Junior managers: Stuck in the middle?

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Junior managerA 'tick box' attitude to training is no good if you want loyalty from young managers, says Simon Hollington. Instead of fretting over a mounting inbox in their absence plan some after-course coaching that will offer ongoing support, he advises, only then do you stand a real chance of getting a return on your investment.

Recent research indicates that over half of junior managers are dissatisfied with their jobs and are considering making a change. Just consider this for a moment: over 50% of your future leadership pipeline is thinking of leaving you. What a frightening thought – but more importantly – what can you do about it?

First let's look at the research more closely. There was widespread certainty among those surveyed that continual personal development could make their current role more fulfilling, but while nearly all who were surveyed had received training, few of them found it fulfilling. Herein lies the rub. Training is believed to be a significant factor in motivation, but the reality is that it isn't. So does that mean that training doesn't return the investment, that it is a waste of time? Well (to quote Blackadder from that famous scene when he's trying to teach Baldrick to count) "Yes... and No!"

Photo of Simon Hollington"Merely sending someone on a course isn't the way to keep them motivated and loyal. People want personalised learning, even if their career development path seems blocked at the moment."

Looking at the situation from the managers' point of view, it often seems that they are 'stuck in the middle'. At that middle rung of the ladder, the only way to develop a career can seem to be to leave for a better job elsewhere. But the business landscape has changed. Whereas in the past the employer was in the driving seat, nowadays it is the employee who has the upper hand. Instead of employers choosing which candidates to employ, it is employees who are calling the shots. People are free to go, do and be the person they want to be and more and more are realising this. They are looking for 'employability' and training helps provide this for them. However, just because you send someone on a training course doesn't mean that they'll immediately up sticks and leave. Indeed the opposite seems to be true. People look to implement the learning they have received from training but if they don't have that opportunity and if the research is to be believed, this will make them more likely to leave.

So what stops them from implementing their learning? Part of the answer might lie in the frenetic pace that characterises so many businesses, but a big part is caused by the tick box approach that training often descends to. You know – the line manager undertakes an appraisal with his/her direct report. These are generally focused on objectives so that a decision on the annual bonus award can be made. At the end the direct report raises the issue of training. 'Oh yes,' says the line manager, 'we'll arrange some training for you', and when that duly happens it is 'job done'. Off goes the employee on that training course and on return the line manager is more interested in how quickly the work that's piled up while the employee has been away can be cleared. Rarely is there an in-depth conversation about the learning, implementation and business benefits. Result? A short-lived, pretty insignificant morale boost to the employee and no change to the business.

"It is important to follow up after a course and I’ve often seen post programme questionnaires that focus on content and delivery (important). Rarely though have I seen a questionnaire that focuses on the extent to which learning is supported (Vital!)."

It's not just a case of the line manager not caring, but more often a case of not finding the time, and not having the skills to coach people. Merely sending someone on a course isn't the way to keep them motivated and loyal. People want personalized learning, even if their career development path seems blocked at the moment. They want to feel valued, want to feel that they've contributed, and want to feel part of something significant. Pride in achieving something is a significant motivation for us all, and it's a line managerial responsibility to make it happen.

So when someone comes back from a course, it really makes a difference if the line manager takes time not just for a single conversation. Here learning and development personnel can really make a difference. It is important to follow up after a course and I've often seen post-programme questionnaires that focus on content and delivery (important). Rarely though have I seen a questionnaire that focuses on the extent to which learning is supported (vital!). Coaching on a one-to-one basis will identify individual personal development needs, support the implementation of learning and ideas, help staff to feel wanted, cared about and respected by their organisation - and hence more motivated. It will make them think twice about jumping ship and will also ensures that there's a good return for the business on the investment in the training.

Simon Hollington, is the executive chairman of Values Based Leadership, which works with organisations to improve business performance through bespoke leadership development, team effectiveness and cultural change programmes and through executive coaching. For more information go to: www.valuesbasedleadership.co.uk

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