The following seven trends highlight what the best organizations are doing today to effectively develop managers. We’ve gathered these top ways to develop management teams from our work with many clients and best practice research.
Using these principles as a checklist to create and evaluate management development efforts will help ensure talent investment is optimized, organizational results are achieved, and managers are prepared for success.
The Role of a Manager
Managers are in a unique position as they translate, mediate, and execute the direction from senior leaders on a daily basis, while addressing obstacles and challenges from their on-the-ground teams. They ride the often turbulent air between strategy and tactics as they interpret vision and communicate priorities to get the right things done.
They are often the reason changes in the workplace have the opportunity to succeed because they provide the conduit of information, feedback, and action to those who are doing the work—with just enough knowledge and authority to decide what to stop, start, and continue doing. Additionally, managers are usually not asked to create a strategy, but they must understand it enough to help the front-line employees implement it.
Seven Trends in Building Strong Managers
The bottom line is managers are key to getting work done. Developing managerial capability can improve alignment, engagement, accountability, results, and prepare stronger future leaders. The following are seven trends in building strong managers.
1. Align Talent Development with Business Strategy:
Focusing on company-specific business strategies in management programs provides the right context and application to benefit the manager and the organization. It also helps ensure that business and talent decisions are equal in importance and attention.
Using real case studies, current business challenges, and actual strategic priorities will make the management development more relevant and effective. In the end, tailored content that is connected to the organization’s goals, versus off-the-shelf material, is preferred because it incorporates the culture and business needs that are unique to accomplishing the organization’s business strategy.
Key Question: How is program content personalized to support business strategy?
2. Define Tailored and Aligned Management Competencies:
Successful management development programs use competencies that are tailored and aligned to each person's management style. For example, an organization may have one leadership or management competency model for all levels, yet clearly identifies behaviors that are unique to each level. Each level of development then builds on the next, including:
- Foundational (first-level manager)
- Intermediate (mid-level manager)
- Advanced (senior-level manager)
Key Question: How are level specific competencies used to build and evaluate the program?
3. Match Investment with Value of Potential Contribution—Treat People Differently:
It is important to select and invest in the right people for development. Increased investment of time, resources, and budget needs to be matched with the level of expected value each manager will provide. In other words, don’t treat everyone the same. For those in critical positions or who are seen as high potential, the development investment needs to be higher. You can determine whether they are strong candidates for robust development opportunities by considering the following criteria:
- How they display the required competencies
- Their personal attributes and career desires
- Their professional and technical knowledge
- Their past experience and background
When you combine the above criteria with a desire to invest more in those who are in current or future critical positions, you’ll more easily be able to select and develop the right managers.
Key Question: How are the right managers selected for development opportunities?
4. Integrate with People Development Processes—More than just Having Software:
One of the best ways to sustain management development is to link development efforts with other people development processes, including:
- Performance management
- Goal settingSuccession planning
- Recruitment and selection
The processes need to have similar language or competencies that support each other. This is far more than merely having a software system in place that houses leadership data. It is implementing regular talent review sessions, syncing up business goals with development goals, and recruiting people who want to excel in an improvement-oriented culture. This will also build development as a cornerstone of the culture and help sustain development efforts.
Key Question: How do human resources systems and processes support management development programs?
5. Develop Strong Executive Engagement:
One of the most important practices for developing managers is for senior level leaders to be engaged in the manager development process. This can be done in many ways, such as:
- Executive kick-offs
- Facilitation or co-facilitation led by the leadership team
- Internal mentoring and shadowing
- Networking socials
- Personal notes or emails
- One-on-one follow up conversations
- Individual action plan creation
- Assigning new challenges
- Providing a safe environment to share new ideas
Overall, it is important that senior leaders are involved in the creation of the content, the selection of who will be developed, and the identification of their next assignment.
Key Question: How are the senior leaders active and visible in management development?
6. A Blended Approach is Best:
Good management development is far more than instructor-led training. The best management development programs are a combination of focused classroom instruction, individual 360 and/or professional personality assessments, action planning, one-on-one and/or group coaching, peer learning groups, action learning assignments, and follow-up meetings or assignments after the program is over. Creating multiple learning approaches, especially with experiential learning, enable the participants to learn in a variety of ways and to have the messages reinforced over an extended period of time.
For example, The National Basketball Association (NBA) designed a blended leadership program to train the company’s middle managers1. The program format includes five components described as follows:
- Kick-off – A ½ day in the classroom for an introduction to the program.
- Online Instruction – A 3-week period for learners to complete six hours of e-learning.
- Classroom Instruction – A day workshop that summarizes the online training and provides an opportunity for application, practice and exercises.
- Review and Coaching – Three follow-up review and coaching sessions to address principles learned in the course and to help work through any difficult situations.
- Three Month Review – After 3 months, a one-hour in-class “refresher” course is conducted for the learners to discuss how they have been using the leadership models in their everyday challenges.
Key Question: How is the program using multiple approaches to apply and sustain learning?
7. Peer Learning Customizes Development:
When designing management development programs, incorporating peer learning elements can create rich opportunities for growth. This involves more than having a group or partner debrief after an activity. Optimizing peer learning involves building a safe environment with clear instruction so managers can provide personalized insights for each other.
For example, JetBlue Airways divides leaders into Learning Groups at the beginning of their management programs and teaches them how to effectively give and receive feedback. Each group has six Learning Partners who are asked to observe each other throughout the program and then provide positive and constructive feedback to each other at the end. They also have videoed team experiences that are reviewed together as a group, allowing each team member to provide and receive personalized feedback from their peers.
Key Question: How is peer learning incorporated in management development activities?
Investing in these seven trends to develop your managerial talent will positively impact alignment, engagement, accountability and results. It will ultimately prepare your future leaders to accomplish great things in the future!