Roland Barthes, the French philosopher, once wrote a groundbreaking essay called ‘The Death of the Author’ where he claimed that the literary criticism of a text should not consider the biological subtext of the person who has written it.
Don’t worry, we won’t dwell on it here. That was the piece written for the literature enthusiasts among the baby boomer generation. This piece is written for the corporate learning and development managers and keeping the millennials in mind.
The question is simple: does a new age organization require managers?
The trouble is more often than not, the manager and her team belong to a different generation, and this leads to demotivated teams and to attrition. In some cases, the team is more equipped than the manager, and that results in the team dominating decisions, which tilt the scale again.
So, what would you do as a senior manager or an executive of the learning organization in your company?
It’s a cliché to say that you should strive to maintain a balance between what the team learns and what the manager does.
Of course, teams are the essential unit, as they do all the heavy-lifting on the shop-floor. Peter M. Senge, in his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, states that the ‘fundamental learning units in an organization are working teams (people who need one another to produce an outcome).” So, we must listen to Senge and make teams our priority. Yet, for a learning culture to thrive, we need to involve the manager as well.
As a person responsible for designing the learning outcomes and continual up-skilling, you might need to consider a few mantras to help you plan and strategize learning.
Since we’re talking in millennial lingo, let’s use their favorite form of online communication: Hashtags.
A few decades ago, the term ‘Supervisor’ was in vogue. No one uses it anymore. Similarly, in a new age corporation, the term ‘Manager’ is a misnomer. Everyone knows their job, and no one needs to be ‘managed’ anymore. On the other hand, people need to be supported, coached and mentored.
Therefore, in the post-modern world, when the skills-training takes care of basic work requirements, the manager becomes an important player in ensuring better customer relationship, better team spirit, less noise on the engagement, etc. She is a coach, a mentor. She is not the ‘supervisor’. She is actually the ‘supporting staff’ here.
If she is not already attuned to this, her training plan needs to take care of equipping her for the new age life. In simpler terms, managers need more training on coaching and mentoring and less on ‘managing’ people.
Managers need to know what their team are doing, not necessarily the nitty gritties, but how a certain thing gets done. So, the managers too should be included in the training the team undertakes. Say, a salesperson undergoes training on ‘Sales Prospecting’, the manager too should undergo the same training. This need not be linked to an assessment but made as mandatory learning so that the manager knows what her team knows.
In addition to the mandatory team learning, the manager should have additional training targeting managerial skills: coaching, mentoring, interviewing, reviewing, reporting, et al.
This way, the manager knows that the team knows and can have an informed conversation with them.
Manager needs to know how she is performing, and the team need to know what the expectations from the manager are. How do we achieve this? The time-tested 360 feedback can help. Let the learning system contain features for sharing anonymous feedback from both sides. Let this be a structured push-feedback, and not voluntary pull-feedback. In other words, let’s say every month the manager should share feedback on the team and vice-versa. This will greatly improve communication and set expectations. The management should have access to this feedback too.
A manager should know the SWOT table of her team, and the team should know the SWOT of their manager. Senior management should facilitate sessions for them to understand each other.
• ‘Deadlines stress me out’ is manager’s weakness.
• ‘We thrive on deadline-oriented environment,’ is team’s strength.
Now, the senior management can work out ways to leverage this and balance the skill gaps. Team too can recognize this and interact with the manager accordingly.
In another example,
• Client management is manager’s strength.
• Client management is team’s strength.
Now this team could be given challenging accounts to manage and we can expect that, with their combined strength of client management skills, they will turn around any difficult engagement.
This can be logged in the performance management section of the LMS and periodically reviewed and monitored.
This team can then record a video of this success story that can be circulated around for the benefit of other teams.
Also, the senior management can plan and strategize the SWOT data to their advantage in planning and allocating projects to play to the strength of the teams and their manager.
Let’s face it. This is 2019. Our management philosophies of the nineties or even the noughties won’t apply anymore. Millennials are rewriting the game. They are quick learners and, also, the ones that are quick to become bored. You have to consider the aspirations and restlessness of the millennial and, instead of lamenting about it, you must imbibe those qualities. Your managers should adapt to those traits and respond to them with their team. Create training around inculcating these qualities and your team will be a winner.
We all know that the acronym GROW stands for Goal-Reality-Options-Way Forward; so this blog won’t bore you with the details. Having said that, the idea is to conduct continuous assessment for the teams. This includes the manager as well. For this, we don’t need to create new training path or curriculum. There are hundreds of podcasts available out there. Add them in. Let each person in the team share one podcast that they were inspired by. And let the manager push the podcast onto the team. Needless to say that this podcast should be relevant to the chosen goals and not some random standup video by Chris Rock.
Again, we can’t stress this enough. The era of ‘managing’ is over. The manager has died. Long live the manager.
This is the era of the coach, who will work and toil with the team and yet distance herself from them to let them perform. Also, if they fall, she won’t rush to catch them, but watch them fall and break their ankle. She would subscribe to the view that falling would teach them more compared to catching them and then later teaching them about how not to fall. As a manager, she only needs to ensure that the damage is restricted to light ankle fracture and not worse!
This will make the team feel more empowered to try new, innovative, ways to plan and manage projects. Trust the millennials to come up with something really cool that will blow your customer’s mind.
In summary, let the learning and development revolve around coaching, mentoring and supporting, and let the manager and team work together ever more closely and share their mutual learnings. Let the learning systems be configured around this approach. Focus more on user-generated and open-source training and let the feedback mechanisms themselves work as training content for both the ‘coacher’ and the team.
Co-founder and CEO of Disprz, the mobile learning company of 2017 and #3 small start-up to work for in 2017.
A serial entrepreneur, Subbu loves translating ideas to products and products to companies. His earlier two ventures were in the enterprise and ed-tech space. Subbu is an alum of IIT-Madras, ISB-Hyderabad and McKinsey.