In recent years the stripping out of layers of management has led to gaps in the hierarchy of many fmcg firms. This has widened the jump between management levels, meaning staff are finding it more difficult to move up from one level to the next. NHA md Andy Ferguson aims to bridge that gap. His solution lies in developing core business skills in new or potential managers, as well as managers who have never been formally trained. Clients include Somerfield, Dairy Crest, UDV, Unigate and Guinness. His weapon is the Management Skills Development Programme, which was first developed in 1987 and which the consultancy has just finished rewriting for 2000. "The programme is intended for anyone who has to manage other people. We're pleased to say we had it about right from the start ­ about 80% of the original concepts are still valid today." Delegates attending the eight unit course have a trio of management backers who are like commercial godparents to the next generation. The trio comprises a sponsoring manager, a project manager and a project sponsor. The sponsoring manager is often the line manager, but not always. He or she will set many of the training goals and gets to work closely with the delegates in the process. The project manager will be drawn from the human resources department, while the project sponsor will be working at director level ­ from whichever department is most directly involved or is footing the bill. The detail of the course material is tailored to individual companies' requirements. Initially, sponsoring managers meet for a day long seminar to discuss the content of the training, which will extend over the next year or so. Delegates then attend two day-long briefings and receive their pre-reading material. Ferguson notes that once a group gets together, there is lots of cooperation and peer pressure to ensure everyone in the team keeps up with the course material and preparatory work. On the only occasion when there has been a problem within a group itself, the outcome was a voluntary withdrawal by the person concerned, who also left the company shortly after. Delegates develop skills in three areas: interpersonal skills; organisational abilities; and personal development. These are subdivided into eight core topics. The first is presentation ­ an essential foundation for business, let alone selling. "Every delegate receives a blank video cassette and on it they build up a record of their progress," says Ferguson. The first thing they have to do at the beginning of the session is to give a presentation, on camera. For every subsequent training day, everyone taking part will be expected to present his or her findings from the previous session. The camera is still running and recording delegates' progress. This repetition builds confidence and polishes technique. Being persuasive is the next essential skill and forms the second major topic ­ making use of the recently honed presentation skills. "The ability to persuade makes the difference between coercion and leadership, which is the topic for the next session." The style of leadership expected will vary from firm to firm and will be reflected in the presentation of material used. The session always includes, however, a group exercise which challenges common preconceptions of leadership qualities. "A group of seven or so team members are on board a cruise liner and are told to abandon ship within the hour. They have to select a leader and escape. The situation demands technical skills such as navigation, as well as the ability to lead people. While the group decides what it will need from a leader under these conditions, the ability to give orders is not necessarily that which carries the day. Inflexible autocrats are not always good survivors." Assuming that the group survives this training exercise, the next three modules cover the administrative skills of planning, time management and decision making. By the time the training reaches the final group of personal skills, the difference is clear. Groups that started out somewhat distant have become tight knit teams. Ferguson recalls a 55 year old production director who suffered from vertigo, but still wanted to take part in an abseiling exercise. "The support and encouragement he got from his colleagues was tremendous, although at the beginning they had been a bit distant towards him. It makes it so worthwhile." {{TRAINING & DEVELOPMENT }}