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Manager Support: Not Important…ESSENTIAL!

By Mark Phelps

Mark PhelpsIn today’s world, managers of frontline leaders are overwhelmed and underappreciated for the balancing act they do each and every day. These managers must achieve ambitious performance goals aligned to new business strategies for their business unit, facility, department, or region. At the same time, they need to manage labor costs, turnover, and employee engagement. It’s no wonder that when it comes to mindshare, they may not feel it’s a high priority to focus their attention on supporting the development of their frontline leaders.

Manager SupportSo our task to fully engage managers of learners and gain their commitment and support is no small feat! We need to bring out the big guns of innovation to look at this situation differently and attack it in totally different ways than we have traditionally tried.

I recently hosted an webcast where a group of HR and talent management professionals described the challenges they face in gaining the support and buy-in of managers of frontline leaders. I proposed that we attack this challenge through an innovation lens and apply some of the innovation practices we introduce in our frontline leadership development experience, Fostering Innovation. Here is what one might see through this innovation lens:

Spark Inquiry.  There are many ways to challenge assumptions and think differently. In this webcast, I challenged attendees to see the world through the eyes of the managers of learners. After all, aren’t these managers our customers? We discussed the “pain” that these managers feel in trying to do their jobs, and how to help them connect the dots between how the skills their frontline leaders are learning will reduce their pain.

Generate New Ideas.  Methods of brainstorming have been around since the beginning of time. Still, we talked about the value of getting input from a variety of sources to come up with new ideas, and the importance of the questions you ask. For example, consider these two questions:

  1. “What is the root cause as to why managers don’t take the time to support the frontline leadership program?
  2. “What else could we do to get managers fully engaged in supporting our frontline leadership program?

To me, the first question is dreadfully depressing, and narrow in focus. It focuses the attention on the glass half empty. On the other hand, the second question, a strong, specific and open-ended question, opens up the world of possibilities!

Test to Learn.  Most leadership development programs are created with much fanfare, research, and investment, and then locked in and executed for three, four, five, or more years. If the program works “good enough,” there is typically little time or interest in testing new concepts, and incorporating those that really work well. In the webcast we shared many of the benefits of testing to learn:

  1. Over time, we would enhance and improve our programs!
  2. Testing and trying new ideas keeps things fresh and vibrant.
  3. It increases learner and manager engagement. (How exciting is it for managers of learners if for 3-5 years in a row their frontline leaders come back with the exact same “new” skills after training?)
  4. A spirit of testing and innovating increases the agility of your L&D team, and encourages them to think differently every day.
  5. To your organization, testing and innovating demonstrate that innovation principles are alive and well within the L&D environment. What a great role model for any organization today!

This webcast was the final session in a four-part series we hosted with based on our article Where Are Your “Ready-Now” Leaders? Access the recordings below to explore the four steps to preparing technical experts for the challenges of leadership.

Mark Phelps is a senior consultant, DDI Leadership Solutions Group.

Posted: 20 Mar, 2014,
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