There are no hard-and-fast rules about which department is in charge of developing and leading manager training or high-potential (HiPo) leadership programs. It is important to the success of the program, however, that whichever vice president the function reports to has a seat at the decision-making table with the CEO. Further, it is crucial that the program is not being started because it sounded like a good idea or because everyone was talking about it at the last conference you attended. Finally, the vice president must have clarity on business issues that would affect the program before it is even started.

Here are a few additional considerations to take into account before embarking:

1. Make sure the company has a clear mission (not a bunch of buzzwords) and a clear strategy and that tactics are consistent with that strategy.

Before a management training program is even started, there should be clarity on what the overarching company mission is and the strategy to get there. Is having a management training or HiPo program (tactic) consistent with the strategy?

For instance, if the three-year strategy for growth is acquisition, does promoting managers who have gone through one of these programs make sense? After an acquisition, the company will be flooded with experienced managers to choose from already. If you add 10 more newly-trained managers from your program, where will they get the opportunity to put into practice all they learned? Chances are, having a glut of acquired managers will mean that developing the new program will create an opportunity cost in which the company’s already tight resources of time, money and effort could have been used more efficiently. A better tactic might be to create a program to acculturate the new managers into your way of doing business.

2. Be sure that you know what success looks like for that level of new leaders.

If your current frontline and middle managers are constantly failing to meet their goals, do a gap analysis to find out why, and solve that problem before writing the curriculum for a new program.

Ask whether the company has identified a minimum acceptable competence and/or education baseline for this level of management:

  • What do they need to know (industry or department- and subject matter-specific knowledge?
  • What do they need to know how to do (skills, such as analysis, decision-making, systems thinking or interpersonal skills)?
  • What attitudes do they need to display (such as accountability, leadership, judgment, humility, honesty and transparency)?

If the company hasn’t established this baseline, apply the brakes. How will you know the competencies you need to include in the curriculum?

If managers are failing, it may not be entirely their fault. Many times, upper management has not spent a day in the life of the frontline or middle manager. If they are willing to sweep aside current managers in favor of newly minted managers but have not been realistic in the amount of work or time the manager needs to accomplish their goals, or the amount of resources they need, then it will only be a matter of time before the new managers fail in the same way. So, before embarking on a new program, consider the following questions:

  • Do current managers have the tools and resources they need to accomplish their goals?
  • Do they believe they have been set up for success? If not, what could you do better?
  • Do they feel overworked?
  • Do they feel appreciated and valued?
  • Are they meeting expectations but at the expense of creating unhappy employees?
  • What do they wish they had known as new managers? (Consider including that information in any new curriculum you create.)

3. Check for systems thinking in tactics that may affect the program.

Are there two different departments that are supporting a strategy but that are at cross-purposes? For instance, if the strategy is to secure the company into the future through succession planning, one tactic may be to shift vice presidents from one business unit to another so that they are well-rounded and more useful in the long term. Another tactic may be to build strong relationships between frontline and middle managers and their vice presidents so that through trust, transparency and familiarity, there can be prescient decision-making.

These two tactics are at cross-purposes. If you shift vice presidents around every two or three years, just when the relationship is starting to pay dividends, the shift creates chaos. While perhaps checking the box for succession planning, it actually creates other problems for frontline and middle managers. The impetus now falls on them to educate their new vice presidents about what they do, how they like to work, what works and what doesn’t, and they have to conform to a new vice president whom they may not know and have not established any relationship with. Starting a new management or HiPo program in this environment would likely alienate the managers who are already feeling dismayed at starting over. The support for the new leaders by current managers would also likely be in jeopardy, and the negativity in the manager ranks could demoralize the new leaders.

4. Be sure that the CEO fully supports a culture of learning.

If the company, led by the CEO, doesn’t truly support a culture of learning, launching a management training or HiPo program is just checking a box. A new program has to fit within the culture to avoid being a lost opportunity.

A culture of learning changes the way your business operates. It promotes and enables learning behaviors by creating a safe space in which to do that. Look at your approach to doing business and ask yourself whether your current environment is conducive to a successful HiPo program. If your culture is not there yet, that’s OK. Most organizations, even those that tout themselves as a learning culture, aren’t, either. If you are honest and see that your organization doesn’t have a learning culture, but you want to change it, you can. Make a plan and sell it to the CEO and the board. Truly taking the time to create a learning culture will revolutionize your company, and once that culture is up and running, invest in your people by creating that management training or HiPo program.

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