Falling Short of Your Strategic Goals? The Reason Might Surprise You

on October 24, 2017

(Hint: Your Managers Need Help)

Your strategy is brilliant. Your people want to help the business flourish. Your customers want what you offer. So, what’s standing in the way of success? Believe it or not, it’s your managers.

Managers are the ones who direct as much as 80 percent of your workforce. They oversee processes and projects. They are organizers, report-writers, status-givers, taskmasters. Yet, somewhere, under that pile of to-do lists and behind the endless meetings is the raw, untapped potential to engage and inspire their teams in a way that can make a real difference. Managers may be experts in technical or operational areas, but all too often the “people” part of their job – arguably the most critical – is left to chance.

But it’s not their fault.

Most managers have never developed the real skills they need to succeed. According to “America’s Workforce: A Revealing Study of Corporate America’s Most Neglected Employee” (Kelton, 2015), more than 62 percent of Talent Development Leaders admit they aren’t satisfied with the state of their manager development initiatives. That’s a pretty sad statistic given what’s expected of managers. They’re tasked with overseeing so many critical aspects of your business but they aren’t given the tools or knowledge they need. Still, it’s not for lack of trying. You would be hard pressed to find an organization that doesn’t offer some kind of training or development program for their managers.

But so many companies are missing the mark because they’re making these four mistakes:

1: Letting process trump people

Too many times, managers are trained exclusively on job-specific skills and processes – like how to complete a performance review. While this knowledge is important, something essential is overlooked: the “people” part of the equation – the leadership skills.

Coaching, goal-setting, relationship-building – all of these are “people” leadership skills managers must have to execute on important tasks and processes, like performance reviews. Yet, they are often forgotten or undervalued in manager development curricula. In fact, the “America’s Workforce” study found that only a minority of manager training programs focus on building true leadership skills:

  • only 46 percent address team management,
  • only 35 percent cover coaching,
  • and only 25 percent develop delegation capabilities.

The trick is to take a balanced approach. Systems, processes, and functional training are important, but should be complemented with training that addresses leadership and people skills, too.

2: Having the right ingredients, but no recipe for success

Conflict resolution. Communication. Coaching. Building trust. Team building. Delegation. The list of skills a manager should have goes on and on. Organizations often believe the bigger the course list for managers, the better! The problem is that while these skill areas are essential for managers to master, focusing on single topics in isolation can be daunting. Managers who take one-off courses are left alone to connect the dots and apply what they learn in the real world, which can feel like a leadership scavenger hunt. It’s like having all the best ingredients, but no idea how to put them together to create a delicious dish. Even the most studious managers put only a paltry portion of the skills they amass from this approach into action.

To be strong leaders, managers need to know how to move seamlessly between these skills. The most effective manager development programs thread these capabilities together in a comprehensive foundational program rather than through stand-alone courses. With the right tools and opportunities to practice, managers can learn how to connect and leverage these capabilities with fluidity and ease.

3: Failing to see engagement as a critical skill

Perhaps the biggest and most common point of failure is not equipping managers with the know-how to inspire their teams and engage them in the business. Leaders can have great relationships, coach like a champion, and set crystal-clear goals – but if they don’t have the ability to engage their teams in the business, they can’t be effective. On the flip side, when managers know how to engage and inspire their teams, they can significantly accelerate results for your organization.

People don’t want to be managed – they want to be led. They want to be inspired and shown how the work they do matters. If your manager development program doesn’t help managers see themselves as Chief Engagement Officers (CEOs), you’re missing a key opportunity to propel your business ahead.

4: Checking the box too soon

Planning a high-impact manager development program can be exhaustive and costly. Many organizations expend all of their resources getting a program launched, and then move quickly to the next priority. But checking the box too soon is detrimental. A manager development program is a long-term investment in behavior change that needs proper care and feeding to really pay off.

The key to success is to begin with the end in mind. The program itself is the catalyst for change, but that change needs to be supported in the realities of the daily work. Organizations that invest the time and energy to sustain the program beyond launch will reap the rewards.

The Foundation Every Great Manager Needs

Avoiding the four issues above is critical. But to best prepare managers for their jobs, you need to ensure they gain the right foundation that empowers and readies them for all of the challenges that come with leading others. Be sure your manager development program prepares managers to focus on four fundamental things:

1. Know Their Role

Managers must understand their people are their #1 priority. It’s no longer about shining as an individual contributor, but about harnessing the talents of the team, inspiring and motivating others to deliver results. This mindset shift is absolutely critical as it primes managers to think and act differently about delegating and engaging the team.

2. Know Their Business

Even if they are clear on the “people” part of their role, managers need to be grounded in all aspects of your business. They must understand how it operates and what your organization is working toward. They need to embrace and internalize the vision, strategy, and culture so they can guide their teams to act on what matters most. Your manager development program needs to help managers understand the business today and motivate them to continue honing that understanding as the business changes.

3. Connect Their Teams to the Business

Managers have to connect their teams to the business – intellectually and emotionally. They need to see themselves as Chief Engagement Officers for their teams and consistently connect everyday work to the company’s larger overall goals. Your manager development program should give managers the know-how to engage and inspire their teams so employees know how they’re adding value to the business.

4. Deliver Results Through Their Team

Finally, managers need to combine the mindset, business knowledge, and ability to engage and inspire their teams with the core leadership skills that ensure they can deliver results. This includes developing habitual routines to:

  • Build relationships based on trust and communication.
  • Set clear expectations to get consistent and aligned results.
  • Coach and develop for performance, in everyday interactions and formal conversations.
  • Follow up to ensure execution, offer support, and celebrate wins.

Cracking the Code on Sustainment

Incorporating sustainment initiatives into your program is critical – it’s the only way to ensure managers apply their new knowledge for the long term. Still, the “America’s Workforce” study tells us that a mere 18 percent of people responsible for manager training strongly feel that they’ve been successful at sustainment, and a whopping 67 percent don’t have strong faith that sustaining manager training is even possible in their organization.

Why do so many organizations struggle to sustain manager development? For the same reason people who lose weight often gain it all back; they go about it the wrong way. They devote all of their time, attention, and energy to achieving the goal (losing the weight, launching the manager development program) and they fail to have real-world strategies to maintain that goal once it’s met. To maximize the time, energy, and budget invested in your management development program, do these things:

  • Get senior leaders on board. Leaders set the tone and are the role models for your organization. If they’re supporting the program, others follow. Make sure they understand its importance and how developing great managers positively impacts the bottom line.
  • Gain commitment. A great manager development program inspires action, which is not the same thing as taking action. Back in the realities of their work, managers quickly slip back into old habits. To get the results you’re after, look at the program as the catalyst for change, rather than the end solution. Managers must be accountable for change and see how committing to new behaviors and habits is critical to personal and business success. Tout their achievements in newsletters, the company intranet, blog, etc. – whatever means you have to celebrate people through your company’s culture.
  • Make it as easy as possible for your people to change. It takes time, discipline, and repetition for new habits to form. Remove any barriers to change that might be in the way. For example, say your manager development program includes a new coaching model and you want people to start using it. When it’s time for mid-year performance reviews, update your forms to include the new coaching model. This sets everyone up for success – giving every manager the tools to practice the new model without fail.

Smart, effective manager development programs are challenging to create and even harder to sustain. Take a hard look at your manager development efforts and identify what’s not working so you can make the necessary changes to arm managers with the knowledge and skills they need to become invaluable strategic assets to your bottom line.

What’s your best tip for setting your managers up for true success?


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Managing Change