We believe the ultimate goal of any training is to improve on-the-job performance.
The answer to "Is what was taught being applied on a regular basis?” should be a resounding yes. A
nd we know that manager support and endorsement of training is critical to its success. Without it team members question its validity, priority and relevance to their job and their professional development.
Unfortunately, many managers don’t actively support their team's training. And this is a symptom of a far more pervasive and damaging reality - that many managers aren’t managing effectively.
Specialists vs. Managers
We often hear in our customer interviews that managers are promoted to the role, after excellent performance in a prior specialist role. Let’s use Alison, a back-end developer, as an example.
Alison really knows her stuff. She consistently delivers clean code, on time and considers the commercial impacts of decisions she makes. In short, she's a rare find. Senior management wish to acknowledge Alison’s work and make an example of it to the rest of the team. So they promote her to team lead. Alison is chuffed.
Her new team of 5 enjoy collaborating and learning from a positive role model. A year passes and Alison's team are really kicking goals - clients are happy, code is clean and morale is high. Senior management are keen to replicate her team’s success across the entire development department. So Alison is promoted again, this time to Development Manager. Now she has 15 direct reports - yet worryingly, no real desire to manage them.
Alison loves to code - it’s what she's good at, it’s what she enjoys. Leading 5 people was great, everyone was really close and enjoyed collaborating. The idea that she's now responsible for 15 team members’ professional development is quite frankly, frightening. It means she’ll have less time to code and now that she’s responsible for 3x as many people, she won’t be able to enjoy the small group dynamic (which she credits to much of her success). Alison feels she doesn't have the skills, inclination or time to guide the professional development of her team.
So she retreats into her brand new office and closes the door. At least in there she’s safe and can focus on what she’s good at - writing code.
Alison is a specialist, not a manager. She could be a manager if she wanted to but she doesn’t, it’s just not her thing. Alison’s example is illustrative of a fairly common career path to management.
So what impact does this have on her team?
Research shows that 44% of employees report never receiving any constructive coaching or developmental feedback from their manager. This is a staggering figure and means almost 1 in 2 people turn up to work, perform what they think they should be doing and leave! Employees are left feeling disillusioned, frustrated, demotivated and likely looking for another job. Their on-the-job performance is shot to pieces.
So what are some practical ways they can turn this dire situation around? Well we love simple solutions, and this one is no different.
In Weekly Coaching Conversation, Brian Souza makes a compelling case that the best way to improve performance is through consistent constructive coaching and developmental feedback. How? With weekly manager/team member catch-ups.
Weekly catch-ups are an opportunity for the manager to really invest in and understand what makes each team member tick. To ensure they understand what their job is and that they will be supported in performing it. And for the manager to hear first-hand what’s working and what’s not. Regular catchups should also provide a safe environment for feedback; from both manager to team member and vice versa.
According to Souza many employees report receiving feedback just once a year, in their performance review. If a manager has a catch-up each week, that’s 50x more opportunities to improve their team employees’ performance.
For catch-ups to be successful however requires managers to invest in a significant mindset change. Rather than acting like a manager, they need to act like a coach. And coaching is not merely something that a manager “does”. A coach is someone that they, as a leader, must become. How do they do this?
Souza believes that most managers have never been taught one of the most important skills they need to know - how to facilitate constructive conversation.
Facilitating a constructive conversation
A coach must transform the conversation with their team members. One way to do this is to invest the time to align each team members' personal goals with the company’s. Whereas most managers focus purely on the company’s goals, coaches don’t see them as separate.
The best time to have this conversation is in the weekly catch-up. Progress against personal and company goals can be reviewed and discussed in a supportive environment. Rather than a once-a-year conversation that sets big, blue sky goals for the following year, far smaller and more realistic goals can be set, reviewed and achieved.
But how is progress measured? With all these additional conversations managers need a way to easy track goal progress. If the manager is using Yarno, they receive regular progress updates matching team members learning goals to real-time learning results.
So how does it work?
On average each team member will answer 15 Yarno questions a week. Typically 3 or more learning topics are covered by these questions. Each team member has a results dashboard that presents key information such as their score and their performance by topic. They can also see how they compare with colleagues in their team and more broadly, in their division, region and even company.
Reviewing the results of these questions weekly provides insight into how well specific topics are understood and remembered. These real-time results assist both managers and team members in identifying areas requiring focus. And next steps can be agreed then and there. This gives team members clarity around their learning priorities for the week and managers visibility across their team.
This approach facilitates a collaborative learning process, ensuring the team member feels supported and the manager supports. When reviewed regularly wins are celebrated and mistakes and uncertainty are discussed openly, underscored by a relationship built on trust and rapport.
With training prioritised, endorsed and supported by their manager, team members are more likely to apply learning to their job - giving them their best chance of success at achieving both their personal and company goals. And ultimately, their on-the-job performance.
Lachy heads up the Product team at Yarno. He's our resident rationalist and ideas man. He also reads way too many books for our liking.
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