TOP MANAGEMENT, THIS ONE’S FOR YOU

Over the years, I have had the occasion to review and evaluate the Employee Orientation and Management/Leadership training programs of a variety of organizations. My reviews have included the curriculum for both programs, the substantive content, the core messages, and the instructors that deliver it all.

Sadly, in my view, what is often missing in both of these programs is top management involvement in their design and delivery. Assuming top management cares about the cultural norms, core values, and behavioral and performance expectations of their organization, both of these programs are far too important to be delegated to others without top management’s careful oversight and frequent involvement.  The best senior managers understand just how critical and determinative their involvement can be and they act accordingly.

Let’s start with the way new employees are oriented to the organization they have joined. Some years ago, a colleague shared a conversation he had with a young woman who had just joined a prosperous high-tech company. On her first day, she told him, she was met in the main lobby by a new colleague and led to her workspace. Then her colleague pointed to an unopened shipping box in the corner containing her computer. Set up your computer, she was told, and then follow the written instructions on your desk to set up your internal email account, pay and insurance arrangements, and access the rest of your HR forms. When you get everything filled out and submitted, her colleague concluded, give me a yell and I’ll introduce you around. The immediate conclusion this young woman reached, she told my colleague, was that she would need to be highly self-sufficient to survive in her new firm. I suspect that is precisely a core value top management in this company intended to convey

First impressions last a long time and an employee’s orientation experience is clocked full of them. An orientation program affords top management the opportunity to instill values and expectations concerning the keys to success in their organization that will endure. It is an opportunity for those who have successfully navigated a career path to the top, to tell their stories and inspire newcomers with excitement regarding the work experience that lies ahead. Not even the most talented HR professionals and junior managers carry the legitimacy and persuasive power of an organization’s senior most officials. While employees will test orientation messages against their experience, it is top management’s responsibility to ensure they are testing the right ones.

I assign the same critical responsibility to top management when it comes to the Management and Leadership training programs their organization or company conducts or supports.  When top management isn’t clear regarding the management and leadership behaviors they expect from their subordinate managers — and clarity means top management can precisely articulate, observe, and measure them — then almost anything goes.  If top management is clear about what they want, then their’s should be a heavy hand on the curriculum, messages, substantive content, exercises, training methods, and instructor quality in their management training endeavors.  When content and responsibility for management training is delegated or left to others — HR professionals in most cases — without close top management scrutiny, too much is left to chance. Busy as top management generally is, the development of their manager’s skills and ability to perform remains a responsibility for which they alone are accountable.

But simply dictating content, messages, and expectations will be insufficient if managers — post-training — are not  held  accountable for delivering the desired behaviors on the job.  Reinforcing articulated expectations with observation and the appropriate rewards, gives an organization’s management training a sense of legitimacy and produces a management culture with clearly defined and predictable desired behaviors in those who succeed.

Top management’s involvement in shaping their management training programs also helps insure that what is taught to and encouraged in their subordinate managers, is consistent with the actual daily practice of those managers who succeed.  Most successful managers figure out rather quickly which behaviors pay off in their company or organization, and which do not.  In those instances where management training urges one set of behaviors, while promotion, advancement, assignment, and financial reward decisions almost certainly are based upon others, you can count on the latter to be far more influential than their training in shaping the management culture that results.

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