What topics should be covered in an effective middle management training program? It is an important question – especially given the range and diversity of training and development options available in the marketplace.
This article begins with the premise that the organization considering training and development desires to achieve cultural transformation, shifting the organization into a daily reality where high performance is the new normal. The outcome of this process would be increased engagement, market competitiveness, innovation and profitability.
To jump start this process of cultural transformation, here are a few training and development topics worth considering:
Commonly, organizations operate under the paradigm of command and control, where organizational direction is mandated by senior leadership. Simply put, people are told what to do, and they do it. The mandate tells all boats to point in the same direction, and the people at the oars to start rowing. While the people (mostly) obediently follow, there’s something missing. They may not row with all the passion and commitment possible. Therefore, even if the fleet arrives at the destination mandated, it may not be as quickly as senior leadership hoped – and upon arrival, there may not be any real feeling of accomplishment. Instead, the team might just be fatigued.
An alternative to command and control is alignment. The topic of alignment is very important, because it is the foundation of a high performance culture. People cannot be told to align. People enter into alignment by choice, and personal ownership.
Consider launching your organization’s middle management training with an company-wide town hall where everyone is invited to the table to offer ideas and feedback about what kind of organizational culture they would embrace. Then, when everyone in the company is enrolled in the vision they helped create, true alignment can follow.
There’s a corollary to the command and control style of leadership referenced earlier: prescriptive leadership. This is when a leader tells people not only what to do, but also how to do it.
For example, let’s say that a sales manager has a team of salespeople, and is looking for a 50% increase in sales. If this sales manager’s leadership strategy is prescriptive, they might say:
Alright everyone listen up! We need to post a 50% increase in sales. Therefore, I want everyone to work 50% harder. Make 50% more sales calls each week.
The vulnerability of prescriptive leadership is that if the sales manager’s team fails to post a 50% increase in sales, the team doesn’t have accountability for that failure. If they followed orders and the project wasn’t successful, they are just victims of the sales manager’s strategy.
The alternative to prescriptive leadership is contextual leadership. Here, the leader invites workers into a shared context or paradigm. Instead of saying what exactly needs to be done, discussion focuses on goals or desired outcomes. It is very likely that the practitioner of contextual leadership will request workers’ opinions and perspectives on how to achieve those outcomes. This request for opinions and perspectives achieves two valuable objectives: it brings forward the best thinking that the group as a whole can muster at that given moment and, since they are active participants in the planning, it incentivizes contributors to take personal responsibility for success or failure.
Once the team embraces the outcomes, the practitioner of contextual leadership empowers workers or work teams to determine their own approaches to achieving the desired results, maintaining the role of coach and accountability partner. The leader tracks progress, holds the team accountable, and encourages workers as they progress toward their goals.
The Discovery Model
“Sit down before the facts as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.”
-Thomas Henry Huxley
Over the course of our lives we have established fixed beliefs and fixed behaviors. Then, we filter information consciously and unconsciously to reinforce those beliefs and behaviors. If we are presented with a keynote or daylong narrative workshop, we might look for nuggets that fit our paradigm, but we don’t really STOP and come out of our fixed beliefs and behaviors for a fresh perspective.
In order to facilitate a STOP from these fixed beliefs and behaviors, Hallett Leadership uses the Discovery Model. The Discovery Model involves stopping automatic behaviors and calling attention to the very paradigm of automatic behavior itself.
This first stage of true learning, where we are willing to confront our fixed beliefs and behaviors, can be uncomfortable because it shifts us into the realm of the unknown. This unknown territory is the space where “discovery” actually occurs. Think about the first time you rode a bike and had no idea what to do – but through that immersive experience you discovered a way forward, and developed a new competence. Your cohort of developing leaders can discover new paradigms and expand the scope of what they personally know. Then, the organization itself can begin discovering and implementing those insights that will lift your organization into a new growth cycle.
We hope these topics have been helpful as you explore initiating a middle management training process that leads your organization to increased growth. Please get in touch with us if you would like to explore this process further.