Your Manager Training Wasn’t Working Before—Now It’s Really in Trouble
Training & Learning

Your Manager Training Wasn’t Working Before—Now It’s Really in Trouble

Chances are, you’ve been going about manager training all wrong.

Traditional training methods like flat PowerPoint presentations, stale video courses, and long in-person seminars do little but bore managers and waste their time. These generic training materials are particularly unappealing to millennials, who now make up the bulk of new managers.

This sickly approach to training is a problem because good managers play a huge role in the happiness and productivity of their employees. But most existing training does nothing to teach the advanced organizational and interpersonal skills managers need to succeed.

Then COVID struck, and the problem went from bad to worse. COVID has been a catalyst for remote work, prompting businesses worldwide to move their operations online. Many of those workers will never return to the physical office. This rapid change creates a host of new challenges for managers who may never have received effective management training to begin with. Now is when managers need to lean on their training the most, but that training is simply not there.

This sounds bleak, but it’s not too late to turn things around. To stay afloat in these turbulent times, companies need to re-invent their manager training programs to address remote managers’ needs and concerns.

Manager training isn’t a priority (but it should be)

If you’ve ever had a terrible manager, you know firsthand its harsh effect on employee morale. Great managers fuel loyalty, whereas employees who dislike their manager are four times more likely to leave.

Despite the significant impact, many organizations overlook or completely neglect manager training. Many companies pour resources into onboarding or skill training programs but pay little or no attention to management training. A study by Wakefield Research shows that a stunning 98% of managers feel they would benefit from more or better training. Most new managers don’t receive any leadership training during their first decade of supervising other people.

It may be hard to make a case for adding more training programs right now. COVID’s effect on many companies’ bottom line means that L&D leaders must work extra hard to show the value of training programs. But this actually makes the case for training that much more persuasive, as better managers have a direct impact on the company’s bottom line.

Managing a team requires various skills that don’t come naturally to most people, including project organization, communication and people management, and conflict resolution. A study by Gallup shows that managers are directly responsible for how engaged employees are at work. Actively engaged employees are more productive, and their work is of better quality than unengaged workers. Workers with supportive managers also advance faster and perform higher.

Most new managers don’t receive any leadership training during their first decade of supervising other people.

Traditional training methods no longer work

In the past, manager training often took the form of in-person seminars and workshops, where management professionals unloaded their knowledge via long lectures. This training was time-consuming and too broad and generic to create lasting behavioral change. They focused primarily on compliance, not on changing people’s perspectives and management strategies.

Thanks to COVID, these old leadership training methods are now completely off the table. Almost all worldwide in-person training was canceled post-March, and it will probably be a long time before employees start gathering in large numbers again. It may require some fast shuffling, but this is a golden opportunity for L&D departments to adopt a new approach to manager training: one that embraces new technology to create more effective coaching.

Now is the perfect time to pivot to an online, collaborative training strategy. Online learning lets learners move through the material at their own pace and removes the tedious work of coordinating the schedules of team members who may be in different time zones or have young children at home.

You need a collaborative training method that lets you co-create training materials with internal stakeholders easily, and build personalized learning paths unique to the skills each manager needs. One that allows your employees to identify their knowledge gaps and quickly request training they feel they need.

A collaborative learning platform lets you decentralize selected parts of your training and gives your subject-matter-experts the tools to create interactive and engaging training programs. Managers can engage in role-playing scenarios, test their knowledge, and learn from their peers’ experiences and stories. It’s more specific to your business needs, more engaging, and much more effective.

Training must prepare managers for organizational change

COVID forced organizations to move from in-person to remote operations, in some cases overnight. That change surfaced a slew of organizational challenges managers have never encountered but must tackle. L&D departments need to develop course materials that specifically address remote work challenges.

1. Establish remote communication expectations

Managers are forced to lean heavily on their written and verbal communication skills when moving from an in-person office to a distributed team setup. Their team may be spread out in different time zones or have unique scheduling requirements. Asynchronous communication may become the norm. Whereas before they could wander into someone’s office with an offhand question, managers now need to get information more efficiently.

  • Help managers adjust by setting new communication standards. This isn’t as simple as replacing in-person meetings with Zoom calls. When you go remote, it’s easy to fail into the trap of doing more meetings “just to check in.” But at 360Learning, we believe that remote teams benefit from as few meetings as possible as interruptions throughout your workday affect productivity. Instead, we encourage our teammates only to organize meetings with a clear objective. Afterward, all outcomes are logged publicly for all teammates to see. This policy reduces pointless meetings and encourages transparency. All of these guidelines are documented on Trello, like this:

manager training meeting guidelines

  • Encourage managers to adopt a more direct communication style than they might use in an office setting. As your communication move from in-person to online, your employees are processing information in a completely new way. A lot of information needs to be passed on asynchronously, and you want to do as efficiently as possible. Long paragraphs of nonsense hurts productivity and cause employees to check out and miss out on key information. Avoid this by introducing conversation framing concepts like BLUF (bottom line up front) and the Pyramid principle. Of course, everyone in the company should be trained on this, but managers need to be the gatekeeper of how your team communicates. We actually include this training in our onboarding:

manager training pyramid principle communications

  • Spend some time going over appropriate Zoom communication skills, using role-playing, or creating scenarios the managers can use to test their skills. Making sure everybody on your team knows how to use Zoom well enough is very important. They’ll need to give feedback and encouragement remotely and navigate tough conversations without the benefit of in-person body language.

Managers play a major role in building strong teams and an inclusive company culture. Remote company culture is just as important as in a physical office, but creating that environment looks a bit different. Newly remote managers will need training on how to facilitate remote team-building.

2. Teach remote planning and management skills

Remote offices offer employees more autonomy but make it difficult for managers to track projects and employee performance. Train managers to track employee productivity remotely without micromanaging their behavior.

  • Encourage managers to take a low-authority, high-accountability approach to people management. When you’re working remotely, the “chain of command” or decision-making needs to be straightforward so that things can move forward smoothly without having to call constant meetings. A culture of transparency, constant iteration, and performance tracking ensure that everyone stays on track and that problems quickly bubble to the service.
  • Train managers thoroughly on any remote management tools you institute, including Zoom, Slack, Trello, and even Google Calendars. Managers need to thoroughly understand each new tool’s best practices to guide their teams in proper use.
  • Teach managers to evaluate employees differently. Managers in office spaces often equivocate physical presence with performance goals. Without that visible market to lean on, managers need to establish new metrics for evaluation beyond measuring butts in seats. Arm managers with tools for producing more effective performance reviews based on employee work results and their ability to meet their OKRs instead of opinions on their attendance and office behavior. We recommend building clear guidelines and process for performance reviews and make sure all managers are trained to follow the same. Here’s an example of our performance review guidelines included in our onboarding program:

performance review guidelines

  • Measure your management training effectiveness with bottom-up reviews. A great way to know if your manager training is working is to ask for feedback from your team. At 360Learning, managers are required to initiate a feedback request to all direct reports on 7geese. Responders will be anonymous and feedback responses will be visible to the manager’s manager, as well as our HR and L&D teams. This allows us to identify the gaps in management and where extra manager training may be required. Here’s an example of our feedback template on 7geese (click to enlarge):

7geese leadership feedback

3. Prioritize remote employee well-being

In these stressful times, it’s more important than ever for managers to stay attuned to their employees’ needs. But spotting an employee in crisis from afar can be difficult. Show managers how to identify and manage employee overload, both in themselves and for their direct reports.

  • Alter how you gauge employee well-being. At 360Learning, we use a weekly Peakon survey to gauge employee well-being. The VP of HR replies personally to all messages. If the score falls too low, we talk about it at all-hands or follow up with employees one-on-one.

peakon well-being survey

  • Use trainings and simulations to help managers learn to spot employee burnout over Zoom. For example, this Vyond video template helps learners use non-verbal cues to understand employees’ mental health and direct them to appropriate resources, like requesting time off. Role-playing can help managers better understand when an employee is overwhelmed and help them respond appropriately.

Good management training prepares your company for the unknown

Your company may not choose to stay remote once our current crisis passes. Everyone might return to the office, or you might select a hybrid model where some people are in-office, and others are remote. No matter what the setup looks like, you’ll still need strong managers to guide employees through the changes ahead.

Bad management can have repercussions throughout the company that lead to low productivity, disengaged employees, and churn. Give managers the skills they need to manage effectively, and you will have a more productive, happier team company-wide.

And if you'd like to learn more about how our Collaborative Learning platform can make your manger training 10x more effective, book a demo.

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How are you training your managers to manage your teams through uncertain times? Share with us in the comments below 👇