Manager’s Corner: Training, Accountability and Development

Is Leadership Training More Important Than Flowers?

I just got off the phone with a prospective client. They have serious employee and management retention issues. They have few managers with the right skills to be effective managers, let alone develop into effective leaders, they have a multitude of staff with less-than-effective front-line customer service skills, they are in an industry that is growing by leaps and bounds, and their reputation for less-than-stellar service is starting to spread.

So why are they calling my office? They’ve used a series of trainers with no continuity between programs, no effective reinforcement of training concepts, and less-than-effective programming. This training is mandatory for all supervisors and managers and it’s not been effective. Senior management’s not happy. I don’t blame them.

However, when I raised the issue of funding a revamped training and management performance program to address their needs, I was told, “We’ll probably be able to find some money but we’ve already spent a lot of money on this.” Excuse me, but were you expecting my company to provide these services free?

Well, Liz being Liz, I had to ask, “Just out of curiosity, what do you think your company spends annually on the flowers you put on the dining room tables each night?” “Oh geeze — a lot!” was the answer. I replied, “What do you think is more important to the long-term profitabilility of your organization: pretty table flowers or a well-trained management team?”

I only share this story with you so you can ask yourself a similar question: When it comes to investing in your business what makes more sense: investing in your employees to ensure they are better able to serve your customers now and into the future or investing in “flowers” your customers may not even notice?

Accountability Allows Leadership

A senior manager recently asked what the difference was between a manager and a leader. I told her. A manager is responsible for taking care of the here and now. A manager ensures the resources are used efficiently, and plans for maximum utilization of staff, equipment, materials, and capital. A manager knows how to multi- task and deal with ever-shifting priorities. A leader focuses on “What’s coming next and how to take advantage of it?” Given that definition, she said, “I’m definitely not a leader. I don’t have time to think about what’s next. I’m overwhelmed trying to keep the here and now under control. How do I find the time to lead?”

For most people, you can’t lead until you’ve taught others how to manage. Until you free up time and your mental capacity to focus on “What’s next?” it’s terribly difficult to become an effective leader. Many people try to do both and end up being stressed out managers with limited effectiveness planning for the future. They weaken themselves in both arenas. So, how can this senior manager become a leader? She needs to start holding her managers accountable to do the tough things good managers do: have the difficult conversations with staff who are not performing well, deal with the unhappy customers to resolve company-created problems, make difficult and risky decisions concerning resources, and track their departmental goals with their staffs to ensure the entire organization continues to move towards its vision. Until her managers are held accountable to do their jobs and manage effectively, this senior manager won’t be able to free herself up enough to lead effectively. Until she’s ready to be a solid manager herself (and have those difficult conversations with her own staff), she won’t be positioned to move to the next phase of professional growth and become a leader.

If you’re faced with the same dilemma as this senior manager and don’t have time to plan for the future, ask yourself, “What do I spend most of my time doing now?” If you spend the bulk of your time doing the work your managers or supervisors should be doing, you may need to start holding yourself and others accountable.

How Managers Develop Their Employees

We’re working with several organizations helping them prepare their next tier of managers to eventually take over the senior leadership positions. However, before we focus on developing this next tier of managers, we spend a good bit of time working with the current senior leadership team to help them comprehend their level of responsibility in developing their own employees. It’s not Human Resources’ job; it’s theirs.

Whether they hold the position of VP of Operations, Director of Eastern Markets, or Senior Supervisor, every manager, supervisor, or team leader has the responsibility to continuously develop the skills, knowledge, and abilities (S/K/A) of the individuals they supervise. So, how do they do this?

First, to help the current senior team start to think in terms of how they might help their team members develop, we have them review their own position descriptions and answer questions such as:

  • Does your current position description accurately reflect the skills, knowledge, and abilities (S/K/A) needed to effectively fulfill your current job responsibilities?
  • If not, what is missing and how does this S/K/A help you do your job. Be specific.
  • What specific training or experience (i.e. projects, etc.) have you been provided that you believe helped you gain critical skills to do your job?
  • As you look into the future to the Company’s vision, how will your job be different 3-5 years from now?
  • What additional S/K/A will you need to do your job then?
  • What would help you gain those required S/K/A? (Identify specific training, coaching/mentoring, cross-training, field experience, etc.)

This process gets the senior managers thinking about their own skills and what really is needed now and in the future to do their jobs well. Often this step alone helps them to identify training and experiences they’ve had that helped them gain their knowledge that they hadn’t fully appreciated before.

Second, we have the senior managers review their middle managers’ position descriptions and answer questions such as:

  • Does the current position description accurately reflect the S/K/A needed to effectively fulfill their current job responsibilities?
  • If not, what is missing and how does this S/K/A help each manager do his/her job. Be specific.
  • What specific training or experience (i.e. projects, etc.) have each of the managers been provided that you believe helped them gain critical skills to do their jobs?
  • As you look into the future to the Company’s vision, how will their jobs be different 3-5 years from now?
  • What additional S/K/A will they need to do their jobs then?
  • What would help them to gain those required S/K/A? (Identify specific training, coaching/mentoring, cross-training, field experience, etc.)

This process helps the senior managers really focus on what their middle managers do and don’t know and do. It also helps them clarify what skills really are needed now and in the future to do these jobs well. This step often highlights for them long-overdue training and project experience many of their middle managers need.

Third, we have the senior managers ask themselves:

  • Who currently fills in for you/serves as your “Acting” when you are out or unable to do your job?
  • What S/K/A does this person have that allows him/her to do your job?
  • Does this person hold the position within the company that would logically be considered your successor?
  • If not, what S/K/A is the person missing who does hold the position that would logically be considered your successor?

This process and many others help the senior managers “wake up” and see anew what S/K/A their current middle managers do and don’t have.

Often, just these few steps provide great insight for the senior team to take action and help develop their employees. It also helps them realize that developing others is not Human Resources’ responsibility; it’s theirs. They also start to see how managers can develop their employees. Can you?

© 2007 – 2015, Liz Weber. All rights reserved.