⏲️ 9min read 🗓️ @September 28, 2021 👇 Table of contents below
- 1. Front-line managers are precious.
- 2. They need help to avoid the trap.
- 3. 🗺️ The map of leadership trainings for new managers.
- 4. None of this seems to be working well.
- 5. Advice creates followers.
- 6. Key learnings - Here's how to build a better leadership training program.
- Key Learning #1 - Formal trainings in short bursts.
- Key Learning #2 - Learning from peers, in a structured and safe space.
- Key Learning #3 - On-the-job learning doesn't just happen.
- 7. Peer Coaching ticks many boxes.
- 8. What about Key Learning #1?
- 9. Conclusions.
- P.S. What does a peer coaching facilitator do?
1. Front-line managers are precious.
If your company is anything typical, about 80% of your staff is on the front lines. They have no responsibilities for other employees and their main window to the company’s leadership is their direct manager.
Front-line managers are the least experienced but have a lot resting on their shoulders. In particular, they have the biggest influence on Employee Experience. Their performance is critical to your business.
Every day, they are the ones creating (or destroying) your employee experience. According to McKinsey, they account for a full third of employee satisfaction:
- Of course, they engage, guide and motivate employees.
- They breathe life into your company culture. They embody it, explain it, and keep their people accountable.
- They also bring your employer brand alive during and after recruitments.
- They play a key role in attracting and keeping talent.
- They keep your workforce relevant by coaching their teams and creating opportunities for on-the-job learning.
- And they solve most operational and people issues.
2. They need help to avoid the trap.
We still tend to offer management jobs to high performers - not to good managers - and we do little to prepare them for the switch. New managers usually are proud, excited and motivated but they often do not realize to which extent their new job comes with an entirely new purpose, new behaviours, new tools, new schedules, etc.
Worse, it’s not unusual for managers 5 or 6 years into the job, to still be stuck in their old job. When they are not doing operational work instead of managing their team, these managers spend their time re-doing their team’s work, controlling details, interrupting their teams ... These managers replicate the indoctrinate-command-control management style from the late 20th century. These managers are obsolete.
All novice managers go through a serious questioning phase a few weeks into their new job: “Am I good enough for this job?”. The questions are existential: “What am I actually supposed to do in this job?”.
Novice managers need help to successfully make it through the questioning phase and grow into a manager that can build an engaged, performing and happy team.
They need help to:
- Understand what the hell their new job is, since it’s not about delivering great work anymore
- Create a safe playing field for their teams, where employees enjoy a lot of operational freedom
- Support their team without quenching their creativity
- Execute the standard day-to-day management tasks
- Grab every opportunity they can to build trust in their team
- Take care of themselves
Without support, new managers will naturally continue doing what has worked for them in the past. This is the new manager trap. Unfortunately, while they're busy doing what feels comfortable to them, they are not supporting their team or your company’s goals.
Most new managers simply do not know what we truly expected of them and what it means to be successful in their new job.
3. 🗺️ The map of leadership trainings for new managers.
I've mapped out and compared the different training methods and ways in which companies support - or not - their novice people managers.
I've looked at whether the training helped managers:
- See the big picture by learning leadership concepts and frameworks.
- Develop solutions to their own, real-world problems.
- Learn to solve their own problems, not simply copy-paste ready made solutions.
- Grow the essential soft skills for the job (empathy, listening, humility ...), not just hear about them.
- Build a long-term support network in the company.
And I've also compared the trainings based on more practical aspects:
- Is the training punctual? Or does it spread over time to facilitate learning?
- Is the training customized to the exact need of the participants?
- Is the training scalable across an organization?
- How cost effective is the training method?
4. None of this seems to be working well.
When I started working on I Can Manage, I quickly realized that only half of managers receive trainings and formal support when starting their new job.
That, to me, is shocking. 🤯
Worse, from the discussions I have, it seems those who do get access to formal training programs ... are not convinced by the value they bring. Sure, they learn a few tricks and gather a few tips. But are these trainings helping them develop new reflexes, build better habits and solve their real-world problems? They are not sure.
We all agree that front-line managers are essential to the success of the teams and the company. We all agree that the switch from “team member” to “team manager” is tricky and asks for old reflexes to be rewired.
Why is that?
For me, the main reason is that traditional trainings, which mostly rely on passive absorption of content, are not working. They are not helping new managers solve their immediate problems, and they’re not triggering meaningful behaviour change. These trainings focus on the bottom of Bloom’s taxonomy and cannot trigger meaningful self-reflection and help master team management.
We continue to rely on these trainings because:
- They are familiar to everyone - “This is what a training looks like”.
- They are widely available - “Hey, when I google Leadership Training, I get a gazillion hits".
- They can seem quite cost effective - “I even found a €99 training!”.
It feels like we're happy going with the flow.
5. Advice creates followers.
The vast majority of managers I talk to have had to figure it out on their own. They’ve had to build their own informal support network, find spot coaching or mentoring opportunities and rely on advice from senior leaders.
Asking seniors for advice, relying on informal support networks makes sense, of course:
- They’re a source of pragmatic solutions or ideas to operational problems.
- Through discussions, they trigger a basic level of self-awareness and reflection.
- They come at no immediate cost for the company.
But, alone, they cannot be an effective support for personal growth, because:
- Coffee machine talks tend to focus on urgent topics, leaving management culture and frameworks out of the discussion.
- More surprisingly, many Learning & Development managers I’ve talked to think that their senior managers cannot be mentors or coaches for their junior managers. They never have enough time, they are not focused and they might not know how to coach. Worse, they don't always embody the management culture they're asked to spread!
- Most importantly: relying on a “source of solutions” (a.k.a. "an easy way out") is disempowering for managers. They learn to ask for advice and copy-paste what has worked for others in the past, not to build original solutions inspired by the experience of others. There is a line between the two. Too much advice creates followers, not leaders.
Yes! Learning-by-doing is a cornerstone of effective personal growth. But it leaving novice managers to figure everything out on their own feels more like a display of laziness or carelessness from their senior managers, than a deliberate, well thought out, growth strategy.
Is it a good idea to throw your new managers - often your best talent - in the pool to check if they can swim? Sure, they might learn. They might also drown, or drown their teams.
6. Key learnings - Here's how to build a better leadership training program.
A short recap of what we've seen so far:
- We need to support new front-line managers.
- Traditional, old school, lectures don’t work. Coffee-machine talks with senior managers either.
- There’s no obvious solution on the map of possible leadership trainings. Are we stuck?
Here's how we can support each element of the 10-20-70 learning model, not just the 10% of formal trainings:
Key Learning #1 - Formal trainings in short bursts.
New managers want - and need - a layer of management theory, concepts and frameworks.
This is best covered using formal trainings and forms the base of Bloom's Taxonomy of learning.
But the content needs to be delivered short and sweet, in bursts that do not completely interrupt the flow of work.
Managers overwhelmingly reject multi-day lecture-based programs.
This "theoretical" content needs to be curated to match relevant concerns in the company. And it is needs to be customized to the company culture and vocabulary.
Available options to deliver this content:
- Short master classes or lectures
- E-mail drip courses
Key Learning #2 - Learning from peers, in a structured and safe space.
Managers understand the value they can get out - and bring - to good group discussions. They are seek more discussions and interactions with their peers.
That’s good news, since peer learning is an effective strategy for active learning.
But proposing coffee machine talks is not enough. These informal talks slip into one-sided and superficial discussions, dominated by the most charismatic or quick-witted person in the room. They are not a safe place for someone to voice their actual concerns and show vulnerability.
New managers need a structured and safe space to test and grow new leadership skills. Especially hard-to-learn power skills (a.k.a soft skills) such as listening, showing vulnerability, getting comfortable with others’ perspectives and emotions, asking insightful questions, giving and getting direct feedback, coaching and helping people find their own solutions...
You can only grow these skills by interacting with others.
Key Learning #3 - On-the-job learning doesn't just happen.
Most of the learning and personal growth happens on the job. Yet, we often neglect this element of the 10-20-70 model when setting up a leadership training program for new managers.
Managers are telling me they need help with their real-world operational issues.
They usually rely on quick advice from experienced colleagues. While advice is insightful, it’s just that: advice. It can be relevant or completely miss the point.
On-the-job-learning should be an opportunity to fuel self-reflection and to develop the manager’s own leadership behaviours. It should be a source of empowerment. Receiving advice doesn’t support any of these essential growth areas. Advice does not help managers build their own knowledge.
Instead, managers need to learn to develop their own solutions. They need to be coached, not left alone.
7. Peer Coaching ticks many boxes.
Can we build something that brings together these three key learnings? A new manager development program that stays in budget, is as flexible and scalable as a lecture and as personal as a private coaching session?
We're looking for a method that:
- Let's managers learn leadership concepts and frameworks
- Helps managers find solutions to their immediate problems
- Empowers managers to develop their own approach
- Helps managers grow hard-to-learn soft skills (Listening, empathy, questioning ...)
- Build a support network
Imagine a group of 5 to 7 managers, gathering every month for a structured working session.
One manager shares a problem on which he needs support.
The group does not flood him with - sometimes irrelevant - advice, but coaches the manager, to help him develop his own solution.
In doing so, they grow and test their coaching and leadership skills.
And the peer coaching approach supports the 3 stages of the 10-20-70 learning model gives tangible answers to the expectations raised in the Key Learnings:
Key Learning #2 - Learning from peers, in a structured and safe space.
- Peer coaching is an active learning method. No one is a spectator.
- Peer Coaching creates a safe bubble, free of pressure from HR or the hierarchy, to learn and test-out new behaviours or power skills and to show vulnerability.
Key Learning #3 - On-the-job learning doesn't just happen.
- The learning experience spreads out over several months to facilitate learning and support managers in the long term.
- Managers build a support network that survives the training program.
- Managers gain access to a toolbox of relevant ideas to choose from, not just to copy-paste.
8. What about Key Learning #1?
While peer coaching sessions create opportunities to learn frameworks or management theory in a practical context, the approach does not provide enough opportunities for formal learning. The concepts and leadership frameworks, usually covered in formal lectures, are important for new managers to eventually develop creativity and self-reflection on their practices.
A simple and effective solution can be to augment a peer coaching program with multiple, short, interactive sessions or drip courses to cover the leadership fundamentals (such as "How to delegate?" "Having difficult conversations" "Setting targets" ...).
Supporting new managers as they transition into their new roles is essential for the manager, their teams and ultimately for the business.
Traditional training programs are not helping managers grow leadership behaviours. They focus on content absorption, not on changing behaviours.
After having mapped out all training options, peer coaching appears to form a solid base for a training program:
- It support all the phases of a 10-20-70 learning model.
- It creates a space for peer learning.
- It supports on-the-job learning.
- It can easily be augmented to cover the more theoretical elements.
P.S. What does a peer coaching facilitator do?
A essential element of the peer coaching approach is to create a safe space, allowing managers to experiment and test-out leadership behaviours. Coffee-machine talks, or sessions facilitated by HR or seniors are not safe - in this sense of the term.
An external, neutral, facilitator is needed to run a successful peer coaching program. The facilitator:
- Creates the right environment for learning.
- Demonstrates coaching techniques and give immediate feedback as managers learn to coach.
- Brings a curated tool box of leadership tools.
- Enforces the structure for a productive training.
Copyright Xavier Auclert, I Can Manage 2021