How to create better managers of people

Ben Houghton, CEO, Noggin talks to Talk Business about how employees do not have confidence in the bosses management skills and what managers can do to improve their management skills.

shutterstock_263495984I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently around a worrying lack of management skills, combined with cynicism around leadership coaching and training. A CIPD survey painted a really gloomy picture – employees said there were five attributes they find lacking in their bosses; consultation, respect, trust, confidence and clarity of vision. A BBC radio programme I was listening to discussed how managers were not very good at their jobs and questioned if managers were needed at all.

Ouch! So why are managers viewed so poorly?

In my experience, managers often find themselves in this position as a result of being the best at what they do technically. They haven’t been promoted to manager because they indicated they might have a natural aptitude for people leadership but because they were good at what they did. Good sales people don’t necessarily become great sales managers. A top salesperson doesn’t always have the skills needed to lead and motivate, nor might they want to. The result is that these managers are often ill-equipped and poorly trained to deal with their new responsibility.

So a lot of organisations are setting off with people in management positions who might not be best suited to the role. When you add in the facts from another survey from Harvard Business Review, which found that the majority of people surveyed (71%) said that managers received training and development only occasionally or infrequently, with nearly half (44%) saying this was probably only once a year or less, you get a clearer picture of how managers might be perceived so poorly by employees.

Only a handful surveyed said their companies offered a comprehensive leadership development programme that included frequent mentoring, 360-degree feedback, and leadership tools.

So what might be preventing companies from investing in comprehensive leadership development? Maybe it’s because they don’t get enough return. If you ask companies (and people leaders) what they want from a programme, it’s a perceptible shift in behaviour. Very few approaches actually deliver this.

Whilst most good leaders recognise the importance their emotional agility and competence has on their teams, there are very few development processes that show them the true impact their behaviour has on others and most importantly how to improve it. Most programmes suggest what you should do as a people leader but give you very little idea of how to go about actually improving it. More often than not this type of development comes in the form of a “sheep dip” programme full of generic leadership and management theories and techniques.

At Noggin, we got tired of hearing our clients talk about this, so we came up with something of our own. We call it Catalyst. Catalyst is a development process for precisely identifying, then tangibly improving the impact a people leader has on others – however ill-prepared they are for people leadership.

The Catalyst process is simple: people leaders complete our online diagnostic which gets feedback from their most relevant people in key leadership areas such as managing performance, delegating, collaborating with colleagues and engaging groups.

The feedback is so precise, it means we can offer truly tailored interventions. Whether these interventions are through one to one or group coaching, managers can link the relevance of what they are learning to the opportunities identified in their Catalyst Diagnostic. The workshops introduce our models for performance management and coaching, delegation, collaboration and engaging groups. Our success has been in building an individual’s emotional intelligence and making it situational to these contexts.

To do this we use our unique “ABC Model”, which demonstrates that there are fundamental processes at play that are essential to achieve what you need to from your interactions. The approach and model makes crucial leadership interactions simpler. In essence, our approach bridges the gap between theoretical emotional intelligence and the development of authentic emotional competence and facilitates improvements in  all of the five attributes employees in the CIPD survey found lacking in their bosses; consultation, respect, trust, confidence and clarity of vision.

The Catalyst process has delivered some really fantastic returns. A recent programme saw a technically expert finance manager start a programme with fairly low emotional agility/competence. Our Catalyst Diagnostic suggested that he was only creating a positive impact through his communication and behaviour 56% of the time.

But it takes a certain approach to make a difference. Alongside tailoring the programme to an individual, and making their experience as visceral as possible, you also need to make any new behaviours habitual. What amazes me is that people go on a workshop, cover a topic and think they have developed. Whilst they might learn about the topic this doesn’t mean that they can “do” it.

In much the same way that you can’t store fitness, emotional agility requires regular work and development – you need to go to the gym repeatedly rather than just once or twice. To make what you learn a habit and truly authentic, they have to become part of your muscle memory and your limbic system.

Our Catalyst Process delivers the self-awareness, mindsets, resilience, leadership models and techniques required to be effective. It does it in a way that really shifts behaviour by creating new habits via the limbic system through reinforcement and repetition over time

Going back to my example of the finance manager, at the end of our programme he revisited his diagnostic which told him his emotional agility/competence had increased from 56% to 85%.

We put the work in and so did he – over a sustained period of time. The result? A measurable change in his behaviour that put both him and his team in a better place. Now that’s a return.

By Ben Houghton, CEO, Noggin