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We Wait Far Too Long (If Ever) To Train Our Managers

Today I attended a webinar about Performance Management. During this webinar, they touted the integral role of the manager in employee performance. I heartily agree, but couldn’t help but think, throughout, that most managers really don’t have the chops to handle performance management conversations well.

One of the attendees asked this question: “What if you have a terrible manager? How can you coach up?”

Sadly, this is a pretty reasonable question, as most people don’t have great managers. According to Gallup, only about 10% of people have the talent needed to manage a team. Leaders, look around. Only 1 in 10 managers in your company has the natural ability to do their jobs. The rest need some serious help.

Unfortunately, there is little training for managers. And when they finally do get some training, it could be too late. After all, old habits die hard.

According to leadership guru, Jack Zenger, we wait far too long to teach leadership skills to our managers. The typical age someone attains some sort of leadership position (one in which they are supervising other people) is 30. However, they typically get no leadership training until the age of 42. This means they spend approximately 12 years trying to figure out how the heck to do their jobs.

Imagine practicing just about anything you want to be good at with no direction at all. Imagine learning how to drive a car with nothing or no one to guide you. Sure, a small percentage of people will be able to do okay just by emulating what they’ve seen others do. However, the results could end up being a total wreck (pun intended), and the stress of trying to figure it out without crashing and burning is pretty extreme.

The same holds true for managing people. Trial and error can get the job accomplished (sort of), but the damage in terms of low engagement, turnover, and the resulting loss in productivity and revenue could be ugly. Unfortunately, the math (that 10% ratio above) tells us the likelihood of new managers having good role models to emulate and influence how they lead—to teach them how to “drive” their roles—is pretty slim. So, just as in learning to drive, the bad habits they learn from their bosses may not provide the optimum guide to how best to manage their teams.

Our managers need help.

Before I get into the how, let me provide a bit of the why companies should invest in training their managers:

  • Managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement! That’s huge! This stat tells us managers are the biggest reason people stay with a company, but they are also the chief reason people quit.

  • Well-trained managers who are respected boost morale and, in turn, that boosts retention. This is so important, as employee turnover costs fortunes! Employee turnover costs companies, in the US alone, $1 trillion per year. The expense of recruiting, hiring, and training to full productivity is huge, so retaining employees is important.

  • An engaged team is 17% more productive (at least). When you’re interested in and connected to your work, you’re much more likely to do it well.

  • Richard Branson said, “If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers.” For that reason, ensuring your employees are engaged will lead to increased revenue. What company doesn’t want that?

So, good managers tend to have teams that are more engaged and productive and satisfy the customers better. That’s a strong WHY there.

Now let’s get to the HOW.

Managers need skills—what are commonly called soft skills, but are actually pretty hard-core leadership skills—like the following:

  • Creating connections with their team members

  • Helping their people through change and conflict

  • The desire and ability to develop others

  • The understanding of setting goals and leading efforts to achieve those goals

  • The ability to communicate well and inspire others

This doesn’t come naturally to most people. However, providing training and support to managers will enable them to adopt these new skills. The end result is happier managers, leading to happier team members, happier customers, and happier companies.

At this time, when so much has become upended in the world, our managers need support more than ever before. The added complexity of managing remote teams, supporting others through massive change, and ensuring their wellness has resulted in a substantial increase in burnout during the pandemic (72%) versus prior to the pandemic (42%). Add to this the responsibility managers feel for the burnout their team members experience, and you have a clear case for providing them support. When asked, many managers say they simply don’t have the proper training or resources to support their team members.

Leaders, ask yourselves if you’re setting up your managers to be effective, and then invest in training for them. It will pay off in increased opportunities, revenue, and a strong next generation of leaders.


C-Change Learning and Development provides training for managers. Ask about:

Leading with RESPECT for existing managers, and Learning to Lead for new managers and high-potentials. Check out the programs here:


Photo courtesy of Jacob Lund from Noun Project


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