We’ve heard it so many times – employees don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers. Leaders have an enormous influence on employee engagement and morale, but they also have a critical responsibility to make certain team members understand their jobs and how to be successful in their roles. For many companies, training and onboarding is largely conducted by a professional training staff, so often managers feel they can take a back seat for encouraging and overseeing learning and skill development. In this edition of Leadership Chronicles, we offer a real-life example relating to this topic:
“One of my first jobs out of college was in retail management for a major chain clothing store in Princeton, New Jersey. Merchandising and operations were dictated to us at the store level in great detail, and it was our job as managers to hold the staff accountable for meeting the strict standards. The job and the hours were brutal, but what I learned in my two years there has continued to serve me better than almost any professional experience I've had since.
“Our district manager was a no-nonsense man named Lon who had grown up and lived most of his life in Brooklyn, New York. While Lon didn't have much in the way of soft skills, he DID understand retail. Ultimately, his no-nonsense approach taught me a valuable leadership lesson.
“Most of the staff in our store were high school and college students whose concern for how denim was folded took a back seat to the rest of their lives. One day I groaned to Lon on his monthly visit to our store that I thought we were going to have to fire several people because they struggled to meet our standards. The conversation that followed went something like this:
Lon: “Have you trained them?”
Me: “Well, they all went through our orientation.”
Lon: “But nothing since then?”
Me: “I guess not. We shouldn't have to show people more than once how to do something.”
Lon: “If you don't think people are meeting the expectations, you first have to make sure they know what the expectations are. It's your job to develop them to meet the expectations. If you don't like the way the staff is performing, then as the manager, it's your fault.”
“He then went on to explain why it's more costly to hire new people than to develop current staff. Of course, he was right.
“This lesson has come back to me in every role I've ever had. As a leader it's my job to train, develop, and work alongside my staff so they can meet the expectations of their roles, and beyond that, so they can grow into other roles outside of the organization or company. If I'm frustrated with someone, then the first questions to ask myself are, ‘What is MY role in this person's performance? Where have I faltered in my leadership?’”
-Angie Albright, Executive Director, Clinton House Museum
Research tells us that information gained from training on its own without direct application and reinforcement in reality is quickly lost. What team members learn in a classroom setting or through online training is a mere starting point. When leaders identify ways to take ownership in actively reinforcing training on the job, skills begin to really take hold.
At Milestone Leadership, we understand that managers possess great deal of influence over how team members feel about their ability to perform well. Leaders worth following take the time to develop a strategy for each employee that involves regular one-on-one conversations, coaching, opportunities to apply new skills, and a plan for future learning and development. The message to direct reports is clear: they have a leader partner who is vested in their success–and they see firsthand that their skills, knowledge and capabilities both present and future are important to the organization.