How long does it take to learn to manage others successfully?

It is no secret that having effective managers can be a huge benefit to SMEs, yet it is often a struggle to find people who have the right technical skills as well as the management skills and experience. As a result SMEs will usually opt for recruiting someone with the technical skills and then train them as an effective manager. So how long will this take?

14/12/2015, blogs

If you ask someone how long it takes to train for a marathon, learn to drive or speak a language, their answers can differ quite radically, as is the case with management. There are a number of plans which claim to train people for marathons in as little as 20 weeks, pass a driving test in under 5 days and speak a new language in just three months. However equally many people take years to get to marathon level fitness, can take as much as a year to learn to drive and may spend decades teaching themselves a second language. So what is the key difference between these experiences?

While there may be variances in natural ability, the main explanation for the different experiences is that while the overall timescales may differ, the actual time invested in the learning is likely to be similar. If you monitor progress by hours directly focused on the task rather than overall duration of activity, you will see that a decade of occasionally passively hearing a language spoken is nothing compared with a few hours of focused study. People take 30-40 hours on average to learn how to drive sufficiently well to pass their tests, it takes about 200 hours to train for a marathon and it can take anywhere up to 900 hours (depending on level of fluency required) to be able to speak a new language.

Complete mastery of a skill can take 10,000 hours. This is the amount of time world leading experts in particular fields have spent honing their skills, which equates to around 10 hours a week, 40 weeks a year for 25 years focused development. Clearly therefore complete mastery of management will take many years of dedicated learning and practice but if you or your managers are just starting out on the journey, all is not lost!

At the other end of the scale, the amount of work it takes to acquire a skill at a basic level but still enough to see significant improvement is only about 20 hours. This is approximately how long it takes to learn the most important skills for driving (if inconsistently), or how long it takes to be able to run 5K. This amount of work should give a manager a basic understanding of management best practice and an awareness of how they manage their teams and how they could start to improve. It can still have a significant impact - making the difference between a poor and an average manager or an average and a good one.

Despite this small amount of commitment, many managers don’t put in the time and many SMEs don’t invest in management or leadership development – devoting the time instead to hitting targets. However it is not a big investment and the skill will benefit the manager indefinitely. 20 hours focusing on a skill is roughly equivalent to attending a 2 day training course plus reflecting on and implementing the skills to further embed them. If this is all it takes to make the difference between an average and a good manager then what’s stopping you?