People Manager
January 7, 2019

How Smart Organizations are Building Better Managers

Real talk: Managers matter more than ever.

Front-line managers make up over half of total management and directly supervise 80 percent of the workforce. That means they are often the primary force executing your company’s business strategy.

Smart organizations understand this reality. They also increasingly realize the value of having a leadership development strategy and helping these managers grow into strong long-term leaders. According to a 2018 survey, organizations are dedicating more of their leadership resources to managers and high-potentials rather than spending on more senior leaders.

The gap is growing between agile and innovative companies and the flat-footed organizations they are leaving behind. The difference? How they develop their managers on the ground. Let’s take a look at how dynamic organizations will approach leadership in 2019.

Teach managers how to manage change

Just about every industry is operating in a volatile environment that is changing constantly. In the 2018 Mercer Global Talent Trends Report, 1 in 3 employees reported that their roles or responsibilities had already changed due to technology.

We have to help people navigate that constant change. Leading organizations will help managers get better at creativity, problem-solving and stress management — and successfully train others to do the same.

Have you heard of John Kotter's eight-step process for leading change? I spoke to leadership development consultant Diane Brescher, who focuses on developing frontline leaders who can successfully guide others through change. She uses Kotter’s process with managers to help them understand the value of change, communicate effectively about it and navigate the very human issue of resistance to change.

“The majority of change efforts fail because of the human element, and because people aren’t in tune with communicating and addressing people’s feelings,” she says. “Until people can deal with resistance to change, they probably aren’t going to be that effective in their leadership.”

Another one of my favorite leadership resources is the Center for Creative Leadership. They found that change endurance — “building the resilience to survive and thrive in the face of constant change” — was one of the top concerns organizations are facing in leadership development.

The CCL reports suggests promoting ways for employees to regulate stress on the job, while also empowering them to manage stress outside of work. Most interestingly, the report suggests helping workers realize that rumination “is the enemy of resilience.” The idea here is to help people break out of destructive thought cycles by refocusing on what they can control when they are faced with unsettling disruptions in the workplace. It’s an interesting approach that deserves a closer look in our constant-change environment.

Create development plans — driven by technology

So how are companies training their frontline managers? They're turning to tech and custom development programs, especially for younger workers.

The Mercer report found that 77 percent of companies use online assessment tools, 62 percent use game-based assessments and 66 percent use virtual day-in-the-life centers.

This trend is here to stay, according to Harvard’s 2018 State of Leadership Development report, which makes it clear that younger generations see a greater role technology in leadership development. They also view technology as a natural extension of development programs.

“Deploy technologies that make learning more engaging, more accessible, and more personalized,” the Harvard report says. “Take advantage of new tools and resources (such as virtual classrooms) that enable you to reach a critical mass of learners around a transformation under way in your organization.”

Nico Aguilar, CEO of communication coaching company Speeko, which uses voice analytics to coach emerging professionals to improve their speaking style, says this new tech wave is helping companies develop more specialized development programs. He says he’s already observed a “major shift” toward more personalization.

But it’s not just technology. This trend is also being driven by younger generations of workers who want more clarity about their career paths and more say in their development opportunities. Brescher says this fact, combined with the proliferation of new learning technologies, is pushing organizations to take more personalized approaches to leadership training.

“Technology enables us to create far more individual development plans where people can basically pick and choose their learning,” she says. “More and more organizations are understanding that is the right way to go — not just to put everybody in the same course in the same time, because we don’t consume information in the same way.”

Managers will only become more important. It’s definitely worth taking time to figure out how you will empower managers, help them learn and grow, and make sure everyone has a manager they can talk to and trust.

How are you training your frontline managers? How is your team finding ways to thrive even during constant change? I’d love to hear your ideas!