Charlie Chung tells editor Jon Kennard why good management is so crucial while more people are remote working.
How can managers develop and train their team better and why is this so important?
It is more important now than ever for managers and leaders to develop their teams. In these turbulent times, the level of decentralisation organisations need is often at the team level. They are small enough to be agile and respond to threats or capitalise on the opportunities that are being presented, while also large enough to be able to make a difference in moving the organisation.
During this pandemic where employee engagement is at risk, it is the connection of people with their teams and managers that will keep them motivated and aligned with the mission of the organisation. Investing in training and development is crucial to upskilling teams and equipping them to face the challenges of today.
Managers can improve the training and development they provide their direct reports through three things: instructional programs, practice and mentorship. All three are imperative, but it is all too common for managers to just focus on one – sending their direct report to a class, putting their team in a situation where they ‘sink or swim’, or providing advice only during one-on-one feedback sessions.
This approach to training isn’t realistic for how humans learn and grow. Instead, we need mental models – explanations of principles and concepts, and then the context to work through how they are implemented in the real world – application and practice.
Managers aren’t automatically good coaches. There is a slate of critical coaching skills that are needed, such as interacting with different personality styles, active listening, giving feedback, and the like.
This is not a one-time event, but a gradual evolution of skill development, and for this learners need to be able to draw upon experts and mentors, and the most typical mentor is their manager. Thus, there is a great responsibility on managers not just to manage current performance, but to raise the ceiling on potential performance, and to drive the former towards the latter.
What specific skills should managers be focused on cultivating? Have those changed at all due to remote work?
The past decade has been one of accelerating digital transformation, across industries large and small, from startups to Fortune 100 companies. This brings along with it a critical set of skills that loom large in prominence. These are:
- Digital skills that allow for better comprehension of changes or possibilities within the marketplace, such as machine learning, AI, data science, statistics, and analytics
- Process skills to respond quickly and appropriately to changes, such as agile, lean, decision-making, and productivity
- Customer value generation skills, such as design thinking, innovation, and customer experience
Along with these, studies indicate that senior executives consider soft skills (leadership, communication, collaboration, etc.) to be rising in importance. This has become even more true in the pandemic. Since workers are increasingly isolated, the following soft skills are becoming paramount:
- Coaching employees
- Managing cross-functional teams
- Diversity, equality, and inclusion
- Psychological safety
- Purpose-driven leadership
- Unconscious bias
At a time when direct human contact is minimised, organisations need to focus on ways to better humanise how we can interact with each other – if not with physical presence, then it can be with psychological presence, respect, and connection.
Is this the perfect opportunity for managers to incorporate coaching skills into what they do?
Yes, coaching is a meta-skill that is now a clear responsibility that managers must fully shoulder. Employees don’t have the casual watercooler conversations nor can they drop in a colleague’s office for an impromptu opinion or commiseration.
The organisation’s culture is now concentrated even further into the manager, who must channel more of the culture of the organisation to employees. With a dearth of feedback, managers must step into the breach and provide more to their employees.
But raw feedback about performance without coaching is like being dropped onto a random terrain without a map, and managers need to provide context and clarity in guiding employees in their development.
This brings up a serious issue however: managers aren’t automatically good coaches. There is a slate of critical coaching skills that are needed, such as interacting with different personality styles, active listening, giving feedback, and the like.
Thus, organisations need to make sure that their managers are prepared to be coaches so that coaching efforts can start off with the highest chance of success. It also helps if the managers themselves are exposed to good coaching, so they can have that behaviour modeled for them.
What L&D opportunities can help managers improve their leadership skills, especially in the current remote work setting?
Organisations are facing the challenge of moving their in-person training to an online format, and are also looking to double down on its training and development initiatives. The challenge is that many organisations are stuck with web conference-based live training sessions, which have logistical and psychological limits to their use.
Thus, L&D leaders are turning towards blended approaches to combine relevant live events with asynchronous learning elements, and tying them together into effective, engaging and efficient training journeys.
While online learning was previously thought of as a solo experience, modern technology allows companies to incorporate meaningful content with opportunities for practice, peer feedback, mentor support and coaching into online training programs, enhancing engagement and providing employees with a more social, collaborative learning experience where they can improve their people skills.
The meta-benefit here is that these dynamics among training participants are precisely the types of skills that organisations are trying to further develop among their workforce.
To prosper, organisations are recognising that cultivating learning opportunities is a core strategic enabler, and thankfully, there are new trends, technologies, and innovators who are crafting the paradigms of how learning is happening for organisations in the future.
About the interviewee
Charlie Chung is VP Business Development & Solutions Consulting at NovoEd