New manager development programs are often a surprising “problem child” in the Learning & Development portfolio.
The recent Association for Talent Development (ATD) report sponsored by Third Factor, “New Manager Development: Building a Foundation for the Future,” highlights a critical gap: while 70% of organizations have new manager development programs, most fail to realize their full potential with 77% reporting only moderate success or worse.
Helping new managers transition from individual contributor to people leadership roles is vitally important for the performance of not only those managers but everyone that reports to them as well. But with the large population of managers in most organizations, Learning & Development (L&D) is often tasked to execute these programs at scale and on a shoestring budget. Add in the time pressures on new managers, and it can feel near impossible to deliver impactful leadership development programs for this audience.
We know how challenging this mandate can be, so we’ve collected some practical strategies from leading organizations that we partner with to help get the value out of your investment in new manager development.
Leadership at the Helm: Building Top-Down Support
The ATD report underscores the importance of senior leadership in new manager development. Most of the organizations surveyed indicated that a lack of either resources, senior leadership support, and/or prioritization were challenges to training new managers. So how do you build that critical support at the top of the house?
Pick your moment and leverage business needs to advance new manager training.
Enlist your partners to sell your vision for new manager training internally.
Get senior leaders directly involved in training to underscore its importance.
First, pick your moment. When organizations make significant investments in new manager development, it typically comes at a time when there is a clear business need – for example, a new strategy, a culture transformation, declining engagement scores, or high turnover. Use these windows of opportunity to demonstrate how Learning & Development can help turn conceptual business plans into real action by driving the right behaviors in managers.
Second, enlist your partners. You need every tool in your arsenal to build the strongest business case to senior leaders for investing in new manager development. Involve HR or internal business partners as well as your third-party vendors to help demonstrate to senior leaders the value and expected outcomes of these programs. Hearing directly from your leadership team about a strategic transformation they are driving from transactional to advisory services, for example, will enable your vendors to design programs that directly support those needs.
Finally, start small and get senior leaders directly involved. One L&D team that we work with is driving a multi-year rollout of a two-day in-person program to help managers build coaching skills – a significant investment of time and resources. But it all started with just one session focused on the C-Suite team. Through that firsthand experience, the CEO and his team became passionate champions of the program. They not only committed to funding a broad program rollout, but the CEO now speaks directly to every cohort of managers that goes through the program. His involvement sends a strong message about his commitment to manager development and also reinforces the connections between the content and their business priorities.
Balancing Learning Formats
Training a large population of new managers can be costly. For many organizations, it’s just not feasible to offer in-person experiential learning programs to all new managers.
In fact, the ATD report notes that asynchronous learning channels are the most common offering made available to new managers. We often hear from L&D leaders about the benefits of asynchronous learning for creating custom learning pathways and offering flexible programs that work around the busy schedules of new managers. Yet there is always a desire to incorporate some of the benefits of live, in-person learning experiences as well.
Increasingly, organizations are looking at blended learning formats to provide the scale and cost effectiveness of asynchronous learning but with some of the human connection and energy of live or in-person programs.
A financial services company that we partner with offers an asynchronous program that enables managers to learn coaching skills through a series of self-paced videos. But to enhance the experience through peer support and live discussions, managers are placed into learning cohorts that proceed through the program as a community. A live virtual kickoff provides context about the program, introduces managers to others in their cohort and builds energy around the learning journey they are about to start on. Midway through the program, cohorts reconvene for a live application lab to work through any questions and challenges as they start applying the skills in their work environment. And upon completion of the program, managers have access to 1:1 coaching and a library of resources to support ongoing skill development and application.
“The most successful new manager development programs that we see always place a strong focus on practical application.”
Whether asynchronous, in-person, or a blended format, the most successful new manager development programs that we see always place a strong focus on practical application. New managers are often completely underwater balancing their priorities of delivering results while also developing their people.
In fact, time constraints on new managers were the most common challenge cited in ATD’s report. Most new managers simply don’t have the time, energy, or interest to dive deep into theories on motivation and performance. Instead, they need a few practical tools that they can implement immediately, opportunities to practice new skills, and strategies to focus on actions that will have the greatest impact so that they see immediate results and build confidence.
Measuring What Matters: The Art of Success Metrics
You’ve heard it a million times – “how are we measuring the impact of this program?” When it comes to reallocating investment or cutting costs, new manager development programs are an easy target if they can’t demonstrate impact. Effective metrics not only demonstrate program effectiveness but also ensure the program remains relevant, impactful, and aligned with evolving business priorities.
ATD’s report highlights a similar issue: 87% of respondents cite a lack of metrics to track the program’s results as a challenge to new manager training. While most organizations do assess program effectiveness, many focus on participant satisfaction and use informal conversations rather than quantitative or outcomes-based measures. So how can you incorporate impactful metrics without creating an overly complex science project?
Most important is systematizing and quantifying participant feedback with a short, standard feedback form for every participant to complete. In our experience, taking a few minutes to do this at the end of sessions before participants return to their other work is the best way to drive response rates and specific feedback. In addition to participant satisfaction, include one or two questions tied to target outcomes – for example, participants’ confidence in their ability to apply the skills in their daily work.
With a basic feedback system in place, start looking at longer-term metrics and impacts. A large energy organization that we work with administers a final survey approximately three months after leadership development programs on how participants are applying their learnings and the resulting business impact of those actions. These concrete examples offer powerful impact stories that are highlighted to the company’s most senior leaders.
Another financial services organization surveyed the direct reports of program participants and found that more than 85% noticed an improvement in their leaders after completing the manager development program – a metric that helped build ongoing support and expansion of the program.
Transforming Insights into Impact
As the ATD report highlights, new manager development programs are a critical aspect of the L&D portfolio and yet there are very real challenges to making them effective and impactful. These strategies offer a blueprint to help ensure the investment in these programs delivers real value for the business and for your people.