Are Untrained Managers Ruining Your Business?

6 min read

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A warning that untrained managers are quite possibly ruining your business may seem at first needlessly inflammatory, but all too often it’s the truth. The reality is that most managers struggle to effectively lead their teams, and that costs a business more than you likely realize.

Here’s how that dynamic typically plays out: in most organizations, people are promoted because they are good individual contributors — good employees — but may have no idea how to lead a team. It’s easy to make the false assumption that because they are rock star staff members in a different capacity, they will also be capable managers. Couple that with the fact that most businesses don’t provide adequate manager training, and you have a recipe for disaster.

The Business Case for Training Managers

You’ve probably heard the expression, “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” Many departing employees may say they’re leaving for a better opportunity, but exit interview data often tells a different story. When you drill down to what truly prompts employees to look for new opportunities, it comes back to relationships with their direct reports. More times than not, the departing employee isn’t unhappy with the organization as a whole, but instead is stymied by something on a more micro level. According to Gallup data, managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units, and also found that teams with great managers see 27% more revenue per employee.

A study by the strategy execution company Root calls managers, “corporate America’s most neglected employee,” but notes that only 28% of organizations prioritize investments in their managerial talent. 

Related: 4 Massive Mistakes Many Companies Make When Promoting New Managers

Other research from the multimedia “business of learning” firm Training Industry revealed that as many as 60% of new managers fail to launch well and subsequently underperform within their first two years on the job. In a recent survey of 500 managers by the business and technology consulting firm West Monroe, managing their people ranked second of the most common workplace stressors. No less than 44% of such surveyed managers indicated that they feel overwhelmed at work. Here’s the kicker: only a third of them received nine or more hours of managerial training, and a startling 44% received less than two. Additional research by Forbes and Harvard Business columnist Jack Zenger found that most managers do not receive training until they have been in a leadership role for almost 10 years. By then, it’s likely too late to correct past mistakes and bad management habits.

When Managers Fail, Organizations Lose

When managers don’t succeed, employees pay the price in lower morale and engagement, poor performance, misunderstood expectations, ineffective work teams, nonexistent development and advancement opportunities and many other potential workplace problems. Bad managers not only play a major role in turnover but also hold people back from achieving their full potential.

Related: Is Your Workplace Culture Missing the X Factor?

Managers Need Both Tactical Skills and Power Skills

There are two broad abilities managers need to develop. Tactical skills are the things outlined in the job description — the knowledge, skills and abilities to do the actual work. These may be industry-specific or job-category specific. Then you have power skills, a term coined by talent management guru Josh Bersin — referring to behavioral competencies necessary for success in a job. These are also frequently referred to as “soft skills,” but there’s nothing soft about them. They are critical, and include things like being adaptable to change, the ability to give and receive feedback and expertise in time management and team building. It takes time to develop these competencies, and only a small percentage of managers come equipped with them from the start of their careers.

What a Manager Training Program Should Include

The reality is most managers want to be successful, but don’t know how. The following list provides topic areas you may want to include in your organization’s managerial training program:

1. Understanding Strengths

If your manager was promoted from a lower employee rung, the skills that made her or him shine in that previous job might not necessarily make them effective in this new one. So, you need to help them get clear on their strengths. According to Gallup, managers who understand their strengths are six times more likely to be engaged in their work. And when your manager is engaged, it’ll be easier for them to get their team engaged and so increase productivity. You may also want to include content on how to use mission, vision and values statements to motivate their teams. We have also found that assessments like CliftonStrengths or Predictive Index can be helpful in giving them better self-awareness.

2. Hiring the Right People

Managers need to have the right crew if they want to be effective, but knowing who to hire is easier said than done. Showing managers effective interviewing tactics to help find those who want to do good work is a gem of a skill. This part of the training could include behavioral-based interview techniques and content detailing the true cost of a bad hire.

3. Retaining, Engaging and Motivating a Team

Employee engagement increases dramatically when the daily experiences of employees include positive relationships with their direct supervisors or managers. This portion of the training helps a manager learn how to boost morale and get the best performance out of a team. You may want to include content on why engagement matters, how to utilize stay interviews as a check-in on team members they want to retain, and how to develop a relationship with team members broadly (and so, in time, develop them into leaders themselves).

Related: How Stay Interviews Became the Hottest Workforce-Retention Tool

4. Maximizing Productivity

Delegation and prioritization are skills that many managers struggle with, so part of a good training program should be helping them hone them, then reviewing how increases in performance resulted from them. You could include content on how to use time management effectively, prioritization techniques that will help them get the most important things done and a step-by-step delegation process.

5. Managing Performance

A manager who doesn’t know how to manage performance cannot be effective. That’s why managers need to know how to accurately assess team results. In this section of the training, you could include content on how to develop goals with employees (as well as how to help them hit them), how to actively listen to them, and how to conduct one-on-one meetings that boost performance.

6. Communicating During Conflict and the Art of Difficult Conversations

Fraught interactions are unavoidable in the workplace, and managers who know how to have challenging conversations can be a saving grace. This aspect of training could include methodology for discussing without rancor, turning a negative situation into a positive for all parties as well as content on why having such conversations is an important part of being a manager.


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