Introduction

As we end a year of recovery and enter one of opportunity, it is time we reevaluate the way we approach managerial training, a cornerstone of organizational success. Employees are unhappy with their managers. Managers do not feel adequately prepared to succeed in their jobs. This is a situation that needs immediate attention!

In this post, we will dig into this crucial subject in order to understand the situation and the steps that you can take to dramatically improve the situation. Throughout this exploration, I will draw upon existing research while offering my personal insights, as well as the knowledge and experience of the great leaders I have worked with. To emphasize key points, I will incorporate practical examples.

Note: As a part of my ongoing process, I use AI as an aid. I generate the topic, do the research, and then use a combination of ChatGPT, Claude 2, and Bard to help me write the article. I then do somewhere between a little and a lot of editing before I post. I write prompts for Midjourney to generate some images and get others online that are creative commons.

The Consequences of Inadequate Managerial Training

Managerial training is an area often overlooked, despite being the linchpin of organizational success. It’s widely accepted that skilled jobs require formal training, yet the same principle isn’t consistently applied to management roles. In many instances, capable individuals who excel in their respective roles, such as administrators or engineers, are thrust into managerial positions with little to no preparation. They might receive a brief training session or some advice from superiors, but more often than not, they’re set loose to manage teams without any evidence of possessing the requisite skills.

The consequences of this deficiency in managerial training are dire. The skills needed for effective management are vastly different from those in technical or non-managerial roles. It’s a complex skill set encompassing hiring, goal setting, delegation, staying engaged without micromanaging, offering constructive feedback, tackling tough issues, ensuring compliance, and much more. Navigating this challenging terrain is a herculean task that demands practice and guidance.

A telling statistic highlights the gravity of the issue: a study from 2016 revealed that 98 percent of managers felt they needed more training. The prevalence of untrained managers is a clear indicator of the problem. To underscore this point, let’s consider the experiences of employees who’ve had the misfortune of working under untrained managers.

An employee’s lament: “My last job was under a first-time manager, and it irrevocably impacted my career prospects within the company. I was left in the dark for an extended period, receiving drips of guidance over months. I was promised new projects and responsibilities but received only empty words. To learn, I had to teach myself because my manager had no idea how to guide me. He was an excellent employee but lacked aptitude and training for management.”

Another account: “My manager wasn’t a terrible person, but he was initially hired for a tech-consultant-like role. When our boss left, he was promoted without prior management experience. He often didn’t comprehend my role, leading to confusion and backtracking on decisions. It was evident he considered me a slacker because he limited my workload, claiming we’d automate tasks later, which never transpired.”

Clearly, being a proficient manager requires skills that few individuals inherently possess. Despite this, companies frequently neglect the need for thorough managerial training, leading to a multitude of ineffective managers. These managers, often well-meaning, unwittingly create environments where team members lack clear objectives, receive inadequate feedback, and endure unresolved issues. Ultimately, valuable employees may depart, while underperformers linger.

What Happened?

I have worked for some amazing high-tech companies. I started as an individual contributor writing code. I worked my way up to a middle-level engineer when I, and my manager, agreed that my path was running projects and managing rather than continuing along the technical track. I was given small projects to lead, was sent to manager classes, had mentors, and gradually grew to the point where I was ready to manage.

The path that I took was one option. Staying on the technical track was another. Moving into a different role, such as technical marketing, was also possible. Not everything about this was perfect, but I was given the tools I needed to be successful. And I know that lots of other companies did the same.

This just doesn’t happen anymore. At many companies, there is a belief that great performers will figure it out. Granted some will, but many will not. There are also concerns about the cost of training and the time “lost” while training is taking place. This is the wrong way to look at it. More on this below.

The Urgent Need for Reform

Given the pivotal role of effective management in an organization’s success and talent retention, it’s crucial that employers take managerial training seriously. The consequences of inadequate training are dire. These managers, despite their good intentions, inadvertently create environments where team members lack clear objectives, receive insufficient feedback, and deal with unresolved issues. All of this causes employees to feel less engaged. Ultimately, top performers will leave.

Successful Manager

The Path Forward

To address this pressing issue, organizations must embark on the following actions:

  1. Pick the Right People: There are two key aspects. First, you need to make sure that there are multiple paths to success for your employees. This is typically called a dual ladder. Individual contributors can pursue either rail of the ladder, as an individual contributor or manager. In order for the ladder to be complete, each path (rail) must provide the opportunity to grow, provide more value to the company, and be appropriately compensated. Second, work with each person to pursue the right appropriate (leg of the ladder) for them. This needs to be a combination of what they are good at and what they are interested in.
  2. Provide Ongoing Management Training: Engineers go to school to learn how to be engineers. They then spend learning how the company does its engineering, they are trained on the tools, they are provided mentors, and so on. Yet we are not doing the same for managers – for which they have never received training! Give them the training that they need, when they start, and as they progress in their careers.
  3. Provide Mentoring: Make sure managers have easy access to you as their manager, along with others who can help. This can be formal or informal. Don’t force it, but do what you can to match experienced with less experienced managers.
  4. Teach Remote Planning and Management Skills: Remote and hybrid workplaces grant employees more autonomy, making it challenging for managers to oversee projects and performance. Train managers to track employee productivity remotely without resorting to micromanagement. Encourage a low-authority, high-accountability approach to people management, emphasizing transparency, continuous iteration, and performance monitoring. Ensure managers are well-versed in remote management tools such as Zoom, Slack, Trello, and Google Calendars, equipping them to effectively guide their teams.
  5. Focus on Video Communication Skills: Equip managers with proficiency in video communication, an increasingly essential skill in the remote and hybrid work landscape. Incorporate role-playing and scenario-based training to bolster their leadership skills in virtual meetings. Competence in video meeting tools is paramount for managers, who must provide feedback, motivate, and navigate difficult conversations when in-person body language cues are absent.
  6. Cultivate Strong Teams and Inclusive Culture: Empower managers to play a central role in nurturing cohesive teams and fostering an inclusive company culture. In the remote and hybrid work environment, company culture remains as crucial as ever, albeit with some adjustments. Provide training on facilitating remote team-building, and recognizing the unique challenges presented by virtual workspaces.
  7. Redefine Employee Well-being: In today’s work landscape, it’s imperative for managers to be attuned to employee needs, especially regarding well-being. The ability to identify and address burnout and distress in remote workers is a critical skill. Implement methods to gauge employee well-being through surveys (including 360-degree feedback) and quickly address any issues that are identified.

A Couple Examples

Sometimes an example is worth a thousand words.

The Most Junior Guy Becomes the Project Manager

I inherited a small team of engineers from our federal division to build real-time capabilities into the operating system. The first engineer was recognized across the industry as an expert. He attended conferences and represented us at standards bodies. He was a staff engineer. The second was an amazing architect and coder. He was a senior engineer. The third was a less experienced engineer. His level was member-of-staff.

When I was working with the team to put together a plan, it seemed obvious that I would have the most experienced engineer step into the project manager role, put together the plan, and drive the project forward. I started working with him and realized he was not a planner. I didn’t want the staff engineer to lead the project – I needed him to do most of the coding. I decided on the least experienced engineer. He had good communication skills, was organized, and was interested in a manager career path.

After explaining the rationale, and providing the junior engineer with training and support, everyone was happy and productive. They delivered the project on time!

A side note. The senior engineer went on to be a VP of engineering:)

Wrong Job for New Hire

I was lucky enough to attract a very senior Java engineer to our organization. He wanted to be a manager. He scored the highest of anyone that we had ever hired on our three coding tests. But he believed the right path for him was as a manager. That he would be more valued and receive a higher salary.

We had a number of conversations where I described how our company worked, the influence engineers have, how decisions are made, and the fact that we had a dual ladder where the engineering path continues all the way to Fellow (the same level as a senior vice president).

Needless to say, he decided to take the engineering role and had an amazing career without ever needing to become a manager!

Conclusion

As we continue with our journey of remote and hybrid work, the role of effective management becomes more critical than ever. We must train our managers in the fundamentals, as well as prepare them for a world of new challenges. By providing managers with the skills they need and embedding a culture of continuous improvement, organizations can reap the benefits of strong, supportive leadership.

It’s time to acknowledge that success begins with effective management, and investments in training are investments in the company’s future. In this dynamic landscape, the adage “lead by example” holds truer than ever.

See Also

There’s a Reason Everyone Hates Their Manager. Why Don’t We Do Anything About It?

A Startling 98% Of Managers Feel Managers Need More Training

Where Companies Go Wrong with Learning and Development

Categories: PeopleTeams

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