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Why Managers Need Training: The Importance of Supervisor Development

When manager training is suggested or announced, there is often a level of skepticism. What’s the importance of supervisor development vs. getting one’s daily tasks done on time? Is is really that important for supervisors to have soft skills? What’s the ROI of this training?

Before I answer these questions, let me explain the problems with NOT giving your team the proper training:

Effects of Poor Supervision in the Workplace

Poor supervision has far-reaching and dramatic effects on an organization. Research demonstrates that supervisors have a direct impact on the workplace in 10 big ways: 

  1. Rates of employee retention and turnover  Graphic Showing Two Employee Looking at the Monitor
  2. Employee morale when jobs remain open and turnover rates are high
  3. Hidden costs associated with poor hiring and high turnover (lost opportunities, training, recruitment and selection expenses)
  4. Loss of productivity due to high turnover, low morale, low levels of employee engagement
  5. Reduced levels of customer satisfaction and increased levels of customer churn
  6. Decreased revenue as employees who sell or produce goods are demotivated
  7. Inflated expenses (overtime, investigating employee complaints, waste, etc.)
  8. Reduced profitability due to inflated expenses and decreased top-line revenue
  9. Employer brand becomes impaired, resulting in a need to increase hiring and retention efforts in a competitive job market
  10. Low emotional commitment by employees detracts from company’s ability to achieve goals and attain its Mission and Vision

Any one of these impacts should be cause for concern. Every one of them has serious consequences for businesses that don’t take them seriously. Stagnating and underperforming business often improve when they take steps to develop supervisors in the most basic ways.

The Research to Prove It

The research that backs this up is abundant, compelling, and undisputed. For example:

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of “Great Leadership Creates Great Workplaces” and the world’s foremost researchers on leadership, concluded that “The best leaders elicit three time the amount of talent, energy, commitment and motivation from employees compared to their counterparts.”

The CEB’s research affirms this: “Engagement is the key to performance and retention. Highly committed employees try 57% harder, perform 20% better, and are 87% less likely to leave than employees with low levels of commitment.”

The Boston Consulting Group study “From Capability to Profitability: Realizing the Value of People Management” found that “Companies that excel in leadership development experience substantially higher revenue growth and profit margins.”

Bloomberg reports that $11 billion is lost annually due to employee turnover, and HR Dive estimates an average cost of 33% of the employee’s salary to replace him or her. At the same time, 63% of companies say they have to pay more because the job market has gotten so competitive (CareerBuilder), so the cost of replacing employees continues to rise.

HR Dive’s survey found that 75% of employee turnover is preventable (through the direct supervisor). And 78% of employers are worried about a talent shortage but do not take actions, like training supervisors, to prevent turnover (Spherion).

Companies that increase their number of talented/trained managers (vs. untrained) and double the rate of employee engagement because of it achieve, on average, 14.7% higher earnings per share than their competition. Gallup’s study also shows the cause-and-effect of improved supervisor training and employee engagement, the single greatest driver of retention, productivity, customer satisfaction, top line revenue, managed expenses, and profitability.

10 Basic Supervisory Skills New Managers Must Learn

The benefits of putting trained, capable supervisors in place cannot be overstated. There are ten core skills that new (and not-so-new!) supervisors need in order to boost employee engagement, emotional commitment, and work output. They are:

  1. Communication skills, starting with improved listening
  2. Setting clear expectations
  3. Giving feedback to help employees know what to do so they will succeed
  4. Delegating for development and stepping back from the front line work
  5. Mining for diverse points of view and ensuring all team members have a voice
  6. Making decisions and solving problems in transparent and predictable ways
  7. Coaching (a discrete skill, not the same as mentoring or managing)
  8. Conducting 1:1 and team meetings that are effective and inclusive
  9. Leading change proactively
  10. Demonstrating leadership behaviors (not to be confused with management)

Most of these skills are not learned or instinctively picked up without formal training. When individual contributors are thrust into supervisory roles without training, they are more likely to rely on policies and authority. This alienates employees and tanks workplace morale.

These are the foundational supervisory and leadership skills embedded in the popular Workplace Conversations program from PFPS. The workshop is available in English and in Spanish. It is customized by supervisor group education level and industry. For example, our bi-lingual trainers work primarily with teams in agriculture, manufacturing, and production environments where many supervisors prefer to receive training in Spanish and without a lot of theory. The program is practical and immediately applicable in all settings.  

Do Supervisors Really Need Soft (Interpersonal) Skills?

Soft skills are not optional. They are often overlooked, with a false sense of security coming from having supervisors who are technically proficient. Retaining, motivating and getting the most from employees, though, has nothing to do with functional expertise. Emotional commitment and employee engagement stem directly from the relationships people have with their direct supervisor. To set the company up for short-term success, supervisors have to manage the work. And to set the company up for long-term success, too, supervisors must lead people. Putting people first is the secret to driving every kind of business result.

The emotional commitment is what matters. CEB’s study found that “Emotional commitment drives effort. Emotional commitment is four times as valuable as rational commitment in producing discretionary effort. Indeed, the search for a high performing workforce is synonymous with the search for emotional commitment.”

Emotional commitment starts with supervisors who have soft skills. There’s no around it.

What’s the ROI of Supervisor Training?

You know, deep down, that the gap in your organization is the result of inadequate or ineffective supervisor training. Busy, over-tasked HR professionals can’t do it all alone! Getting approval for supervisor training may take some doing, especially since the “soft” skills are often seen as optional. Here are some tips for making the business case for supervisory skills training, all related to showing the return on investment your organization can expect.

How much do you spend annually on replacing people who leave voluntarily?

Add up all the costs of recruiting, screening, interviewing, background checks, hiring, onboarding, and ramp up. Training managers will save you a significant portion of these expenses.

Add up the costs related to low productivity levels.

Overtime, rush order deliveries, rework due to errors, tardiness and absenteeism, worker’s compensation, safety violations and non-compliance fines, slow downs in time to fill or interdepartmental handoffs, etc. Training managers so employee engagement increases and additional discretionary effort is applied will save you big dollars here AND drive improved profits, too! Drucker’s research revealed that “… for most companies in which labor costs amounted to roughly half of their total earnings, a 10% increase in productivity would double most organization’s profits.”

What’s the cost of customer churn in your organization?

In most, replacing a customer requires significantly more time and attention than working with the ones you already have. Losing customers also impairs your ability to get referrals and good word-of-mouth promotion. Gallup gives you the ROI for this one: “Organizations with above-average levels of employee engagement reap 50% higher customer loyalty levels.”  

Your return on investment also shows in business growth.

Hewitt Associates research proved that “Employee engagement scores were 21% higher in double digit vs. single digit growth companies.”

The choice really boils down to this. You can continue admiring the problems you have with disengaged workers, high employee turnover, low productivity, poor customer satisfaction, underwhelming revenue, and suppressed profits. Or you solve all these issues by training your supervisors in the critical skills that result in emotional commitment and create a domino effect of all these benefits.

How to Implement Supervisor Training Programs in a Busy Organization

When everybody is “too busy” to find, facilitate, and attend basic supervisory skills training, it’s a surefire need for said training! Here’s what you need to act swiftly and without regret:

  • A reliable partner with a good track record in delivering quality content. Work with a facilitator who can relate to your team. Be sure the material is backed up by research and a solid instructional design that ensures knowledge transfer (not just workshop delivery).

  • Opt for training that is delivered in manageable chunks. A modular format allows time for participants to learn and do a little bit at a time. This is important for behavior change and training “stickiness.”

  • If you’re concerned about disruptions to work when all the supervisors attend training, set up sub-groups and train in smaller groups. Participation and opportunities for critical reflection increase in smaller groups. 8-14 is the ideal group size for accelerating adoption of new behaviors and practices.

  • Work with a partner who provides job aids and builds in post-training reinforcement. You’re not looking for an off-the-shelf program that everyone attends. You’re looking for a comprehensive solution that causes behavior change, skills development, and employee engagement boosts.

  • If you have an internal trainer and need a quality program, find one that offers certification and licensing. No need to scratch build your own program when there are already options available that are proven effective.

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