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Want Effective Managers? Focus on These Development Fundamentals

A surprising number of companies no longer expect their senior managers to develop their people: They turn management development over to outsourced coaching firms instead.

I’m a strong proponent of “coaching” for behavior change and improvement. But I get concerned when the majority of coaching is handled by outsiders who are not personally familiar with the running of the business.

It’s great if outside coaching ensures that all managers or prospective managers are getting developmental attention, which they may not be getting from their supervisors. And professional outfits will deliver content that all managers need. Unfortunately, what often goes missing is the necessary linkage between management concepts and the practical realities of the business.

Professional coaches are attentive and loyal to the individuals they coach, which is crucial to trust and development. But coaches who work primarily from the individuals’ vantage point may never close the gap between what those individuals understand, prefer, and are capable of — and the very real needs of the business.

Who Knows the Business Best?

I’m comfortable with relying on outside expertise when it doesn’t exist in-house — after all, that’s how I earn my own living. But ensuring the organization’s ongoing success and creating a cultural legacy for future executives requires not only the delivery of new knowledge and practices to the middle-management tier, but also infusing these practices with the spirit of the organization’s culture and values.

In other words, development should serve the needs of the business as well as serving the growth needs of employees. So it’s vital that over time, every management should learn to be capable of developing its own future leaders.

Developing Management Development

One targeted, effective way to do this is to include junior- and middle-management colleagues in facilitated group discussions that practice applying management concepts to their actual work dynamics. Encouraging freewheeling, thoughtful dialogue among these managers will begin the process of supporting and sustaining teamwork, and create models for their subsequent behavior.

Then, to ensure cultural and organizational congruence, the senior leadership team should, at a minimum, preview and agree to support all training content prior to the managers’ participation, or they’ll likely not be able (or willing) to back up that content during real-life usage. And when senior leaders don’t back up their people, management might just as well have been outsourced.

Designing Curriculum and Lesson Plans

To keep management development on track, it needs a vision and stated purpose to ensure that the concepts are integrated into both the corporate goals and into daily management practice. For example, if a strategic goal of the business is to grow revenues by developing new and current customer relationships, then the related business values might include things like:

  • Identifying true customer needs through consultative sales and marketing practices;
  • Always having sufficient merchandise on hand, ready to ship to customers;
  • Fostering continuous operational improvements to provide customers with speed and convenience;
  • Improving decision-making; and
  • Developing human potential within the organization as a self-sustaining resource that feeds all other aspects of business growth.

Once values like these are assimilated, businesses can create (or purchase) their own training workshops and materials for rising managers, and link it to their own goals, culture, practices, and job assignments. Sample topics for managerial development could include:

  • Etiquette and effective behavior for professional success;
  • Finance and budget fundamentals for non-financial managers and overview of sales and marketing, operations, IT, etc. for colleagues from other departments;
  • Customer service as a competitive advantage;
  • Decision-making;
  • Setting and communicating goals;
  • Teamwork and communication skills;
  • Behavior change and how to manage it; and
  • Planning.

It takes effort and investment to do this work internally, but isn’t there at least some advantage in strengthening organizational culture and deepening the sense of leadership and legacy?

Onward and upward,


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