2 big problems with how HR develops managers

Frontline managers don’t get the headlines. They aren’t the ones making the bold strategy decisions or declaring an organization’s new direction or writing sweeping communications to support thousands of employees.

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But they directly support 80% of the workforce, principal analyst Katy Tynan of Forrester said Thursday during her keynote presentation at the Spring HR Technology Conference & Exposition. That makes them critical to three core elements of any organization: executing the efforts laid out by C-suite leaders, keeping workforces engaged and retaining talent. However, they are not getting the investment, attention and development they need to accomplish those goals–an unfortunate and expensive miss.

Katy Tynan of Forrester

“The cost of not supporting your managers is tremendously high,” she said, “and yet we’re still not doing what we need to do in order to support that community.”

This isn’t COVID-specific, she said, but the pandemic has “exacerbated and exposed” some of the challenges since remote work makes it harder to give feedback, has ratcheted up anxiety and has delayed or canceled many training and development efforts.

Tynan identified two major problems around leadership development for frontline managers.

  1. The disconnect between when people step into their first management role–typically around age 30– and when they first receive management training–between the ages of 34-42. “We are leaving new managers swinging in the breeze for the four, six, 10 years of their leadership journey,” Tynan said. Essentially, they are trying to do a job without the manual.
  2. The limited investment in frontline managers’ training and development even once organizations start it. On average, 68% of organizations spend $4,000 or less on leadership development per person per year, Tynan said, and what they do spend skews toward executives.

“These investments are really significant in terms of how your organization approaches your execution of strategy,” she said.

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Related: Read more from HRE on leadership and development.

That’s because frontline managers, ahead of CEOs and HR, bear the largest burden of employee engagement, according to Forrester research. Without training, managers often resort to a “command-and-control” style of leadership where they believe their role is telling people what to do. In fact, Tynan said, they should think of themselves as coaches and support resources. During her own leadership training, she even tells trainees not to worry about all the theory she teaches but to simply remember to care about the success of those on their team.

That is the foundation of good leadership–helping people get where they want to go. And yet, “that’s a really essential piece of information that we withhold from new managers,” she said. “As a result, we shouldn’t be surprised that we don’t get the results that we want.”

So what’s an HR executive to do? Remember the cost of failing to train and develop these managers, Tynan said. She referred to the myth of why organizations lose great talent: Only 12% of employees say they leave for more money, according to exit interview research done by HR Advisor Survey. The real reason is a lack of engagement, meaning employees aren’t getting the feedback, development opportunities, recognition, trust and rest that they need.

Related: Read more Spring HR Tech coverage here.

Disengaged employees cost organizations at least 34% of their salary if they stay and 50%-200% of their salary if they leave, Tynan said. Ultimately, those costs compared to the price of investing even $4,000 a year in a manager probably make the leadership investments worth it.

“It’s not about being nice to frontline managers,” Tynan said. “It’s about creating an environment where you have sustainable employee engagement because you’re investing appropriately in the people who are closest to that engagement.”

She suggests leaders consider the support currently being offered to these managers and the possibilities for helping them succeed.

“Frontline leaders are the key to bringing the strategy you build in the C-suite to life in your organization,” she said. “And, in fact, that beautiful strategy that you build and nurture in the C-suite will die on the vine out in the field if your frontline leaders do not have the tools they need to succeed.”

Click here to watch Tynan’s full presentation.

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Elizabeth Clarke
Elizabeth Clarke is executive editor of Human Resource Executive. She earned a journalism degree from the University of Florida and then spent more than 25 years as a reporter and editor in South Florida before joining HRE. Elizabeth lives with her family in Palm Beach County. She can be reached at [email protected].