L&D trends to watch: enabling managers for the future of work

Sep 16, 2022

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Welcome! This is the first post in Nomadic's new series, L&D Trends to Watch.

Here, we'll feature different voices from outside and within Nomadic to explore their take on the latest trends in L&D and how those trends are changing the way we learn, work, and think.

A big thank you to to LifeLabs Learning for being the first guest post featured in this series. We loved their perspective on aligning our vision of the future of work with the data on how we can use skill building to create the most positive change within an organization. We've definitely seen the phenomenon they describe, where helping managers develop new capabilities creates a "multiplying" force for organizational transformation.

If you're interested in this topic, you may also enjoy:

Now, on to the first post in our series, from LifeLabs Learning. Thanks again to LifeLabs for sharing their insights!

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Enabling managers for the future of work: bring on the robots, just make sure they teach skills

Learning & Development is overflowing with predictions about how the world of work will change over the next few decades (McKinsey, 2017). New technologies promise to upend how we work, who does the work (robots anyone?), and the skills needed to be successful. Meanwhile, L&D/People Ops professionals are busy figuring out the best ways to foster continuous learning cultures agile enough to swiftly pivot with evolving business needs and work conditions.

Diverse digital learning solutions are positioned as answers to the question: how will we sustainably upskill our teams fast enough to keep up with the pace of change? At LifeLabs Learning, we believe that while digital solutions can support L&D, what matters most is that you equip your managers with the right skills and provide organizational support to use those skills.

We know from working with 2000+ organizations that managers are your multipliers in an organization––for better or worse. Managers have a disproportionate impact on performance, engagement, inclusion, and culture. In fact, bad management costs roughly $7 trillion globally every year (Wigert & Harter, 2017). What’s more, managers themselves are feeling the weight of their growing tactical and emotional responsibilities. Since 2020, our clients have cited burnout as one of the biggest threats to managers and the companies that rely on them.

That’s a big deal. You can’t afford to risk manager burnout when reliance on managers to drive business outcomes is only increasing. So, what can you do?

There are two main gaps to close. The first is a lack of key organizational support for managers and the second is an absence of vital skill sets among managers. The great news is that regardless of how you choose to close these (digital or not), you’ll see results.

Gap 1 - Lack of key organizational support for managers

Lack of organizational support for managers tends to map on to one of the following key areas:

We’ve learned from working with 2000+ organizations that there are two simple things you can do to bridge the above support gaps.

Bridge 1: Deblur what a manager is

Over the years, we’ve been surprised to discover that the companies we serve can rarely articulate what a manager actually is. Imagine if the same were true for other high-impact professions such as pilots, surgeons, salespeople, or engineers.

A simple and powerful fix is to deblur what a manager is––make the implicit, explicit. Start by defining the meaning of ‘manager’ for all employees, including your managers.

Here is a sample definition you can use as your starting point:

The purpose of managers at this company is to be our multipliers. It’s a role that exists to help people achieve more than they could do on their own. The manager role is designed to accelerate results and do so in a way that each person finds rewarding.

Bridge 2: Behaviorize great management

In addition to providing a clear role description, we’ve found that companies with the strongest managers went one step further. They broke down accountabilities into behavioral units––specific, observable actions––that all managers, including executives, committed to upholding.

So something like “providing support and development” becomes “holds weekly one-on-ones with each person on the team and discusses a development plan once a month.”

Questions to guide you and your team in setting helpful standards:

Even with a clear job role and behavioral unit accountabilities, most managers will still run right off a leadership cliff, which is why Gap 2 is a thing.

Gap 2: Managers lack vital management skills

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many companies still operate under the assumption that people can develop manager skills “on the job.” However, experience alone just isn’t enough. In fact, our research has found no correlation between years of experience and manager skill level. We found that the companies with the most consistently effective managers train their people on the skills that matter most.

The good news is that LifeLabs Learning has done the research to identify the manager skills that make the biggest difference in the shortest time: we call these "tipping point skills." Think of these skills as primary colors. While there is a small set of them, they mix together to create an infinite array of other skills—helping managers tackle any challenges they face.

Bridge 3: Train managers in the tipping point skills that matter most

These skills include:

Helping managers acquire and convert these skills into habits is foundational for organizational success in the long term and should be central to your L&D strategy. We have seen first-hand that simple changes to manager enablement make a big impact, fast. Companies that take a strategic approach to manager enablement see the payoff in performance and engagement and play a vital role in creating the future of work.

Ultimately, managers can be the obstacle to your organization’s ability to change with the change, or they can be the catalysts––it’s up to you to decide.

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