On Thursday, May 12, about a hundred New York City-area learning professionals began their days by attending Grovo’s breakfast panel, “Learning Leadership: Developing Today’s Managers.” The event, held at Manhattan’s Helen Mills Event Space, featured a lively discussion about how to develop great managers from an HR perspective. (Scroll down for full video.)
Our very own VP of People Joris Luijke moderated a panel of three leading L&D practitioners and Grovo clients: Elise James-DeCruise of MediaMath, Holly Brittingham of FCB, and Russell Harlan of Morris Communications.
As a packed house of quiche-munching HR enthusiasts heard the panel’s insights, a theme began to emerge: managerial training hasn’t yet experienced its unifying moment. A lot of it remains informal and inconsistent. Consequently, it drives spotty results.
Harlan, for example, told the story of how his managerial career began with some of the worst advice he’s ever gotten. “I asked the senior executive if he had any advice for me about leading a team of people. He leaned back in his chair, and he said, ‘If you see a man who’s down, kick him. And if you keep kicking him, if he’s any good, one day he’ll get up.’” Luckily, Harlan knew to run the other way. But how many eager young managers would hear this from their boss’s boss and embrace it? It’s a reliance on this type of haphazard training that’s led to HCM’s present crisis of succession planning, in which 89% of companies list leadership development as their most urgent priority.
While management training will always vary from one company to another, the panel’s hourlong discussion generated a number of best practices every program designer would do well to incorporate:
Lead with the story, not the model.
You’ve spent weeks developing your game-changing training program. You’re eager to put it in front of your learners. When they finally see it, though, they tune out. Is there something wrong with them? With your model? No, Brittingham said, you just haven’t effectively sold your learners on what they can achieve by going through management training. A good way to do that is to tell a compelling story that relates the need for leadership. That gets people engaged and motivated to do it themselves. “Tell the story, and then say ‘By the way, here’s a great way to think about this.’”
Meet your developing managers where they are.
Connect training material to your learners’ existing strengths and passions. “Everyone has a story to tell,” said James-DeCruise. “And you have to draw your strengths from somewhere. When I was a new manager, I pulled from my leadership experience in sports, from being a leader in that environment.” She recommended management trainers make similar relations between learners and the skills they bring to the table. “It’s a good way to help build their confidence when they’re in a situation they’re unsure of.”
Teach things that are simple but profound.
“The most simple, elegant models are what allow people to remember content easily,” said Brittingham. Management “hacks”—ideas that are easy to learn, retain, and apply, but which have a big impact—are more likely to show results. She offered the example of the “Skill/Will” matrix, which is a simple yet potent diagnostic tool for managers seeking to understand their people.
Build trust, be open, and teach vulnerability.
Growing into a management role requires “getting comfortable being uncomfortable,” according to James-DeCruise. That means an open and trusting relationship is an important precondition for effective management training. Harlan agreed, saying that he likes to get to know learners personally and build trust incrementally. “The biggest thing is to let people know that it’s OK to not have all the answers.”
To any L&D professional out there wondering how to elevate the status of their business unit, Harlan has simple advice: “Let’s get real. Let’s stop playing around.” Feedback is the lifeblood of your training program. Without it, you have no idea whether your initiatives work. “We’re not interested in smile sheets or hi-fives after the session. We want to make a real, strategic difference to the people we’re working with.” In order to ensure that learning is effective, “be fanatical” about delivering training that aligns with the use case and delivers the objectives it needs to.
Create a culture around learning.
Perhaps the day’s most hard hitting recommendation was that companies need to commit to establishing a culture of leadership development. “It’s more common for organizations to have a well-developed sales culture than a great leadership culture,” said Harlan. It’s an apt critique. Imagine if sales training was as improvised and anecdotal as management training. Some people, like those with natural talent or access to great mentors, would be great sellers. Most would be pretty mediocre. Unfortunately, that’s the current state of managerial development.
Maybe that’s why the day’s discussion focused more on the future of managerial training than on what already exists. There’s plenty of work that every learning professional can do to ensure that leadership development has an impact at their organization. But with L&D practitioners like Luijke, Brittingham, James-DeCruise, and Harlan out there, the future does seem to be coming.
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Here’s the full video of the event.