Managers play a critical strategic role in every company. It’s their job to lead teams, ensure a consistent standard of support for clients, and steer the ship in the right direction.
That’s what makes recruiting and training managers so important. Companies need to offer the right mix of practical learning and theory for managers to succeed. Achieving this is no easy feat–in fact, 87% of new managers report not receiving enough training for their roles.
Recently, I sat down with Adam Oppegaard, Director of L&D at Tower Loan, to discuss his three-step process for rigorous and impactful manager training. From capturing subject-matter expertise to ensuring the right level of learning flexibility, Adam had a lot of great suggestions for how to bring new managers up to speed in a short amount of time.
We got started by discussing Tower Loan’s approach to acquiring management talent.
As Adam explains, Tower Loan looks for management candidates who have high potential, but may not have extensive experience. They then grow this talent internally through their rigorous management training.
“Tower Loan is a commercial finance company located in five states in North America, with a little under 1,000 employees,” he says. “We have a unique situation when it comes to L&D. We have a very strict hiring policy for our managers, and for many of our supervisors too. We put a lot of emphasis on selecting the top candidates for the job.”
“We also put a lot of emphasis on the initial training our new managers receive. Our manager training programs run for between 7-12 months, and after that, all the responsibility is on them to handle a branch. That branch could have annual revenue of more than a million dollars.”
Tower Loan’s unique approach to management training gives learners a huge opportunity to succeed. But as Adam explains, it also creates big challenges for managers-in-training.
“It’s quite a steep learning curve,” he says. “We need our trainee managers to put in the right amount of time and effort, and to leverage the expertise around them to get up to speed. We’re a commercial finance company, so we’re numbers-driven. We’re competitive, and we want to succeed. We need individuals to come in, take the bull by the horns, and run with the program.”
So, how exactly does Adam and his team create the right manager training program?
It’s quite a steep learning curve. We need our trainee managers to put in the right amount of time and effort, and to leverage the expertise around them to get up to speed.
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Giving trainee managers the support they need can be a tricky task. As Adam explains, it’s something he and his team are always improving. “We’re currently reevaluating and restructuring our entire management training program. There are always areas where we can improve and set people up for even better results.”
For Tower Loan, this management training comes down to three key steps: ensuring flexibility, creating standards based on subject-matter expertise, and making training immediately relevant.
“Right now, we have a home-grown system that’s very strict,” says Adam. “Learners have to progress line-by-line, and they can’t advance to other sections unless they complete the ones before. But this strict process doesn’t always match what people are doing on a particular day.”
“For example, we could be training someone on solicitation, but they might not be actively working on solicitation. The same goes for record-keeping. There can be a gap between their training in these areas and the points at which people actually have to apply and activate this knowledge. That’s something we’re trying to remedy right now.”
As Adam explains, the solution is to ensure the right level of flexibility in manager training. “We want to create greater flexibility in our instructional design, because it helps to keep people engaged. Often, once organizations find an instructional design that works, it becomes their ‘tried and true’ approach. But this can lead to complacency.”
“With all the new technology coming out, we have amazing ways to boost learner engagement. We can gamify the nature of the training itself, and not just the platform hosting it. Having this flexible instructional design is a huge benefit for my team, because it helps us get the right knowledge to people when they need it.”
With all the new technology coming out, we have amazing ways to boost learner engagement. We can gamify the nature of the training itself, and not just the platform hosting it. Having this flexible instructional design is a huge benefit for my team, because it helps us get the right knowledge to people when they need it.
“Right now, a lot of our learning is dependent upon the knowledge of our current staff,” says Adam. “We have amazing leaders here, with people who are very knowledgeable and capable individuals. But our training program relies on them being involved at a hands-on level.”
“This is one strength of our manager training, but it also creates a risk of brain drain. We have to imagine what would happen if these people decided to move on, and what we’d do in response.”
So, how does Adam prepare for this possibility? It’s all about creating standards based on subject-matter expertise.
“We need to have mechanisms in place to reflect and capture the best practices of the best people to create a standard for everyone across the board,” he says. “That way, we can teach consistency in how people approach problems and situations.”
We have amazing leaders here, with people who are very knowledgeable and capable individuals. But our training program relies on them being involved at a hands-on level. This is one strength of our manager training, but it also creates a risk of brain drain. We have to imagine what would happen if these people decided to move on, and what we’d do in response.
“The last piece in our manager training playbook relates to how we manage the limited time people have for training,” says Adam. “If the training doesn’t connect immediately with what people are doing, and if it relies too heavily on other people, it can seem more like a distraction than a vehicle for learner success.”
“To make our training more relevant, and to make sure we’re getting the most out of the time it takes, we’re trying to make every piece of every program immediately relevant and applicable.”
“We know people have very little time for training,” says Adam. “That’s why we structure our training to maximize our outcomes for the time we have available. I want to make sure our leaders and our teams receiving the training always have that mindset.”
These three training practices are all critical parts of Collaborative Learning. Ensuring flexible training, leveraging subject-matter experts, and making training immediately relevant are key tools in providing people the learning experiences they need in today’s environment.
That’s an overview of Tower Loan’s 3-step approach to manager training. But how can Adam make sure this approach is making the right impact over time?
As Adam explains, Tower Loan takes a holistic approach to measuring the impacts of this manager training: measuring ROI, using leadership observation checklists, and more.
“Like a lot of L&D professionals, we incorporate the Kirkpatrick Model into our levels of training evaluation,” says Adam. “We also measure ROI, which makes sense when we have a huge strategic shift, or if our training program is designed to address a particular performance area.”
“We use surveys and feedback to assess learner satisfaction in our programs,” says Adam. “We’re also building in pre and post-training quizzes to make sure learners acquire the right knowledge, and to make sure our programs are creating the intended benefits.”
“For example, if people are scoring really well in the pre-training test, and they get the same results in the post-training test, then we have to ask ourselves what the point of the training is.”
“We also ask our people to complete leadership observation checklists. This is something we’re advancing within our new system, because we want to make sure our leadership is part of the feedback cycle too. They have to show they’re actually applying their training in a practical sense, and they’re held accountable for that.”
We want to make sure our leadership is part of the feedback cycle too. They have to show they’re actually applying their training in a practical sense, and they’re held accountable for that.
“Retention is a big issue for us,” says Adam. “This isn’t just an L&D issue, but If we offer the right training, we can create incentives for people to stay with us. So I’m always watching our retention figures to measure the impact of our training programs.”
“I also receive every exit interview the company conducts. I see some of the issues that come through, and then it’s my job to address these with the right L&D approach.”
As Adam explains, this focus can make a big impact on Tower Loan’s bottom line. “I want to see a positive change in our figures as a result of what we’re doing, and the costs we’re paying to fill positions. If we can boost retention, we don’t have to spend so much on recruitment.”
Thanks again to Adam for taking the time to share his tips and techniques with us!
While you’re here, check out my expert interviews with Dave Peckens of RGP about maximizing L&D impact through creating an agile learning culture, and with Shermaine M. Perry-Knights of Fulton County Government on how to achieve executive buy-in for L&D projects.
Want more peer insights on transforming workplace learning? Check out #CLOConnect, our interview series with top L&D leaders on driving growth and scaling culture through Collaborative Learning. Or you can subscribe (below 👇) to our weekly newsletter to receive our latest posts directly in your inbox.