Updated: Aug 22, 2019
Is it Time to Give Up on Management Development Training, or Should We Just Shift Our Focus More Towards Employees?
The sad reality is that many managers are ill-equipped to do the job of managing people. They might be great at setting up spreadsheets and planning work rotas, but are often less great at communication, providing support and reassurance, making sensible decisions, giving constructive feedback and empowering their people to be their best. Employee survival, in such environments means being better able to cope with imperfect (or even incompetent) managers.
For years, we’ve sought to address this problem by putting managers through management development programmes. But is it time to give up on these? Should we just accept that they haven’t really worked?
What’s the Alternative?
As a designer and deliverer of such Management Development programmes, I’d like to think that I have a better success rate than most. I’ve seen young managers transformed by access to focussed and learner-led development. But I increasingly wonder if, whilst turning our attention to managers, we’ve been missing a trick.
What would happen if we started to turn our focus away from managers and more towards employees?
Dealing with a bad manager, even if they are nice people, is tough. We have expectations of people in management positions and it’s not nice when those expectations are thwarted. We keep hoping our manager will change, get better, or leave. But in the meantime, we’re left to contend with varying degrees of incompetence. Sometimes it turns nasty, in which case were moving into the whole new territory of bullying, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about managers who are essentially good people but out of their depth when it comes to managing people.
We all have difficult relationships, and sometimes we can walk away from them. When the poor relationship is with our manager, it’s costly to walk away. So, we need to become more adept at managing manager relationships. In essence, we need Management Survival Training.
It’s a provocative idea and no doubt flawed in many respects, but that shouldn’t stop us exploring it. One challenge is, who would pay for a course called ‘How to Survive Your Manager?’ Once a company reaches the point where it accepts it might need such training for its staff, it might be more inclined to get rid of the poor manager rather than help staff cope with him/her. But I think this is shooting themselves in the foot. Even poor managers aren’t ALL bad. They have skills and experience that is often valuable to the business and they might be fulfilling a vital technical function. Their weakness is probably around their interactions with people, and the training they receive on this only delivers small, slow, marginal gains.
If employees could be taught to change their expectations of their manager in this respect; to become more self-sufficient (or dependent on their colleagues than their manager); then the manager could continue to carry out the parts of the job they are good at without causing disappointment, resentment and frustration because of the areas they aren’t good at.
Whilst I accept that this has the feel of a ‘cop-out’, it does two things that could positively impact the way we work:
1. First, it frees up ‘Managers’ to utilise their strengths in more productive ways
2. Second, it unshackles employees who begin to take on more personal responsibility for managing themselves
There is a third benefit, which is that staff accept the imperfection of their managers and are less-inclined to be aggrieved by it. That has to be a good thing.
This approach has its limitations. It won’t help you deal with an idiotic manager or a psychopath, and neither should you have to. This is where the company has to take responsibility for your welfare and, if they don’t take the right steps to protect you, your final option is to do what so many people do, which is to leave.
However, where you find yourself with a manager who is well-meaning but socially gauche, or emotionally inept, or frightened of conflict, or inarticulate: it’s possible to manage this situation in a way that causes no harm to either party.