Has the focus shifted from front line leader training? In his guest blog, David North explores the risks of providing insufficient support during this critical career transition.
Two weeks ago I led a half day development workshop for supervisors at a local business. As I was leaving the premises two of the delegates from the morning session approached me. ‘Thanks for what you did this morning’ they said, ‘We’ve never had any training to prepare us to supervise others and it was really helpful’.
The fact that they’d taken the trouble to tell me this was immensely gratifying, but also quite shocking. The more so, because it was the third time in 12 months I’d had such an end of workshop conversation with a group of front line leaders in small or medium size organisations.
These experiences got me thinking ‘why are these individuals so energised by, and grateful for the most basic leader training?’ Perhaps the explanation is a general trend in recent decades towards a more selective approach to leader development.
A Shift in Focus
When I started my learning and development career 40 years ago, most of the development budget was spent addressing the needs of first line supervisors, often to help them navigate highly unionised environments. Occasionally we’d support a middle-level, or senior leader to attend a residential programme at a prestigious business school; but that was the exception.
With the emergence of ‘talent management’ as a key function within HR, the focus shifted to high potential and executive development programmes and 1:1 coaching. I’m not suggesting these groups aren’t important, but front line leaders seem to have been left behind in the scramble to ‘win the war for talent’ in a budget-conscious environment.
“If we want to nurture a more engaged, innovative and productive workforce, surely first line leaders also have a vital role to play.”
I accept that highly talented individuals have a significant positive impact on the strategic direction and success of their organisations. However, if we want to nurture a more engaged, innovative and productive workforce, surely first line leaders also have a vital role to play. They are the managers with direct, daily contact with most of the people working in the organisation, and their first management role represents a key career transition.
I know that some large organisations do prepare their front line leaders to succeed, although I sometimes wonder whether sufficient attention is paid to skill development. It’s the development of supervisors in small and medium size businesses that concerns me more, particularly as that’s where most new jobs within the economy are being created.
I think there’s a real need to create timely, practical and affordable development solutions for these organisations. Solutions that build the confidence and capabilities of new leaders, whilst meeting the expectations and releasing the potential of their people. Surely that would be a win for everybody!
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