Make Sure Your Talent Development Factory Is Producing Pilots, Not Drones

Why isn’t management showing up better?

Studies show that most first-time managers are hired or promoted out of necessity – generally because they were strong individual contributors and not necessarily for any demonstrated management prowess. Because of this, many managers know only to be followers and are still dependent on someone else’s setting a direction. They are drones, in other words, with a pilot sitting in an office somewhere else in the organization.

Every CEO wants innovative, hands-on managers who take charge and influence the success of their teams. They want pilots. Many CEOs are getting in their own way by not just commanding air traffic control but piloting every project, team and effort – likely because their organizations lack a talent development approach capable of delivering anything more than drones.

Focus on What?

Focusing on management development can be difficult. Managers are slammed; from growth and product development to sales and finance, there’s no end to the demands on their time. Many scoff that professional development takes people offline for too long, costing not only the price of leadership training and coaching but also missed productivity.

The good news is that what may have been true in the past is no longer the case. A new generation of management development programs delivers greater flexible, accessibility (with virtual options available) and cost-effectiveness than ever before.

A ‘90s Throwback

This management development issue is reminiscent of conversations in the early ‘90s about bad customer service.

Then, companies felt that focusing on customer service would detract from more important issues, but financial pressures gave more and more companies a wakeup call.

It took two decades, but we’ve seen the emergence of companies that take customer service seriously while tackling big data metrics that point to positive financial impact. Everything from UX (user experience) to CX (customer experience) and the more popular “customer journey” are top of mind for C-suites everywhere.

We see the carefully scripted “my pleasure” as the correct response from every Chick-fil-A employee. We experience auto dealers priming the pump for perfect 10s in auto maker surveys (leveraging the ultimate question from Frederick F. Reinchheld’s now-famous 2003 Harvard Business Review study on Net Promoter Scores™: “How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?). Customer service is now serious business – literally. The effect is not just higher customer satisfaction scores but also customer loyalty, employee retention and a healthier bottom line.

The Here and Now

Is today’s lack of quality managers the next wave in organizational development? “Manager” is no new concept, but it also seems clearer than ever that not all managers are doing their primary job: delivering company profits.

In a recent study conducted by Leadership Choice researchers, managers received on average a solid “C” across several core competencies regardless of who was rating their performance within the organization.

Effective talent development approaches are proactive in three ways:

  1. Fully Loaded Cost Analysis. The average manager’s salary is $61,000. Are you seeing a positive return on that investment (ROI)?
  2. Micro-succession planning. Promoting a high performer without the proper management skills not only leaves his or her old seat empty but may be nothing more than an experiment. Have you planned for this reality?
  3. Developing people skills. Fifty percent of people who voluntarily leave their jobs are leaving to escape a poor manager. In our increasingly tech-oriented workplace, are your managers all about the task or the team?

Management Talent Development Factory

The next decade will force companies to take a new, harder look at the talent development side of their business. Like yesterday’s customer service challenges, today’s organizations will become good at answering questions such as:

  • How are we developing our current managers?
  • Are we equipping them with that they need to be good managers?
  • How satisfied are we with the quality of our managers?

In a 360-degree sense, shouldn’t we be forming a new net promoter score that goes something like this: “How likely are you to recommend that a friend or colleague work for this manager?”

Vanguard organizations like Proctor & Gamble are already heralded for strong talent development strategies. Chief Executive Magazine described P&G’s approach as a “process that identifies, trains, and develops the company’s next-generation leaders. Through formal and informal training, P&G emphasizes promoting from within and judging senior managers by their ability to develop those who report to them.”

It’s not total nirvana, but we’re heading there, right?

How well is your management development talent strategy working? Is it churning out drones or delivering capable pilots?

Brett Walker is president of Leadership Choice, an emerging leader in management and leadership development.