In spring 2014, Harvard Business Review published an article by several Gallup experts titled “Why Good Managers Are So Rare.” They reported that one of the most critical decisions an organization makes is “simply whom they name manager.” I wholeheartedly believe this to be true.
After all, your first-line leaders or managers oversee the front line; they mentor and lead the very people who are responsible for creating the product or service that keeps the organization in business. They are in the pole position to accelerate success of the organization’s strategy simply because they are the real opinion leaders tasked with bringing it to life every day.
Managers can and should be viewed as strategic assets. Yet despite how vital they are, in a recent survey of talent development leaders titled “America’s Workforce: A Revealing Study of Corporate America’s Most Neglected Employee,” reveals that as many as one third say their companies don’t consider managers to be important to the organization’s performance. And, only 28 percent report that manager investments have been prioritized in the last year. Yikes. It’s clear from this data that the power of managers as strategic assets is all too often untapped.
Those numbers, at first, felt shocking. How could so many companies not realize the value that managers bring to the table? A deeper look revealed a vicious cycle at play. Managers aren’t being tapped as strategic assets to accelerate business results because they don’t have the skills to do this. And because they don’t have the skills to accelerate results and bring the organization’s strategy to life, they aren’t viewed as important to business – making it rather difficult to secure funding for their development. “America’s Workforce” substantiates this cycle, reporting that talent development leaders find it painful to secure dollars for manager training programs, but have a much easier time securing funding for facility and technology upgrades. Well, it seems evident to me that there’s a flaw in the system, as managers are clearly not receiving the training they so desperately need for their roles to pay off for their companies.
But the problem doesn’t end there. Even organizations that do invest in manager development programs are falling short. Manager training and development, if it’s provided at all, is often disjointed, cumbersome to put into action, and disconnected from the business strategy. And, one of the biggest failings isn’t even about the training itself. It’s the belief that a one-off training event is enough for new behaviors to take root. This is simply not the case. You need sustainment plans that hold managers accountable to embrace and apply the new knowledge for the long term. Without sustainment, organizations are not maximizing the money and time spent on training programs, and their managers aren’t making true commitments to incorporating new insights and skills into their everyday work.
We’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of organizations across a variety of industries and have found three common manager development failures:
But what’s the solution? How can managers evolve from victims of a flawed training system to the heroes of an organization with the skills and knowledge to lead teams with success?
Here are four ways to stop your manager development efforts from falling short:
But, even with a focus on skill building, many programs neglect to teach managers how to engage and inspire their team in the business strategy. You can have great relationships, coach like a champion, and set crystal clear goals — but leaders who fail to engage their teams in the business first will the miss the mark every time if breakthrough results is their target.
You need to be transparent that any change worth making requires hard work and long-term commitment. Spend as much time crafting your sustainment plan as you do your initial manager development program. Focus on the areas that have the biggest impact first. Don’t try to reinforce everything at once. Tackle one consistent message and behavior change at a time.
And be sure to pay close attention to what motivates your managers to push on. Consider putting a success measurement in place so they can easily see their impact. Many organizations do this via a 360 survey or manager effectiveness survey. Alternatively, consider ways to recognize your managers who have made the change in company meetings, newsletters, blogs, etc. — whichever means you have to celebrate people through your company’s culture.
Ensuring leadership support is critical here as well. When the leadership team is behind the change — and demonstrates buy-in and advocacy — people will have no choice but to adopt the new process (or skills, behaviors, etc.) because it’s everywhere. Leadership sets the tone by showing how the new behaviors are a priority for everyone in the organization.
Here’s the bottom line: managers are core to the business. They interact with customers and front-line employees alike. They need to be given the tools, support, and knowledge to become great. But, it’s not just about technical knowledge. Managers also need a deep understanding of how to engage and inspire their teams (and to be held accountable to sustaining these behaviors for the long term). When your managers have the right balance, they become your strongest strategic assets, accelerating the execution of strategy for your organization and propelling your business to greatness.