A Quick Guide to Developing a Winning Management Development Program at Your Business


Bad leaders, bad employees, bad business.

That’s maybe an over-simplification, but it’s not far off. Bad managers cause employees to quit. Bad managers waste money. Bad managers fumble with inventory and marketing. Bad managers allow quality to slide. Bad managers make work a kind of hell, and bring the culture and atmosphere of a place down.

Your customers see all of that. They feel it. And they unconsciously start slipping away because bad management seeps into every experience they have, from employee interaction to the products or services they consume.

Good management doesn’t happen accidentally, and it doesn’t happen without constant effort. The default is for management to dissolve into something negative; you have to work to keep management top notch.

That’s where your management development program comes into play. Managers don’t fall from the sky or arrive via stork; they are nurtured and encouraged and gradually built. Setting up a winning management development program isn’t difficult.

What kind of leadership does your business need?

It’s easy to fall into the “mission statement trap”. You create a grand statement about leadership and company direction and use words that sound great and no one actually knows what it means or how to achieve it.

If you want to create a winning management development program, you need to know what winning management is going to actually look like, in measurable and concrete terms. Make a list that covers the following:

  • What do all managers need? Some management qualities are going to be universal in your business. Communication skills, an ability to get along with people and listen to them — these are universal qualities.
  • How does management differ in various areas? The management of your sales department isn’t going to be the same as the management of human resources. And even if your business is small, as long as you have more than one area of management, you need to know what parts of it don’t fit into the “one size fits all” realm. List what successful management looks like for each area. For example, a successful sales manager will result in increased sales as well as sales people who are motivated and eager to work with customers.
  • Where do you see gaps? Leadership gaps pop up easily, and sometimes without you realizing it. For example, a long-time manager retires. The replacement seems capable, but you don’t realize what you lost with the more experience manager. Or maybe you’ve hired and trained managers to be most similar to yourself, unaware that you’re emphasizing your own blind spots.
  • What long-term goals involve managers? Your business probably has long-term goals (e.g. sales, expansion), but which goals are managers very directly connected with? If you have specific sales goals, for example, can your sales manager get you there?
  • What can be measured? Not all aspects of management can be measured (personality, for example), but many can. These are especially relevant to those long-term goals we just got done talking about. You could measure employee retention, complaints, sales, productivity — any of these things can help paint a picture of how management is doing.
  • What leadership does your culture demand? Workplace culture is especially important for businesses who have a large number of younger workers. Your management needs to reflect the workplace culture you are trying to cultivate. What qualities would that be? A micro-manager, or a more top-down manager, might not be a great fit if the culture you’re trying to create is more laid-back.

The idea here is that you take the time to think of the specific things you want from your management before you set about creating a management development program. You can’t develop something if you don’t know where it should end up.

Know what kind of management your employees want.

Do you know what your employees expect from management? It might not hurt to ask.

Think about it: if you train your managers to lead in a way your employees won’t respond to, that management development training is sort of a bust.

Find out from your employees:

  • How much communication they expect from management. This might be in the form of meetings or one-on-one conversation.
  • How much “interference” or help they expect from their managers. Do they want general directions, or someone working beside them and helping? Do they expect to be left alone to work, or micro-managed?
  • What kind of a relationship they expect from their manager. Different generations view leaders in diverse ways, from casual to formal. Find out where your employees stand on this.
  • How much information they expect to be aware of. Some managers hold to a policy of only giving employees the least amount of information possible, but some people do better work when the know more of the large picture. The more open management is, the more engaged employees are. In a survey, employees who felt they could approach managers about anything were 54% more engaged at work.

No, you can’t let your employees run your business, but you definitely should get their input on this. Remember, your employees are your most valuable asset, and bad management sends more employees for the door than anything else.

Remember, it’s development, not training.

Good managers don’t happen by churning out robots in a factory. It’s more than a one-off moment of creation.

This is the difference between training and development.

Training is not the same as development. Training is more of a one-off event. You send your managers to a seminar, check the box, and they’re trained. Done for the year. Certificate acquired.

Development, on the other hand, is ongoing, and it builds on previous skills. It’s looking at long-term goals, and is about gradual growth. Development means, according to Robert Half:

  • Mentoring. More experienced managers should be involved with less experienced managers. Regular mentoring sessions are vital. Mentoring doesn’t work if there isn’t regular access and communication.
  • Regular skills training. Managers need to know at least the basics of what those they manage do. It helps both in understanding what they are asking of the employees they manage, but also so they can help in a pinch. Managers who are out of touch with what employees do will become overbearing and unable to understand them if they come with problems or concerns.
  • Job shadowing. If you have several managers, job shadowing is a way they can learn from each other, even if they aren’t in charge of the same departments. They can pick up techniques, or even spot problems and point them out to the manager they are shadowing.
  • Project leadership. Giving managers a chance to lead a specific project lets them flex their management muscles outside of the usual daily grind. This is especially useful for young managers, or employees you are grooming for management. It can be seen as a test run or an “exercise” of skills.
  • Classroom training. Training alone isn’t the solution, but it is definitely part of the whole. Training on different management techniques, such as conflict resolution or staying abreast of laws that affect them, will help your managers stay “current” in their position. New ideas, new approaches — classroom training or conferences are a good way to spark enthusiasm in your management team.
  • Regular feedback. Do you talk to your management regularly? On an individual and group basis? Do they know what goals you have, and what you expect of them? Do you review their progress? Giving management regular feedback is just as important for them as it is for the rest of your employees. It helps keep them going in the right direction, and correct issues that might develop into something worse later on.

When creating a development approach, remember that it is ongoing. Mentoring may be the early step for a new manager, and then later, they may become someone’s mentor. View each of these as part of a cycle, and make sure you plug your management into that cycle and keep it going.

Always be looking for potential leaders.

Every employee has the potential to become a leader. This only happens, though, if you keep an eye on your employees and spot those with the right skills and personality to be in management.

Leadership qualities you should look for in your employees include:

  • Excellent communication with co-workers as well as management, able to clearly explain projects, problems, and ideas.
  • Decisiveness, and able to make a decision with whatever information or pressure is placed on the situation at hand.
  • Open-minded and a good listener.
  • Able to adjust to situations on the fly, and adapt quickly.
  • Handles stress well.
  • Is productive in “down time” moments and always able to find things that could be done.
  • Strong workplace ethics.

For those employees who seem to have leadership potential, create a entry-level development program to both see if you were correct in your assessment, and also to begin the process that may continue in the future.

Fixating on your current management, and not including a system to identify future management, will leave you scrambling when a manager leaves your business. The time to find tomorrow’s management is right now, when you don’t need them.

Do you have someone managing your development program?

It almost seems redundant to have a manager managing your management development program. That’s like management cubed.

Now, some businesses are small, and you, the owner, will handle it simply because of logistics. But if you know you’re not up to doing it well, or you know that your business is large enough and you have enough employees in management positions, are you willing to turn it over to someone to run full-time?

There are some benefits to this approach:

  • Your development program is consistently used, both in keeping it relevant and making sure people are participating.
  • Measurements of results are more likely to happen and not get lost in the distractions of other job duties that you, the owner, might have.

Measure the results of your management development program.

Most of the time, when talking about measurement, we tend to think of sales or productivity benchmarks. For a management development program, though, you are measuring the results of the program itself.

  • Is every manager going through the program?
  • Are they completing the steps successfully?
  • Do you see improvement in their management skills?
  • Have they moved from being a “doer” into being a leader, or are they finding it easier to do the work rather than lead those who should do the work?
  • Do you see them implementing changes or new ideas that come from your program?
  • Are you able to promote more managers, and more employees into management, because of your development program?
  • Do you ask your managers what they think of the program and use their feedback to make it better?

A successful management development program has two results: managers participate, and their work shows results. Make sure you measure for both accordingly.

And don’t forget to ask your employees, during regular employee reviews, how things are going with their managers. Problems that show up there can be a good indicator that your development program needs tweaking, or a manager needs some additional training.

A Quick Guide to Developing a Winning Management Development Program at Your Business