How can managers meet today’s expectations? With the right learning and skills
Managers have a lot to grapple with today and need new skills to meet today’s opportunities and challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic, Great Resignation, hybrid work - and more, are causing seismic shifts in the workforce. Managers are left to translate their organisation’s responses to such social phenomena into real-world actions and processes for their teams.
The job requirements for managers, therefore, are evolving like never before. They are no longer solely tasked with project and line management, reporting on performance, hitting goals and sticking to a budget. Managers now need to support their team’s physical and mental wellbeing, they need to create psychological safety to foster innovation, and they need to ensure their teams are ready for the future.
New expectations on managers
People are increasingly asking for greater emotional support and engagement from their managers. Organisations with the biggest productivity increases in the pandemic, were able to support ‘small moments of engagement’ with their employees. Coaching, mentoring and peer-learning are all ways to connect teams and colleagues with each other — and this results in a whole new set of skills for managers to build, including active listening, asking open questions, goal-setting, authentic communication and constructive feedback.
Just one of those tasks is already a tall order, so it’s little surprise that most managers are feeling the strain. Plus, many of them have to achieve this feat with little-to-no physical facetime with their team. As a result, only 60% of managers feel that they can manage their workload in the current remote work environment.
More than ever, managers need support from their organisations in the form of:
- Upskilling to grow their mentoring and coaching skills and any other skills found lacking given their current job demands.
- Resources to direct and grow their team’s confidence and skills.
- Tailored development plans (both for their team and for their own career journey).
Good managers build good cultures
The good news is that when employers equip their managers with the right skills and resources, their managers become key drivers for their organisation in celebrating and encouraging positive cultures. For instance, workers who rate their managers positively are 515% more likely to have discussed their career goals and growth opportunities with them over the last 12 months.
In positive cultures, where continuous learning and workforce agility is the norm, managers are 379% more likely to find stretch assignments and projects for their team members. They are 270% more likely to help their people set their development plans and goals. They proactively encourage their team members to grow and plan for the future. And the result? The people they manage are 199% more likely to receive a promotion and 235% more likely to move to new functions within their organisation (impacting retention).
5 ways to support managers
Learning has a critical role in supporting managers to do their best work in the new normal. This can be broken down into five focus areas:
1. Becoming (skills) data-driven
When managers can access their team’s and their own skill data, they have more visibility and understanding of the team’s capabilities, progress and readiness for future needs. Of course, having access to their own data can guide them on their upskilling journey.
The easiest way to do this is through a skills dashboard where managers can easily monitor development activities, track the progress of their team and take action to encourage their teams to develop. Most managers are time poor, so an ‘easy-to-action’ dashboard can support their team and introduce a culture of continuous development. This means looking at that skills data more than once a year and embedding it organically into conversations that they’re already having like weekly feedback sessions. Making it a quarterly habit for managers is a great way to bring more continuity to this process.
2. Let managers ‘eat first’
Author and speaker Simon Sinek, says that leaders should eat last — but in the case of upskilling your managers, I’d recommend the opposite approach. Upskill them first in the soft skills needed to drive your company’s values. They are a reflection of your culture and an important change agent, so why wait a year after they become a manager to train them on how to give feedback or remotely manage a team?
I’ve witnessed well-designed first-time managers’ programmes fail because they weren’t personalised enough. A personal plan ensures it meets managers where they currently are, instead of making assumptions of the skills needed and their capabilities. Prioritise your manager's upskilling based on urgency and time-to-build. A skill like asking open questions might take a day or two to learn the basics. Something like authentic communication is a long-term behavioural change. Focus on a handful of skills at a time, so your managers don’t feel overwhelmed.
3. Teach them how to coach
Everyone today is talking about coaching as a great way to improve individual performance and work through concrete challenges. The reason it’s so impactful is because it focuses on the tools needed to monitor and change unwanted behaviour, instead of trying to find solutions for every possible managerial issue.
From a development standpoint, this means learning how to learn and then letting them practice. Educator, writer and engineer Barbara Oakley, has done extensive research aimed at helping students learn more efficiently and in recent years her methods have found their way into corporate learning. She gives a comprehensive overview of her thinking in this TEDx talk.
4. Stretch newly learned skills
Bruce Lee once said, “I’m not afraid of a man who practices 10,000 kicks once, I’m afraid of the man who practices one kick 10,000 times.” The final piece in the learning journey is offering experiential learning opportunities that stretch the skills just learned.
But what does it mean to practice for a manager? Certainly role-playing and simulations can be a very good way to safely practice some managerial skills - but most managers don’t have the time. Pre-boarding your first-time managers (by giving them a temporary leadership role, a project manager assignment or even a short-term assignment) can really hone in their leadership skills without compromising quality and provide them with the confidence they need to start their new role.
5. Gather feedback on progress
Feedback is essential to understanding your managers’ progress and performance. Make sure you get a complete picture of their current skills and performance from their manager, their peers and their direct reports. This will help you spot areas where they’ve worked hard to improve and where they need extra support.
A continuous journey
Upskilling your managers is a continuous effort. Regularly review the skill needs for managers, at least once a quarter and whenever a significant change occurs in your business (like a new product). Collaborate with each one to set goals so their careers and skills are always growing, and to assess their skills based on what their team and the business needs. They will feel supported as their role and the business evolves — and that will make them a more confident manager, ready to lead their team no matter what lies ahead.
Chief Learning Strategist, Degreed