A critical component for every organization’s culture of learning is the role of its managers and leaders. The real, daily experience of any organization lives in the environment that managers create for their employees—and that leaders create for the departments and teams.
Let’s first look at managers. We have all heard the adage,“People leave a boss, not a company.” And it’s true. Numerous surveys have shown that the main reason people give when leaving their job is the relationship with their manager. I’m sure you’ve had a range of bosses in your career too. I know I have. The good ones help us be our best and make us feel great about coming to work. The bad ones…well, they eventually make us realize that we would be better off somewhere else.
When you look deeper, it really comes down to whether the manager is creating a culture where it’s safe to take risks, make mistakes. In other words, to learn and grow. An employee is a lot like a tree—it needs healthy soil in which to grow. And it’s the manager’s daily words and actions that are the soil from which the tree will thrive or wither. While other parts of the organization can compensate a little for a poor manager, nothing has as direct of an impact on an employee’s ability to thrive and grow.
If you get your manager and leader training right, the whole culture of your organization shifts. This cannot just be information about core skills but actual instruction, followed by practice that builds the right habits. It must be coupled with ongoing coaching to further increase skills and competency.
When I look at how manager training is offered in most organizations, it’s often missing these critical elements. Hearing about good coaching is not the same as actually coaching someone. Talking about what facilitates team collaboration is not the same as doing those behaviors in a realistic simulation.
We must ensure that learning events include practice so that we can help people develop the right habits and build their skills to the right levels. The truth is that managers need to develop mastery in core skills or else their employees won’t be able to thrive, and this will drive employee disengagement and make it difficult to keep your best people.
Leaders and Executives
Now let’s look at your top leaders and executives. I think the healthiest and most vibrant organizations have leaders who themselves have a growth mindset and believe in the power of learning. They talk about their own mistakes, insights they’ve gained, and their own quest for improvement.
They also advocate for learning. They empower a leader of learning and give that person the same status as HR, creating a team of talent equals. They not only promote learning but they participate in it. This might include kicking off a key program as well as authentically attending some events as an eager learner.
Value of Humility
The key here is humility—the best leaders never assume that because they sit at the top of the organization, they have nothing left to learn. In fact, I’ve observed that the best leaders are the hungriest learners. Needless to say, their beliefs, attitudes and actions cascade through the whole organization making it much easier for the talent teams to get traction.
Most importantly, leaders hold managers accountable for the health of their teams. All of the above efforts fall flat if managers are not evaluated and rewarded based on the health of their teams. High performing organizations don’t turn a blind eye to the damage being done by poor managers.
Let me be clear…
- When there is high turnover on a team, something is wrong.
- When teams stumble and underperform, something needs attention.
- When there are high levels of absenteeism, illness and complaints to HR, you have a crisis.
Just like with trees, employees will show you the quality of the soil they sit in. If you ignore it, and allow poor managers to stay in those roles, your employees will pick up and move their tree to a better place. Needless to say, this can undermine the potential of your organization and its ability to meet its strategic goals.
The organizations that invest in effective manager training and hold their managers accountable, reap amazing rewards in the form of competitive advantage, employee engagement, and customer loyalty.