Management programmes for junior leaders

Management programmes for junior and middle managers should be constructed and handled with care.

For any first line or middle manager, a leadership programme can be an effective way of developing the skills they need to further their own potential, while learning how to motivate others.

The ultimate goal of development programmes at this level is to enable junior and middle managers to identify and equip themselves with the skills they need to be effective, says Isobel Rimmer, managing director at training company Masterclass. “Companies need to be clear about the toolkit and then build one they can dip in and out of.”


At junior level, the priority is for managers to understand themselves and what encourages other people, says Margi Gordon, principal consultant at educational trust Roffey Park Institute.

“At Roffey, we talk about leadership as being an ‘inside-out’ approach – you start with yourself, and then develop your personal development plan. Next you go from the top down and ask: ‘How do I add value to the organisation? How do I do my job and provide extra benefits?’

“Really successful people do both,” she adds. “It’s very important to recognise that things get done by people and not planning. The latter is great, but at the end of the day, leadership is about engagement – working with people and winning hearts and minds.”

Roffey’s inside-out approach includes courses such as mastering self-management, a new manager programme, and realising leadership potential, which is specifically aimed at middle managers. In terms of exploring leadership potential, Gordon says junior and middle-management programmes should convey the message that leadership is about a mindset rather than a role. “It’s all about self-confidence and working with other people – seeing it as your responsibility to move things on and use your initiative,” she says.

Nicky Page, principal consultant at the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP), which has worked with insurance giant Norwich Union, believes programmes for junior and middle managers should focus on strengths.

“From our perspective, there’s a management model that provides the bedrock. Some of the things you do will change, but the philosophy behind good management practice remains the same. We talk about strength as a volume control: as leaders grow, they understand more about how to operate it.”

Harnessing strengths

CAPP’s approach is based on an emotional intelligence framework with a junior manager using themselves as a starting point. After this, they assess their impact on others and how this can be enhanced. At middle-management level, this framework becomes more sophisticated with an increased awareness and capability of harnessing those strengths.

Middle management leadership programmes should examine how leaders can relate to the people in their team, how they can get the best from them, and how to create an environment where those people can do well, says Gordon. This includes understanding what their own boss is trying to do, and how they can help.

Blended learning

Leadership development can utilise several resources, which makes training junior and middle managers an option for any business – regardless of its size.

A blended perspective can include coaching and mentoring, 360-degree feedback, action learning groups and self-study, along with internal or external classroom-based training. “A blended approach can work best when you have a large number of first-time managers across business units and it’s not commercially viable to have everyone in a classroom,” says Page, who adds that CAPP is developing a host of self-taught e-learning courses, as well as a forum community featuring coaches and mentors.

Gordon believes that coaching and mentoring schemes can play a huge role in bringing leaders on – as can action learning sets, which place staff in special teams which comprise a cross-section of employees who don’t normally work with each other. “They can practise things and work differently to the way they normally would – something they might not want to try in their own environment,” says Gordon.

“What they’ll gain is an understanding about a different part of the business – and also make a difference. The people I talk to from learning and development say it’s incredibly useful. It’s a good way of getting support, but also creating a challenge.”

However, Gordon insists that external classroom-based sessions can also be highly-beneficial for junior leaders. “In-house group sessions help people think about how they build on the company strategy, but they will always benefit from being with mixed groups – both within and outside their own organisation – especially if they want to be more creative.”

For Rimmer, once a company has three or more staff ready for this training, it can be just as cost-effective to get an external facilitator in to run a programme.

While 360-degree assessment is useful in middle-management programmes, Rimmer warns that if a junior team leader has had very little management or leadership experience and is really just ‘the most senior one in the team’, using a 360-degree assessment that focuses on particular leadership or management traits and behaviours might not always give a very positive result, or produce enough useful data.

“Often at this level, making sure the person really understands the role of the team leader, followed by self-assessment of how they feel they do against those functions, is probably going to be more practical and useful,” explains Rimmer.

Effective feedback

Junior and middle-management programmes generally focus on emotional intelligence and include content on influencing, good communication, the ability to communicate around a vision, and purpose, according to Gordon. Other elements include: time management networking being values-driven (competent and honest) using politics constructively how to think – and act – strategically managing different stakeholders delegation how to pick yourself up when things go wrong giving and receiving feedback and learning how to coach others. This development should also include some goal setting and goal stretching.

As with any training or development programme, one of the difficulties for learning and development lies in measuring success. Measurement can be set up in a number of ways: staff satisfaction surveys, monitoring the number of sickness absence days or other absence rates, staff turnover, or coaching time with managers.

Tracking can also be conducted through staff feedback and personal development, says Gordon. “You can look at how many ideas are coming up, how much responsibility people take for themselves, and whether people are saying they’ve done what they planned to do – and if they didn’t, are they full of excuses?”

Rimmer says many learning and development departments make the mistake of leaving measuring tools as an afterthought.

She recommends that any measuring tool is agreed at the development planning stage – something that Masterclass incorporated into a programme for the Probation Service. Rimmer explains the Probation Service, which was recording about 4,000 stress-related sickness absence days per year, used that figure as a guide, and halved it in the subsequent year after leadership development initiatives were put in place.

Case study: Shurgard

US self-storage firm Shurgard began operating in the UK in 1999. Eight years later, the decentralisation and globalisation of its business had prompted a need for greater autonomy and a reorganisation of roles.

“We realised we had a management team that was bright and hard-working, but suffered from a lack of development focus,” explains Terry Whitney, European learning and development manager at Shurgard Self-Storage Centres.

The company wanted to create a consistent layer of district managers across Europe who could lead, inspire and motivate. Middle managers had to lead and manage increasing numbers of store personnel with reduced centralised support. They were also required to operate at a higher managerial level.

Shurgard brought in workplace assessor SHL to conduct a performance assessment of its middle managers. It designed a programme to benchmark current managerial talents perform a gap analysis to determine the strengths and limitations of the management team recommend how the current managerial team could achieve new expectations and assess the leadership potential of the current team.

Twenty-one managers were invited to a one-day assessment at an SHL diagnostic development centre. The programme included exercises aligned to specific competencies, psychometric tests, a role play and numerical, verbal and abstract reasoning tests. Each attendee received feedback from a senior SHL assessor, who explained their results and reviewed their development needs.

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