In professional services, your people are your product. Their skills, knowledge, and experience are what separate you and your company in the marketplace. Attracting talented people and retaining them are essential, and your managers play a pivotal role. They are instrumental in fostering employee engagement and guiding employee development. However, a survey conducted by Right Management in 20151 revealed that sixty-eight percent of managers were not actively engaged in the career development of their employees. In some cases, lack of manager engagement is a factor of time. In others, it may indicate a different problem.
There’s an old saying in sports that goes something like this: “Just because a person was a great player doesn’t mean they will be a great coach.” Excelling as a player and succeeding as a coach require different skills. Yes, there is some overlap. But being a great coach takes a lot more than knowledge of the game and has nothing to do with superior athleticism.
The same is true in business. Too often, high-performing practitioners are promoted into management ranks but given little direction on how to succeed in their new role. Because a person is an excellent individual contributor doesn’t guarantee they will be a competent manager—especially, if they don’t receive guidance from senior leadership.
Don’t Let Your Managers Fly Blind
As senior leaders, we understand the demands on our managers. Balancing the internal needs of our businesses, meeting customer commitments, and developing employees are all activities that compete for a manager’s time and attention. It’s a delicate balancing act. Not surprisingly, the scale normally tips toward the most pressing issues at the moment, pushing less time-critical matters lower on the list of priorities. But too often, the problem is that managers just don’t understand what it takes to develop their teams.
Today, our customers need more than technical assistance to implement products. They need help solving overarching, complex problems in order to deliver improved business outcomes. In order to deliver the value our customers expect, professional services managers must hire strategically, but more importantly, they must effectively develop their employees. They must not only train their people on the latest technologies, but also expose them to complex business issues and solutions. For this to occur, senior leaders must take an active role to make sure their managers have the tools and guidance they need to be successful in preparing their teams to meet the business challenges of tomorrow.
Here are five recommendations that will help managers become more effective in building their teams and developing their people:
- Know your people well. As obvious as this may be, it’s easy to overlook. Managers face problems every day, and it’s common for them to settle for a surface-level view of their people due to time constraints. But to keep employees engaged and to develop the skills they need to be successful, managers must make getting to know their people—their skills, talents, and career goals—a priority. As a starting point, they should create a role-based skills matrix that includes technical and professional skills and map their people to it. Doing so will give them a solid understanding of what their team is good at, where their deficiencies are, and what additional skill sets are needed.
- Develop formal professional development plans. Based on the skills assessment, managers should document a professional development plan for individuals on their team. A well-defined plan specifies the skills development focus for the employee over a 12-18 month period of time, the expected results, the investment your company is willing to make in time and money for training, and the steps that must be taken to achieve those results.
- Focus on a broad range of skills. Development plans must focus on more than just hard technical skills. Training activities need to encompass business acumen skills, professional skills, technical skills, and complex solution development skills. Professional development activities need to give employees exposure to business issues and foster an opportunity for them to think at a business level, not just at a point-product level.
- Set expectations. Managers must communicate their expectations and back them up. They must let their employees know that they view skills development as a priority and that they will provide the time and tools necessary for the employee to achieve their goals.
- Follow through and measure progress. This is the most difficult step for all managers. But it is essential if they are going to be successful in developing their teams. Managers must be diligent and monitor the plans they developed with their employees by holding regularly-scheduled quarterly check-in meetings with them and measuring their progress.
Don’t Forget to Invest in Your Managers
Remember when you first became a manager? I do. I was honored and excited to be given the opportunity to lead a team and to take another step forward in my career. But it wasn’t long before I realized that being a manager was a lot different than life as an individual contributor, and I had a lot to learn.
As senior leaders, we must invest in our managers. We must foster an environment where they can learn and grow in their role. The following three steps will help:
- Establish a mentoring plan for new managers. The best way for a new manager to learn is by working with an experienced manager who they can reach out to when they have questions or problems. If possible, assign a mentor who has been in a management position for a while and has had a similar career path.
- Engage your managers in work opportunities outside of their normal routine. The more a manager understands all parts of the business, the more effective they will be in their daily role. Find opportunities for them to get involved in projects outside of their typical responsibilities. Help them learn to collaborate with people outside of their division or department, including senior management, partners, customers, and sales.
- Create opportunities for them to spend time with leaders in other parts of the organization. Connect your managers with your peers in other parts of your company. This will help them establish key contacts that can help them perform their job as well as give them an appreciation for the challenges other departments or divisions face.
As professional services leaders, we understand that our people make the difference. We succeed or fail in the marketplace based on the value we deliver to our customers—and that value is based on the collective skills, talent, and experience of our team.
Long-term success depends on our ability to hire, develop, and retain talented people, and our managers are a vital link. As senior leaders, we must invest in them to ensure they have the guidance they need to be successful.
1 “Two-Thirds of Managers Need Guidance on How to Coach and Develop Careers” Right Management, March 2015.