. Instead the focus is on techniques which students have found to work in practice.

    The book is arranged to cover self-development and learning skills. The topics include the mind and memory, information management, and those key study skills – reading, writing and critical analysis.

    Each chapter discusses particular techniques and ideas, and contains exercises designed to give you some confidence in your own ability to put the skills to work. The exercises are included in the body of the book, and while a ‘skim read’ is a good way to discover the structure and range of the material, you should allow sufficient time to work through each exercise. This will ensure that you develop a set of practical skills and not just a superficial appreciation of the learning process.

    Wherever possible the text gives suggested time limits for individual exercises. Take them seriously as you work through the material for the first time. Later, if you have the opportunity, return and pursue in greater detail those activities which hold most interest for you.

    In some cases the exercises require you to complete a table, on occasion these exercises are of a kind which can usefully be repeated at intervals in order to see if you have changed your views or improved your skill levels. Where this is so there is an invitation in the text suggesting that you photocopy the blank table before proceeding. But this advice is unhelpful if you turn to an exercise in the course of a train journey! So the invitation is first made here. Skim read the book and make a note of any tables within exercises which you may like to re-use. Photocopy these now.

    Suggestions for further reading are included by way of reference, but the book is self-contained. To achieve the study objectives set out in Chapter 1 you need look no further than the material in this book. If you decide to use it as a study text in a somewhat more formal manner, then allocate no more than about twelve hours spread over one or two weeks. There will be some variation in the study time and work patterns of individuals but you should treat this as a target and plan accordingly.

  • References and Further Reading

    Adams, J. L (1988) The Care and Feeding of Ideas, Penguin, London.
    Buzan, T. (1974) Use your Head, BBC, London.
    Capel, I. and Gurnsey, J. (1987) Managing Stress, Constable, London.
    Constable, J. and McCormick, R. (1987) The Making of British Managers, British Institute of Management/MSC/NEDO, London.
    Cooper, L., Cooper, R. D. and Eaker, L. H. (1988) Living with Stress, Penguin, London.
    Freeman, R. (1986) Mastering Study Skills, Macmillan, London
    Gower, E. (1971) The Complete Plain Words, Penguin, London
    Handy, C. (1987) The Making of Managers, NEDO, London.
    Hanson, P. (1986) The Joy of Stress, Pan, London.
    HMSO (1987) Understanding Stress, Parts 1, 2 and 3, HMSO, London.
    Maddox, H. (1988) How to Study,
    revised edn
    , Pan, London.
    Marshall, L. and Rowland, F. (1983) A Guide to Learning Independently, Open University Press, Milton Keynes.
    National Extension College/Lucas (1985) How to Work Effectively, National Extension College, Cambridge.
    Open University (1984) Plain English (T101 supplementary material), Open University Press, Milton Keynes.
    Oxford University Press (1984) The Oxford Guide to the English Language, Oxford University Press.
    Peters, T. and Waterman, R. (1982) In Search of Excellence, Harper & Row, London.
    Rowntree, D. (1988) Learn how to Study, Macdonald Orbis, London.
    Wheatley, D. (1988) Report Writing, Penguin, London.
    Williams, L. V. (1986) Teaching for the Two-Sided Mind, Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, New York.

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