The question I quite often get asked by graduates who come to interview, eager to progress up the rungs of the career ladder, is ‘How do I become a manager?’ The challenge, I always tell them, is that there’s no easy answer.
If you asked 50 people in management positions how they got there, you’d likely receive 50 different answers. There may be one or two who have graduated from a management trainee programme in a large blue chip organisation. Chances are though, that those individuals are few and far between. For the majority of us, it’s likely that management is something that we’ve fallen into, almost by chance.
Is training our managers actually important?
What this therefore means is that we have a large percentage of managers within our organisations, particularly within junior or mid management level roles, who have never been formally trained in how to manage their people and how to manage the tasks their teams carry out. Now, there is a school of thought which says that this is no bad thing, that formal management training is a waste of time, and that anything you need to know as a manager can be learnt on the job.
I disagree. Sure, there are elements of the role which will simply come with experience, but if you’ve never managed people before then there is a sharp learning curve which requires more than just jumping in both feet first and hoping things will turn out okay.
Management training: a dying art?
Throughout my career, I have been surprised by the number of individuals with people management responsibility who have not, at any point, been through any kind of formal management training. Some have managed teams for a number of years, across a number of different organisations, and still not received any management training. It still seems that, unless you have progressed through a formal management graduate scheme, the chances of you actually having been trained to be a manager are minimal.
It was with this in mind that I set out to try to understand how we could better equip our managers to carry out the roles we were asking them to do. How could we balance providing them with time to do their day jobs alongside time to develop and learn the skills necessary for them to carry out their management roles as effectively as possible? And how would we develop a programme which would allow for the continuous emergence of new managers as the business grew and expanded?
The Management Development Programme
The answer came in the form of the modular Management Development Programme (MDP), a version of which I have built and implemented within both Benefex and Candyking, the FMCG organisation within which I previously headed up the HR function. The idea behind the programme is simple. We would build a series of modules, which are not required to be taken sequentially, covering off all of the most critical areas we felt junior and mid-level managers needed to be trained within. This could be anything from how to successfully recruit into your team, to how to coach and develop your employees, to how to manage difficult ER cases. Modules would be classroom based, but would also have a supporting set of documentation which could be delivered as e-learning – acknowledging that, dependent on when they joined, there may not immediately be a classroom based session of all modules scheduled for new managers to take. The e-learning resources would mean that in the interim they could still familiarise themselves with the material and work through any supporting texts.
We don’t have all the answers
What has been very important to me when developing the MDP is that it is not only extremely learner accessible, but also that we don’t pitch it as though we have all of the answers. Great management is subjective, and the managers you have within your organisation will already have a wide breadth of experience obtained either from being a manager, or from being managed themselves! The training therefore is designed and delivered in a manner which encourages delegate input and the sharing of experiences. One of the most popular sessions that we run in each of our classroom based modules here at Benefex is the ‘Manager Surgery’. At the end of each module, we aim to leave 30 minutes clear where managers can, within a safe environment, articulate current challenges they’re experiencing, and seek advice from those who are best placed to answer: those managers also facing similar. Through this, not only do we equip managers to go directly out from these training sessions and address their most pressing issues, we’re also encouraging and developing a culture of best practise and a shared approach to people management which is firmly aligned with our culture and our business objectives.
We have more still to do. There are a number more modules still to be delivered, and my hope is that, as the programme expands, more of our managers who have been through the training start to become equipped to also take on an active role in delivering that training, broadening our delivery approach and ensuring that we really do start to fully live that ethos of a learning organisation.
What the MDP has also done has provided a springboard for our latest learning and development initiative, the Benefex University… and I’ll be back to talk to you more about this in a future blog post.
With limited time and resource, developing and upskilling our managers is always going to be an area that it’s easy to put to one side and hope that they will just ‘get the hang of it’. ‘It’s just looking after people: How hard can it be?’ However, we’ve all heard the widely stated statistic that the primary reason people leave their jobs is because of their manager. With this in mind, is management training really something you can afford not to invest in?