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May 17, 201812:31 PMOpen Mic

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Why managers don’t manage, and how to help them

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What are clear indicators that your managers need training?

  1. They second-guess every decision they make.
  2. They don’t make decisions.
  3. They have no idea how to handle employee issues.
  4. They have a management style that is not conducive to good employee performance or morale.
  5. They are unable to meet program goals.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve provided management training to long-term managers who had never been given any training before. They had been operating on blind faith and good sense, and often in the dark, hoping they were doing the right thing. When managers aren’t given the skills they need to be successful, it is generally a recipe for disaster.

For example, I was called in to help a nonprofit organization because the employees were making costly mistakes. After investigating, it became clear that the managers had never communicated their needs and expectations to their staff. The managers automatically assumed that their employees knew, possibly through osmosis, what they were expected to do. The managers had never been given training on performance management or delegation.

In another instance, I consulted with a government agency where a manager had been charged with discrimination against women. It was alleged that he showed favoritism to his male employees when making assignments, so the women were denied the experience necessary for them to be promoted to higher levels.  

The manager was appalled by the discrimination complaint and justified his assignment decisions on the basis of perceived readiness to perform. The women employees would come into his office to discuss different ways to approach the assignment and the manager assumed that they needed him to tell them what to do. In fact, the women only intended to use him as a sounding board. He had not intentionally discriminated; it was just that he had never been trained in the differences in problem-solving styles between men and women.

The best way you can build your managers’ capabilities is through training. Often, particularly regarding discrimination complaints, companies wait until there is a problem before scheduling training. As you can tell from the examples I’ve shared, managers really need the training at the beginning of their careers. One training session will not provide all of the skills of a manager. There are so many changes going on in the world and in business, it isn’t possible to anticipate all of the new knowledge and skills that managers may need. Training in management basics and the complementary soft skills will provide a good foundation.

Training will always be necessary if there are changes in policies, procedures, operating systems, or strategic goals. If there is a pattern of behavior that indicates a manager lacks the necessary knowledge or skill to handle certain situations, training should be an immediate consideration. Another way to identify the need for training is to ask managers what they need in a way that supports their growth and development, rather than couching any training need as corrective or remedial.

In a survey conducted by the Center for Learning and Performance Technologies in 2017, over 5,000 managers were asked to rate the usefulness of 12 work-related learning methods. The least-valued learning methods were classroom training — essentially lecture and death by PowerPoint — and e-learning. Conversely, self-organized and self-managed forms of learning were rated highest.

The classic leadership development program, conducted in physical isolation from the organization and outside of its operational context, needs to be replaced by experiences that build in real work, risk, and accountability; intentional networking; exposure; collaboration; just-in-time-learning; and on-the-job problem solving. The most effective learning comes from experience, experimentation, and reflection.

Deborah Spring Laurel is the chief learning officer of The Peer Learning Institute.

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