Talented individuals sometimes become managers because of their technical capabilities or industry knowledge, but can lack the people management and leadership skills they need. Naomi Buxton discusses how they might be upskilled in a hybrid work environment.
Research from the OECD, the Bank of England, and the government’s Business Productivity Review shows how poor management and leadership still stifle UK productivity: too many technically qualified managers assume line management roles but lack the interpersonal and leadership skills to grow teams’ productivity, and struggle to access the professional networks to grow their own careers.
The pandemic and hybrid working have further disrupted managers’ capabilities and resources. In 2022, with 40% of firms running hybrid working arrangements and the CMI sounding the alarm over Britain’s two-million-plus “accidental managers”, upskilling is long overdue.
While the debate centres on the merits of hybrid work and balancing where work takes place, there’s less willingness to analyse how firms can upskill their managers using hybrid approaches to learning. This is surprising, since they are two sides of the same coin: hybridised work demands hybrid approaches to people’s time, resources and location.
So how might hybrid learning be structured? And how might agile learning play out when companies are being pressed hard on costs, hiring and employee retention?
Organisations need to develop a more flexible learning etho and accidental managers need to work closely with senior executives and HR so they as individuals become more adaptable in acquiring knowledge and building their own careers within the constraints of daily work.
Hybrid working L&D
Five steps to upskilling managers
We see five steps to successful reskilling – some or all of which can contribute to rejuvenating UK firms’ learning cultures and re-engineering accidental managers’ skills.
First, forward-looking UK firms are working with their people teams to assemble plans for hybrid learning experiences. HR professionals can access workforce data and learning and development resources to help draw up outcomes-driven learning plans for managers. Such plans can be rooted in meaningful learning targets and feedback loops to reinforce progress and embed upskilling.
Second, companies are looking beyond classroom-based learning and legacy learning platforms. They are evolving a blend of traditional and digital learning systems to reframe L&D options for today’s working arrangements.
Third, company leaders need to become learning and personal development role models, going beyond mere encouragement to live and inspire new, flexible learning environments. If executives embody change in learning – for example, by sharing learning materials and enacting what they have learnt in their daily work – accidental or first-time managers will feel they have “permission” to learn in their flow of work.
Formulaic training courses divorced from managers’ work experience are out. Instead, new learning programmes, supported and inspired by senior leaders and HR, can provide far greater latitude and motivation for upskilling at work, achieving the learning repetitions that accelerate skills acquisition and drive the behavioural changes that broaden managers’ people skills, industry insights, and confidence.
Hybrid learning makes realistic use of the limited times, spaces and opportunities for managers to adopt new learning habits and absorb content.”
Fourth, since companies may lack budget for new L&D programmes, hybrid learning makes realistic use of the limited times, spaces and opportunities for managers to adopt new learning habits and absorb content.
Customer-focused L&D specialists have confounded companies with the rapid engagement and positive attainment generated by hybrid learning, even in busy work settings. Common success factors are managers gaining more sophisticated managerial skills and industry know-how, drawn from new “snackable” learning content like video clips and quizzes, as well as repurposing legacy learning materials into bite-size virtual sessions.
The fifth step could be more influential: support groups. Flexible, hybrid L&D programmes frequently also see learners establishing groups, either via social media or in work, to reinforce L&D behaviours and acquire greater management knowledge and career insights. Companies that successfully embed hybrid learning systems increasingly open up external industry resources, finding mentors and peer groups, as well as extending managers’ professional networks to achieve more systematic career development.
Hard-pressed managers need “permission” to make learning central to their working life. They need tailored learning rather than standard courses. While the productivity puzzle demands a range of responses, hybrid learning in the flow of work will be instrumental in rethinking line managers’ skills and development.