HRDs need to give managers new skills

It’s probably safe to say that by now, we’re all acutely aware of how the pandemic, the ‘Great Resignation’, hybrid work, and lots, lots more, have impacted employers.

But I say HRDs should be sparing a thought for their managers – the people who have to translate their organization’s responses to these challenges into real-world actions for their teams.

For managers are pivotal in any business. Our own research suggests that when workers rate their managers positively they are 515% more likely to have discussed their career goals and growth opportunities with them over the last 12 months. We’ve also found that in positive cultures, where continuous learning and workforce agility is the norm, the staff managers look after are 199% more likely to receive a promotion, and 235% more likely to move to new functions within their organization (those impacting retention).

Managers need to evolve like never before

But it’s my belief the job requirements for managers are now evolving like never before. They are no longer solely tasked with project and line management, or reporting on performance, hitting goals, and sticking to budgets. Managers 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. They also need to coach, mentor, provide peer-learning. They need to do more active listening; they need to ask more open questions, give more authentic communication, and constructive feedback. It’s a huge transition they need to go through.

Just responding to one of these tasks is a tall order, and so it’s no surprise that most managers today are feeling the strain (especially with little-to-no physical facetime with their team). A recent survey published in Fortune revealed that only 60% of managers feel that they can cope with the changes being asked of them.

It’s why more managers need support from their organizations 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 also for their own career journey).

With this in mind, here are some practical ways you can equip your managers to support their teams better:

1) Get them hooked on (skills) data

Creating a baseline for skills data can be valuable for everyone. Managers must be provided with a skills dashboard where they 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 skills data more than once a year and embedding it organically into conversations that managers are already having (such as weekly feedback sessions).

2) Let them eat first

Management author 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 are 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? To do this, it’s important to create a personal plan that focuses on the skills they’re currently missing. Don’t make assumptions about what they do or do not have. I’ve witnessed well-designed first-time managers’ programs fail because they weren’t personalized enough. It’s much better to prioritize 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, but something like authentic communication is a long-term behavioral change. So focus on a handful of skills at a time. This way your managers won’t’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of learning they have to do.

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3) Teach them early how to fish… then give them a pole!

It seems that 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 behavior, instead of trying to find solutions for every possible managerial issue. Teaching your managers how to navigate uncertainty gives them a better GPS than any paper map. From a development standpoint, this means learning how to learn and then letting them practice.

4) Stretch their 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.” In other words offer experiential learning opportunities that stretch skills just learned. But what does practice mean for a manager? Certainly, role-playing and simulations can be a very good way to safely practice some managerial skills. 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 crucial to understanding your managers’ progress and performance. Make sure you get a complete picture of their current skills and performance from their manager, peers who work with them, and their direct reports. This will help you spot areas where they’ve worked hard to improve their skills and areas where they need extra support.

PS. Don’t forget emerging managers too

As well as building new skills in your current manager workforce, it’s worth upskilling those in your manager pipeline too. These are people who can be made ready to step into new roles when the time is right.

But remember, upskilling your managers isn’t a one-time event. HRDs need to review skills-needs for managers at least once a quarter, or whenever a significant change occurs in their business. Do all these things above though, and managers will feel supported as their role and the business evolves. That will make them a more confident manager, ready to lead their team, no matter what lies ahead.

Annee Bayeux is chief learning strategist at education technology company, Degreed. She was formerly in global HR operations at GE and previously

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