There’s often a disconnect between the kind of help new managers are looking for and the kind of help their employers offer them. It’s something we’d like to see less of, and the first step to fixing any problem is identifying it. So today, we take a look at five areas where managers and their employers don’t see eye-to-eye.
The basics of leadership. This is the kind of training new managers want and need the most. We hear over and over any time we conduct research for Lead Belay programs.
We hear about how managers are struggling to have confidence in their leadership and that they need help navigating the issues that arise from this lack of confidence. We hear that they want help with the hard stuff, like managing trade offs, coaching versus execution, and holding people accountable.
All of these are classic problems that almost every manager faces. But that doesn’t necessarily mean companies are willing to help them with it.
For reasons both known and unknown, there’s often a disconnect between the kind of help new managers are looking for and the kind of help their employers are willing to offer them. It’s something we’d like to see less of, and the first step to fixing any problem is identifying it. So let’s look at a few of the areas where managers and their employers aren't seeing eye-to-eye.
1. Who the training focuses on
Managers want: Training that focuses on them
Employers want: Training that focuses on the company
When organizations design leadership development programs, it’s easy (and therefore common) to start with the organization itself, what makes it different, how the culture is special, etc. Unfortunately, this can steer the focus from the difficult and challenging aspects of managing people, which is what new managers need.
In fact, in my experience, many of the “top” leadership development programs customized for a given organizations are lucky if they even get around to addressing how managers can be better leaders. Most of these programs spend so much time talking about the company itself that the learners become an afterthought. Instead of focusing on giving managers the information, tools, and resources they need from the company, the content in these programs is centered on what senior executives think about, want to say about the organization, its culture, etc., and then on what the company needs from managers in order to succeed.
Making matters even worse, many internal corporate learning programs are designed by committee. With senior leaders, HR, stakeholders, and sponsors all giving their input, there's usually way too much content with almost none of it focused on the learners. These committees decided that everything is a priority, so, in the end, nothing is — least of all the managers that are going through the training.
What managers need are programs that focus on them first. These kinds of programs stand a better chance of helping managers solve their problems. But when leadership development focuses on the company first, it’s a miracle if they ever get around to solving the issues managers need help with most.
2. The language used in the training
Managers want: Plain spoken language
Employers want: Language tinted by brand and culture
Managers are looking for plain-spoken, universal ways to deal with real human problems. They want their conversations with their team members to happen in a language that feels normal and authentic, not jargony and inaccessible.
Employers, however, are often focused on their own way of doing things. Because their organization is unique, with its own brand and culture, their leadership development should be, too, right? Wrong. Because this makes the training difficult to articulate and integrate into everyday life.
For senior leaders, this can be a hard pill to swallow. Their company is their baby, and if they could, they’d spend all day reciting the leadership principles and cultural guidelines that make it such a great place to work. If only that could actually help their managers who need it.
In order to make any leadership development program truly impactful, it needs to meet managers where they are, and that includes the language they use in everyday life. A company’s culture and values live in the way employees describe it to their family and friends. Not in the seven leadership principles the executive team developed at their last quarterly workshop.
3. The training content
Managers want: "Pull learning"
Employers want: "Push learning"
There’s a huge difference between push and pull learning, and while both can be beneficial in different situations, when it comes to leadership development, pull learning is the answer.
New managers who know they need help are usually less concerned with gaining the technical skills and knowledge around how to manage people, and more interested in learning how to elevate and manage people more effectively. This is what we’d call “pull learning,” as it helps pull them up the learning curve.
Too many companies, however, would rather get away with “push learning,” or the idea that they can give people exactly what they need to know, and that’s it. Push learning works great when you just need a handbook to tell you the things you don't know (e.g., for new employees figuring out the email system, how to book a conference room, the process for submitting expense receipts, etc.).
But, when it comes to long-term learning—the kind necessary for managing people effectively over time—a handbook just won’t cut it. Leadership development assumes the basic competencies are already there and is therefore less focused on the technical requirements of the job. Good leadership development focuses on pulling people up to new levels with ongoing support.
4. The learning environment
Managers want: A safe, open learning space with outside peers
Employers want: Internal resources and experiences
When considering leadership development and training, most managers are looking for a psychologically safe learning space where they can be open and honest about what they’re facing in their day-to-day lives. For employers, however, this is rarely possible in internal settings.
It's easy to see where employers are coming from. Using internal resources and people can save time, money, and effort.
But, in order for leadership development to be truly effective, managers need a place where they can openly discuss the problems they are facing, especially the ones they're having with their team members, co-workers, and bosses. That sort of open sharing environment is almost impossible to create when you're sharing with people from your same company.
Managers are also looking for spaces where they can empathize with and feel understood by people with similar experiences to them. At very large organizations, it may possible to find a big enough group of managers at the same level, but at many smaller companies it’s just not realistic.
More so, outside peers give new managers the opportunity to build a network outside their company. And while we recognize the value of building networks inside a company that many employers emphasize as important, it’s just as important to give employees the opportunity to go outside the organization for support.
5. The learning cadence
Managers want: Continuous learning at their own pace
Employers want: Continuous one-and-done training
It’s easy to see why companies would prefer their managers complete their training in the span of a week or even a few days. But companies also love the idea of a “transformative experience” that turns new managers into seasoned, experienced people-leaders in short order. It can't be both ways.
In order to truly grow, managers have to go through a process of learning, practicing, and applying skills. That can’t happen in a week, or even a month. It takes time. Managers know this, and that’s why they would prefer continuous learning that they can take at their own pace, processing and applying the content in a realistic way. If you're skeptical, search the “spacing effect."
For knowledge-level learning, it’s important to have time to learn in order to truly process and comprehend the knowledge. If you’ve ever crammed for a test, you know this is true. You might have passed the test, but you probably didn't retain much of the information after test day. For complex skills, like how to lead people effectively, this is even more true. It’s critically important that organizations that say they want to invest in their people truly invest in them, and that includes time.
In the end, it comes down to this: managers want to work for organizations that invest in them, their development, and their growth. Over the company itself. If you’re a manager looking for such a program to introduce to your employer, or an employer looking for ways to show your managers you care, let Lead Belay lead the way.