As someone who went from being designer to team manager, and experienced a little bit of drowning alongside some doggie paddling as I faced multiple new challenges at once, practical and blended training helped me. But it was the support I got from people - the coaching and cohort - that carried me through from learning to doing (and breathing).
The struggles of new managers
About five years back, I was promoted from being a Lead learning Designer, where I might have been responsible for the design and success of a blend or elearning project, to managing a production team of around 15 people, which fluxed with contractors, and who were not all of my discipline. Overnight, it felt, I had become accountable for much more serious financial and business targets, a large portfolio of work, some new and some more experienced team members, alongside continuing to do high level design work on our projects. Now it happened that it was a new role and a new team, in a fast growing company – but working at fast pace amongst constant change is not unusual in today's business world.
I’m going to admit that I did a little bit of drowning, a little bit of treading water, as well as a little bit of swimming (or doggie paddle) to stay on top of things. Looking longer term and operating at a more strategic level, or even putting time into coaching and helping others develop, felt as far away as the moon back then. There was more than enough to do to bob along in the waves of activity.
Why am I telling you this? Well my situation was not unusual. So many people get promoted from technical roles into management roles and face similar challenges.
“The majority of today’s front-line managers were promoted as a result of a high performance in pre-management roles, regardless of what those roles might have been.” BearingPoint Institute 2015.
Whilst I thought I needed more hands on deck and less work (simple, right?), what I needed was some focused skills to help get the best from my team – in terms of developing them and building their capabilities and the performance of the team, but also in managing the work flow through effective delegation to utilise their abilities and extract myself from all those tasks that actually didn’t really need me.
I needed training, right?
What wouldn’t have helped me back then was to be taken away for a training course for 2 – 3 days. Whilst we all love a mini-break, the idea that my work would be piling up back at base camp would have been eating away at me. If you are struggling to see the woods for the trees, going off to another location might not always give you the perspective you need. Sometimes you just need some tools, advice and someone to guide you.
Yet in-depth courses are still the default for many management training programmes: face-to-face and online courses.
According to Deloitte, companies spent nearly $31 billion on leadership programs last year. It’s still one of the biggest areas for L&D investment. Yet something’s amiss as:
- Only 6% of organisations believe their leadership pipeline is ‘very ready'- a staggering capability gap given how important these roles are. A story echoed by ILM, who state that 93% of UK organisations they spoke with "expressed concern that low levels of management skills are having a direct impact on their business achieving its goals."
- 41% of new manager training is not applied back on the job, according to KnowledgeAdvisors (2015). This is backed up from our own research, where many organisations we spoke with relayed frustrations with the lack of transfer from management training to the job. Something we’ve termed the learning-doing gap in our recent white paper.
Could it be because the investment is in learning that’s taking place out of context of the day-to-day? Or because there’s not enough support to help new managers apply it, and continue learning?
What actually helped me?
- Short focused practical training sessions – lasting no more than an hour, which always ended with me writing up what I was going to do to make a positive change in that area
- My Community of practice – the management team supported each other and learnt together – we shared tips, experiences, and coached each other in how to meet our targets, around given themes. Plus my colleague, Paul Welch and I supported one another regularly and informally, as we both had new teams to run.
- One-to-one coaching – weekly catch ups with my manager, who listened deeply, asked good questions, and who knew my team and where I was at in terms of making things happen
- Trying things out – and then reporting back on how that went with my cohort and coach
It was this combination that helped my find the woods again, and from there I could move towards longer term goals and development. The journey continued, but at its foundations were some specific stepping stones that gave me a leg up as a new manager – and these were around practical topics such as effective delegation. The coaching and community of practice were key to helping turn theory into skill.
Practical blends – creating the right type of (meandering) path for management training
ManagementPlus is a series of blended journeys that support new managers with those all-important leg-ups. They comprise self-paced learning with coaching, social cohort-based learning if you want it, and real world practice. Underpinning the blend are personal targets, created through upfront feedback from team members and self-assessment.
You complete a journey when you feel you’re ready to get out there with that skill, not when you complete the formal training elements. Confidence is as important as competence after all, and the journeys are set up so you can go back in to any point to learn through the case-studies and practice further. You can then re-discuss with your coach, and decide if you’re all set to ‘go live’ with it (a continuation of the learning experience in itself).
Why is coaching so key?
True personalisation comes from effective one–to-one coaching: a space to reflect, consolidate, be guided, face up to some truths, or perhaps just get things off your chest. Being listened to and invested in, particularly by your own manager, has a big impact on motivation and employee engagement. A subject we’ve been focusing on of late, and that has a resounding effect on business culture and success.
But it can help turn learning about what you should be doing into real action – a supportive bridge between learning and doing. And, if you want your new managers to effectively coach their team members, they can learn how to do this from real role models. It had a systemic effect on us as managers, as we then set up coaching programs across the board and the design community.
It's no wonder that Towards Maturity’s Preparing for the Future of Learning report finds that L&D teams are set to grow, on average, and invest that extra resource into three key areas:
- 53% plan to increase capacity in online delivery
- 49% in social and collaborative learning facilitation
- 48% in coaching/mentoring
Coaching is up there as, as is social and collaborative (coming out top in our recent poll), alongside online learning. It’s exciting to see the momentum building behind performance-supporting blends. The kind of learning that Jane Hart includes in Workplace learning – the individual’s perspective.