When COVID-19 hit more than three years ago, the relationship between employees and their employers changed almost overnight: Like never before, workers looked to their organization for guidance on the unfolding crisis, support for their wellbeing, investment in their success even in a new remote or hybrid world. And the lynchpin that determined whether these changed relationships would thrive or not often was one person: the manager, tasked with becoming the lifeline between the organization and its employees throughout the uncertainties of the pandemic.
But more than three years of managing employees through constant change, coupled with new pressures from leadership, could be leaving managers without enough fuel to keep driving the workforce forward—and in need of new training to help them both cope on a personal level and lead their workforces in a changed environment.
For instance, organizational concerns about inflation and a possible recession “mean that managers and supervisors are particularly stressed, as they’re responsible for creating the action plans that enable employees to do their best work and meet business objectives,” says Christine Tao, co-founder and CEO of personalized coaching platform Sounding Board. Meanwhile, they’re still focused on advancing company culture and tackling “enterprise-level goals that impact the bottom line.”
Manager training can be a ‘force for change’
That’s taking a toll: According to recent Gallup research, managers work a half-day longer than individual contributors every day, while one-third report significant stress throughout their workday. And the pressure is on if burnout from that workload trickles down to their relationship with their employees; Gallup found that half of employees polled left their organizations directly because of their manager.
Because managers can yield influence in multiple directions simultaneously, says Natasha Nicholson, director of content marketing at Kantola Training Solutions, they have the potential to be a “powerful force for change.”
But the difference between organizations whose managers live up to that potential and those that don’t? Whether managers “are empowered with the support they need,” Nicholson says. “That’s where training comes in.”
Modern manager training puts ‘people first’
Among the needs manager training can address are basic workflow and productivity concerns: According to Gallup, nearly half of managers surveyed strongly agree that they face competing priorities, while they are also less likely than individual contributors to be able to properly delegate work tasks.
But modern management training needs to dive deeper than the nuts and bolts of the job—helping people leaders sharpen certain soft skills that can enable them to lead their teams through the changes happening in the world of work.
Anne Fulton, founder and CEO of AI-powered talent marketplace Fuel50, says her agency is seeing strong demand for “human-centric” leadership.
“Leaders across the globe are being required to put their people first … to transform the people experience within their organization,” she says, noting that much of this work has to be done virtually, requiring new skills of managers. “Organizations need to support their leaders to meet this demand. That’s why leader enablement and coaching are both crucial right now.”
Leadership and employees with leadership potential at restaurant chain Chipotle have had access to professional coaching and leadership development since the fall of 2020 through the organization’s partnership with BetterUp.
In one-on-one coaching, employees focus on strengthening human-centered skills, such as problem-solving and authenticity. The organization defines authenticity as “creating meaningful relationships by developing trust and mutual respect with direct reports”; after coaching, leaders see higher authenticity scores than their non-coached counterparts.
They also are receiving higher individual performance ratings and team ratings; coached field leaders and corporate employees are, respectively, 4.3 and 1.5 times more likely than non-coached counterparts to receive “outstanding” performance reviews. They are also both 1.8 times more likely to receive promotions.
When managers are equipped with the skills they need to lead, it can have a cascading effect, says Tawanda Starms, Chipotle’s vice president, people experience, and chief DE&I officer.
“The greater the employee experience, the more likely people are to stay with the organization—and employee experience starts squarely with who the employees report to,” Starms says. “It’s really important that we make sure we upskill our leaders and give them the skills they need to be great people leaders. Because, in turn, they not only give great experiences to their employees, but the employees then are more likely to give that same treatment to our guests.”
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Training focused on flexibility and agility, in particular, Fulton says, can help managers develop the resilience needed to lead in ongoing uncertainty—especially as the needs and expectations of their employees continue to change, and quickly.
Chief among those expectations, adds Nicholson, is that today’s employees want to work in inclusive settings—and managers can be key conduits to the creation of such environments. Managers need to be equipped to embed inclusivity in recruitment, onboarding and advancement practices, while also bringing the empathy needed to handle sensitive employee issues with an eye toward inclusivity.
“With that kind of [training] support,” she says, “managers can be one of the most powerful organizational assets.”