The business case for early investment in frontline managers

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Pandemic leadership has unsurprisingly meant a lot of leadership challenges and change in 2020. While many companies have focused on reviewing the business strategy, the focus on leadership strategy and development will have undoubtedly waned and potentially been put on hold. However, pandemic or not, leaders must be developed early and without delay to ensure the business reaps the best from them, and they perform to their full potential. Do we really want the challenge of eradicating poor leadership habits and trying to start with a blank page when we could have invested earlier?

The changing face of development

For all it’s challenges, COVID-19 has forced us to review the way our people learn. Online training is now essential and diversifies the options available and allows flexibility in location, timing and accessibility. A recent People Management study of learning and development professionals highlighted the change the pandemic has created:

75% of respondents said COVID-19 changed some, or all of the ways, training was delivered, and 50% said that as a result, they had made online training available. A mere 15% said that before the pandemic, they offered online training.

Learning development budgets

While COVID-19 will have forced many of us to change the culture of leadership development, there are other challenges of pandemic leadership. Some L&D members will be furloughed or L&D roles cut. In some companies, budgets for leadership development have been reduced or frozen while the business adapts to the crisis. 

In the People Management study, 62% of L&D professionals said their budgets had not been reduced due to COVID-19. However, for those whose budgets were cut, over half were reduced by over 75%. Unfortunately, such budgets may be a quick win to cut costs, so we must be more creative with our leadership strategy. 

The cost of not  investing in leaders early on?

In research of over 17,000 global leaders, the average age of leaders attending their very first management training was 42…

On average, these 42-year old leaders were in leadership roles for ten years before they received leadership training! 

If we train leaders early, then we’re giving them the fundamentals to lead, and can reduce the potential for bad habits to form.

People don’t leave organisations, they leave managers. Is it any wonder that, according to Gallup research from June this year, only 31% of employees are engaged (US figures). In 20 years of measuring staff engagement, the Gallup % age of engaged staff has never been above 38%. If an employee has an ill-equipped manager, then they’re likely to be learning bad habits, and they’re ingrained over and over. 

The impact is significant, especially for organisations on the front line of the pandemic response.

The care sector in the UK, made up of 18,500 providers, has around 120,000 vacancies and staff turnover rate of 30%. The NHS, with similar scale resourcing gaps, have a huge retention challenge also, with the inability to achieve work/life balance a key reason for staff leaving. Stress levels are 50% higher amongst frontline healthcare workers in the UK (Kings Fund), and across the board many front line staff are working unpaid additional hours. Supervisors and line managers need to be skilled up and supported to deal with these serious issues.

Motivate and develop

All workplace learning should be Aligned to organisational goals, Relevant to the individual and Timely (ART). Leadership development is no different.   Leadership development from the day someone begins a position, allows the potential to grow and for effective leadership habits to form. Practice can enhance such development and allow an individual to practice leadership skills until they become second nature.

Then there’s the motivational aspect to investing early in our leaders. By investing in their development, we’re giving these valuable staff members our investment and commitment, which can grow confidence, motivation and engagement and should create a culture and attitude of motivated leaders.

Start early and invest support 

Whether we have a leader rising through the organisation internally or joining the organisation from elsewhere, investment in their development must be discussed, planned and cultivated. If key leaders are identified, then why would we assume they have all the tools and expertise to hit the ground running?

Such time and investment could easily mark the difference between good and outstanding. 

We should take the time to plan their development, build on their potential and focus on leadership training, events and alternative support. 

Leadership development is an ongoing activity 

Once our senior leaders are coaching and mentoring the next level down leaders, the buck shouldn’t stop there. Leadership should go down to the next level, and so on. Even if some individuals aren’t yet recognised as potential leaders, if they receive the development and support from their manager, then they may well be part of the next generation of leaders. Leaders should share their expertise with their teams and create a culture of leadership support, but they need the skills to do this.

The CEO of PR firm, North 6th Agency, believes it’s critical to create a culture of promoting from within to give leaders and potential leaders motivated and development:

Build a culture where rising stars are identified, groomed and emerge as leaders, and establish a standard of excellence that is passed on down to the next generation of employee recruits. The end result will be an organizational chart that constantly flows upward, showing nonstop movement, promotion opportunities and a trajectory that always points toward progress.”

The job of leadership development is as much the responsibility of line managers as it is the leadership development team.

Resources for leadership development

There are many ways to develop leaders without a huge budget. 

  • Zoom calls can be organised with senior leaders discussing topics such as leadership in a crisis, remote leadership or emotional intelligence. There are free resources such as podcasts, articles, TEDx talks and online training that can be used in leadership development. 
  • In-house leadership mentoring programmes are a cost-effective way to develop new leaders, share company knowledge and lead by example. Not only do such programmes allow leaders to grow, but they also allow leaders to connect with other leaders and invest in the business. Also, online leadership training is a brilliant way to tailor training to individuals rather than a one size fits all approach.

Final Thoughts

The pandemic will have a lasting effect  on what workplace learning will look like in the future, so we must ensure a sustained and creative approach to leadership development. Unfortunately, an occurrence like COVID-19 will challenge even the most proficient leaders and will highlight those who were underdeveloped and ill-prepared to cope. Businesses must, therefore, create a renewed leadership strategy and ensure early intervention to develop their leaders.

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