How Management Training Works


Management training can help enhance the skills of employees who mesh well with a company's philosophy.
Management training can help enhance the skills of employees who mesh well with a company's philosophy.
Comstock/Thinkstock

Organizations, regardless of industry, are interested in hiring the best and brightest employees. This shouldn't come as a surprise, but recruiting the best is just part of the talent equation. The top employees aren't necessarily the most sought after or even the most skilled. Instead, hiring managers are just as likely to focus on the way candidates fit into the culture of an organization, how motivated they are by the work they'll be doing and how the company can help them meet their long-term professional and personal goals.

So when human resource departments are matching applicants with jobs, personality and attitude can be just as important as background, related work experience and education. You hear a lot these days about companies hiring for culture fit. The rationale is that it's easier to train people with the right attitude in the nuts and bolts of their duties than to coach them to fit into a group, regardless of how good they are at their job.

As a result, companies are willing to hire for culture and train for the job. Management training is particularly important. Steve Tobak from the CBS Interactive Business Network says most employee issues that arise within an organization are actually management issues. In these instances, he contends, it's management's job to deal with them -- because management probably created the issue in the first place [source: Tobak].

One of the ways companies make sure they aren't sacrificing performance for highly motivated, culturally aligned employees is to provide training opportunities for them. These activities can range from specific, job-related workshops or classes designed to strengthen a core competency to team-building activities aimed at boosting morale.

Offering these opportunities can mean the difference between a workforce that stays interested because it is being challenged and one that grows frustrated and bored for not being provided avenues to expand day-to-day activities beyond specific job functions. In this article, we'll discuss four areas of management training: project management, communications, time management and stress management. Besides the obvious benefits, we'll look at some of the ways these sessions can improve an organization and the role they can play in recruitment, employee retention and job satisfaction.

The first one we'll explore is project-management training.

Project-management Training

According to the Project Management Institute, fewer than 1 in 20 workers have the proper training needed to complete whatever project they're working on at any given time. Even with the demand for project-oriented employees expected to grow by 8.2 million by 2016, most organizations are relying on cobbling together the best teams they can assemble from their talent pool [source: PMI]. However, this can create unnecessary stress on organizations and overtax employees who are forced to wear multiple hats throughout the course of a project.

Effective project management is an asset that will benefit any organization in any industry, whether it's a marketing firm planning a product release for a client or a major corporation working with foreign governments to develop or improve large-scale infrastructure projects [source: Visicacion].

The fact is, every project needs a manager who can do three things well [source: Boston University]. First, a project manager has to be a subject-matter expert. Project managers need to know the ins and outs of every detail (from start to finish) and be armed with answers to the questions that pop up along the way. They should be well-versed in the business pressures being brought to bear on a project and be familiar with how the project is addressing the business needs of the organization.

Second, the project manager needs to have a firm grasp on the process. Leading a team, big or small, through a job that might last months or years takes on a life if its own. Being able to negotiate long-term plans and execute on deliverables along the way is the bread and butter of project management.

Finally, the project lead must be an effective people manager. Getting employees with various backgrounds, skill sets and career objectives moving in the same direction can be a difficult task. And when the plan begins to break down, the project manager must quickly right the ship. This takes a combination of business acumen and communication skills that can be difficult to balance. There's a saying that people don't leave jobs, they leave managers. So the more effective a project manager, the happier the team will be.

Project management is a highly visible position, with everyone from supervisors to stockholders watching for the slightest indication of success or failure. This is why it's also one of the areas in which companies are willing to invest heavily. One of the most ubiquitous project management platforms is Six Sigma, the business management strategy originally developed by Motorola in the 1980s. This methodology is used extensively in the manufacturing sector and seeks to minimize inefficiencies by removing as many variables as possible during the course of a project [source: Ostasiewski].

Six Sigma has become an extremely popular way for companies to improve output, and its success is one of the reasons they're willing to send their employees to become certified. In fact, many organizations have adapted their own Six Sigma standards in-house and commit significant capital investment -- as well as allotting employee work hours

In the next section, we'll discuss communication-skills training.

Communication-skills Training

Effective communication skills ranked ahead of strong work ethic and motivation in a survey of most-desirable traits of prospective employees.
Effective communication skills ranked ahead of strong work ethic and motivation in a survey of most-desirable traits of prospective employees.
Photos.com/Thinkstock

Next to an organization's project-management training, communication skills may be the area of most focus. As workers become more specialized, their reliance on teammates to accomplish tasks outside of their skill set increases [source: Smith]. Naturally, communication between these different operations is critical.

The skills needed to effectively send a message -- whether it's colleague-to-colleague, manager-to-employee or organization-to-branch office -- and have that message be received and turned into something actionable is a skill that can be taught just like any other job function.

The most efficient, highest performing companies are the ones that hire good communicators. According to a 2005 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, effective communications skills ranks as the most desired trait for new hires [source: NACE]. This underscores that companies recognize the importance of effective communication and are willing to prioritize it above all other traits when considering candidates. To put the importance of communication into perspective, that skill tied with honesty and integrity, surpassing teamwork and a strong work ethic [source: NACE].

Unlike project management, which may apply to a small portion of a company's workforce, communication skills are necessary for everyone who walks through the door. But for large organizations, it would be cost-prohibitive to send everyone through formalized training. This is when it becomes necessary to prioritize which departments would draw the biggest benefits from training.

For example, a sales force that interacts with customers on a daily basis may be a better investment for this type of training than the legal department. Specific indicators that point to a more systematic shortcoming in a group's communication skills can also shape this. If a research-and-development group is consistently falling behind on deadlines or not meeting deliverable requirements for product launches, bolstering the team's communication skills may be just the thing to turn around performance.

The type of training to provide is also an important consideration. Options can include exclusive contracts with professional development companies that can provide in-depth analysis of an organization's strengths and weaknesses, offer a suite of services to help improve these areas and provide regular refresher training to keep the staff sharp. Of course, this is costly, both in terms of capital investment and the amount of downtime sacrificed by having a group of workers participate.

Most companies will offer anecdotal support for staff as a reaction to a particular issue. Project post-mortems -- meetings that happen once a problematic venture has been completed -- are a popular way to address communications shortfalls that occurred over the course of the work. This is much more cost effective because it can be done with a single meeting and without outside consultants. It can also be more beneficial because the issues being addressed are actual instances the team has encountered rather than theory put forth by a communications guru [source: Johnston].

In the next section, we'll discuss time management training -- perhaps the most universally appreciated skill.

Time-management Training

Ask a manager what the biggest challenge is, and odds are you will hear some variation on his or her ability to manage deadlines, production schedules and their employees' use of time [source: West]. The importance of effective time management can't be overstated. Of all the resources at our disposal, time is the most fleeting. And once it's gone, it doesn't come back. So capitalizing on the time available, and using any means necessary to do so, has become a focus area for organizations.

Time management is an area that bleeds into all areas of someone's life. It's rare to find a person who makes effective use of time on the job but slacks off at home. You're either good at it or you're not: you can't compartmentalize this part of your personality for use when it's most convenient. And poor time management -- above poor communication and even poor project management -- can wreak havoc in and out of the workplace. Blown deadlines can mean being held back at work and can be just as disruptive in one's personal life -- damaging finances, relationships and even health and well-being [source: Time Management Guide].

But even the most inefficient time managers can be taught some tips and tricks to help get more out of their 24 hours each day. Employers are recognizing this and the value that comes with a time-conscious workforce. Proper time management in the office can impact everything from the bottom line (which will get the attention of management) to morale (which will get the attention of the staff).

Like communications skills, time management is something that virtually everyone can improve. So how does a company determine if they want to offer specialized training and, if they do, which employees will receive it?

The trick is to determine where an organization's training investment will see the best return. One way to do this is by looking at personnel and bucketing them into one of four categories: solid performers, star performers, poor performers and underachievers. Conventional wisdom says the biggest training investment should be made in the star performers since they clearly have the skills and enthusiasm to succeed [source: Coach 4 Growth]. That's a good place to start, but research shows that underachievers should also get some of the professional development attention [source: Coach 4 Growth].

The reason for this is that underachievers represent the biggest potential incremental improvement. They're underachieving for a reason, so isolating that and fixing it could mean big improvement. Star performers should be invested in not because they stand to improve dramatically, but also because employees respond favorably to being selected for professional development [source: Coach 4 Growth ]. This recognition can lead to higher morale, increased job satisfaction and higher retention of the best and brightest.

In the next section, we'll take a look at stress management and how effectively dealing with this can impact an organization.

Stress-management Training

A manager's stress can affect the entire department.
A manager's stress can affect the entire department.
Comstock/Thinkstock

The last -- but certainly not least -- area of management training we're going to discuss is stress management. Stress may be the least discussed, but most prevalent factor affecting the productivity of an office. It's hard to hide stress, and it can be contagious. This is particularly true for managers. If employees sense their manager is under a lot of strain, that anxiety can trickle down into the team and result in a host of unnecessary issues. Particularly in a tough political or tumultuous environment or in an organization experiencing a lot of sudden changes, stress can be misread and put everyone on edge [source: AIS].

Of the types of management training we've covered, stress management may be the most difficult to teach. This is because humans are designed to have certain mental and physiological reactions to stress. It's part of our defense biology and, therefore, can be just as beneficial as it is distracting. We have little use for the fight-or-flight instinct in our day-to-day lives, though when we aren't in danger, our body still responds to traffic jams, missed deadlines and conflicting priorities the same way [source: AIS]. But even if you could short-circuit the stress phenomenon, you probably wouldn't want to. After all, stress can help keep us sharp, thinking on our toes and keen to opportunities that a dulled sense of safety might miss.

The trick is to identify which stressors, or responses to stress, are unhealthy and doing what you can to mitigate them. As employers focus on creating a more worker-friendly environment, more and more attention is being given to on-the-job stress and how to cope with the ups and downs of the workplace.

Selection for stress-management training may differ from the other opportunities we've discussed because it's usually a reactionary response. Stress affects people in widely varying degrees. Some people work great under pressure and blossom when they are faced with crises, while other wilt under the strain, bringing productivity to a standstill. Recognizing who would and should benefit from stress management training often falls to human resource departments since they're frequently the ones fielding complaints from over-taxed employees.

There are also instances when entire organizations may implement stress-management training. For example, when there is a plane crash or a mine collapse, it's not uncommon for the affected companies to bring in experts to help workers cope with the grief, uncertainty and anxiety associated with such a tragedy.

These are just a few types of management training, but there are training modules, books, professional groups and organizations that specialize in virtually every sector. And for companies interested in investing in the management skills of their employees, the options are practically endless.

Related Articles

Sources

  • Boston University Corporate Education Center. "Boston University Corporate Education Center's Project Management Competency Model." (Aug. 26, 2010) http://www.butrain.com/mdp/CompModel.asp
  • Coach 4 Growth. Investing Wisely in Performance Coaching: Where to Spend Your Coaching Time. (Aug. 27, 2010)http://www.coach4growth.com/coaching-skills/team-coaching/investingwiselycoaching.html
  • Definition of Stress. The American Institute for Stress. (Aug. 22, 2010)http://www.stress.org/topic-definition-stress.htm
  • Effects of Stress. The American Institute for Stress. (Aug. 22, 2010)http://www.stress.org/topic-effects.htm?AIS=ee503d18c6ead19b74b744888c63da92
  • Johnston, Robin. "Nine Ways to Spend Less on Marketing and Communications Consultants." Evancarmichael.com. (Aug. 22, 2010)http://www.evancarmichael.com/Marketing/43/Nine-Ways-to-Spend-Less-on-Marketing--Communications-Consultants.html
  • National Association of Colleges and Employers. Job Outlook 2005. (Sept. 7, 2010)http://www.unl.edu/svcaa/documents/how_employers_see_candidates.pdf.
  • Ostasiewski, Thomas S. "Risk Management in a Six Sigma Project." Six Sigma & Process Excellence. (Aug. 24, 2010)http://www.sixsigmaiq.com/Columnarticle.cfm?externalID=2992&ColumnID=14
  • Performance, Learning, Leadership, and Knowledge. "Learning and Training: Statistics and Myths." (Aug. 23, 2010)http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/trainsta.html#trainhours
  • Project Management Institute. "Project Management Profession is Expected to Survive, Thrive Despite the Troubled Economy." (Aug. 22, 2010)http://www.pmi.org/Pages/PM-Profession-Thrive-Despite-Troubled-Economy.aspx
  • Smith, Adam. "The Wealth of Nations." Halcyon Classics. (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • Stress in the Workplace. The American Institute for Stress. (Aug. 22, 2010)http://www.stress.org/topic-workplace.htm
  • Time-Management-Guide. "Personal Time Management Guide." (Aug. 22, 2010)http://www.time-management-guide.com/
  • Tobak, Steve. "Management Lesson: Don't Let the Tail Wag the Dog." CBS Interactive Business Network. June 9, 2010.http://www.bnet.com/blog/ceo/management-lesson-dont-let-the-tail-wag-the-dog/4774?tag=mantle_skin;content
  • U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Outlook Handbook 2010-2011 Edition. (Dec. 19, 2009)http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos021.htm
  • Visicacion, Margo. "Core Competencies for Project Managers: What to Look for When You Want to Hire a Leader." Forrester Research. (April 23, 2004)
  • West, Cynthia. "Five Common Project Management Challenges." Project Insight. (Aug. 28, 2010)http://www.compaid.com/caiinternet/ezine/West-fivechallenges.pdf