Getting your first line management role can be quite a challenge. Most first line managers will have spent several years being developed for the role through a variety of methods including inhouse training courses, external courses or qualifications, projects, interim career steps or secondments - all of which will have increased their experience enough to allow them to take up the controls of a region. This article will look at how companies go about training their managers and ensuring they continue to develop throughout the rest of their careers.
First Line Manager Training for new managers
In most modern firms, first line manager training is, for the most part, a very organised affair. Companies recognise the importance of the manager’s role and are therefore committed to putting them through comprehensive training programmes. John Metcalf, HR director from Solvay, said: ”My perception of the training of line managers these days is that it tends to be more structured and taken more seriously. Historically, companies often went through the motions of training but now we recognise the benefits effective line managers bring and therefore we really do invest in helping managers to become as able and as competent as possible.”
Larger firms who have big first line management teams will usually have dedicated personnel who will support development. These coaching managers are sometimes field-based and they work with existing managers on specific areas. Alternatively, the ‘coaches’ are head office based trainers who may deliver formal training courses and design or commission appropriate training packages. However, smaller companies may not have dedicated personnel and the training of managers in the organisation will fall under the remit of HR, training and also second line managers.
New managers will often find a comprehensive induction programme set up for them and this can take the form of internally delivered training plus meetings with key personnel and departments. Alternatively, the formal management training may be contracted out to training companies who provide a specific management induction programme. For some companies, particularly those with smaller management teams and less in-house resources, these training companies provide new managers with a good base of learning upon which to build their subsequent management experiences.
Phil Yates of Customised Training Solutions, a training company that runs management courses, feels that external tuition offers delegates some great benefits. He said: ”Similar challenges are faced by all new managers but differing company cultures allow fascinating and valuable discussion on the varied approaches. Many delegates find this such a valuable experience that they remain in contact to take advantage of the informal mentoring opportunities presented by the extensive skills and experience base of the facilitators.”
Many companies, however, prefer to use in-house training. Lilly, for example, have a comprehensive induction programme in place for their new managers. Steve Brown, the UK Sales Manager Trainer at Lilly, explains how they treat new personnel. He said: “When new managers join an organisation, it can be quite hard for them because their previous networks may have been taken away. We aim, through our new manager induction systems, to put this network back for managers and get them as productive as possible as soon as possible.”
From 2003 onwards, a new Lilly sales manager will have a three month induction programme which will introduce them to all necessary personnel and processes, like the HR department and IT systems. They will also spend time with Steve and their NSMs reviewing coaching skills and consolidating and aligning business analysis techniques. Moreover, there is an initial five days capability training which encompasses some of the core management skills such as leadership, developing and managing people through a career framework and managing for high performance. Remote learning, followed up by time spent with a personal product trainer, covers off much of the product training issue.
Dedicated time is also set aside for field observation where new managers go out to observe their team but do not actively get involved in giving feedback or comment. Steve added: “These observation days are purely for the new manager to observe, both from a product and people perspective, whilst removing the temptation to charge in and then perhaps later regret their words or actions. We give the new manager a chance to see what is going on in their new region and then step back and consider and plan before any changes are implemented.”
Solvay has a slightly different induction process. As a smaller company with just 12 managers, the training of new managers from external organisations tends to be an individually tailored package put together in collaboration with the new manager, sales management and Phil Banks, Solvay’s training manager.
Phil said: “Much of the training we do for new managers is on a one-to-one basis. However, about half our managers come from internal candidates who have gone through our Key Replacement Programme. This is a two-year development exercise for potential RBMs and it gives them a good grounding in the skills they will need in management. We also have a manager’s handbook which the regional management team put together and this gives invaluable instructions on all our processes and administration.”
On-going training, as you would expect, varies from organisation to organisation but increasingly it seems that, as the job grows bigger by the day, line managers are being helped to cope with the increased demands.
Management coach Allan Mackintosh said: “Line managers need to be able to multi-task in an increasingly complex environment therefore companies need to look for effective ways to increase and sustain the skills of this group of key individuals. In order to do this, companies must find ways to support and enable managers to run the internal drivers that can sometimes detract them from their core job. First line managers are so often squeezed from all directions that they can lose their focus and end up spinning in ever-decreasing circles. Thus, senior managers must take time to coach and mentor their first line managers in order that this does not occur.” Activity Benchmarking Ltd reported that on average, line managers spend 0.8 days a month being trained (although this does include product training). This year Solvay will spend 9 days on management development training alone, believing that this is the best way to add value to their business. The training will form part of an annual structured programme for their managers aimed at the development gaps identified by sales management, training and HR.
Lilly take a slightly longer term approach and have introduced an on-going management development programme which takes managers from their induction period right through to three years into the role. After that, training becomes more specific to the needs of the individual and their career aspirations. Again, line management development is the responsibility of a team with the Sales Management Trainer working closely with the NSM team. The Lilly scheme, called the Sales Manager Development Programme, takes line managers through a modular training programme that covers all the key areas of the job such as situational leadership, business planning, tactical business management, interviewing and selection. Together with a progressive career pathway, managers are taken through a structured development programme which after three years, could lead to a senior sales managers role. After that, the next step is into a leadership programme aimed at developing the next Principal Sales Managers and NSMs for Lilly.
Clearly, the training of managers is firmly on the agenda. Line managers perform a critical role and therefore investment in their skills is a fundamental necessity. And there is no doubt the environmental challenges the NHS is delivering will add to the necessity for managers to be even more skilled. However, companies need to recognise the burden their line managers carry and help them cope with it. As an industry, we do not want to have the ‘busy manager’ described by Heike Bruch & Sumantra Ghosal in the Harvard Business Review (Feb 2002), where managers studied were found to have spent 90% of their time on ineffective activities, with a mere 10% of time being spent in a committed, purposeful and reflective manner.
Therefore, line management needs to be supported not just by extra training but the new people also need to be given the authority to manage the business, their team and their own lives. Arguably, time management is the course all managers should start with as there is no doubt that they need to be organised and extremely clear on their priorities. Managers also need to embrace their own continual professional development to ensure they keep pace with the skills this complex and multi-functional role demands.
Keith Jordon, NSM for UCB Pharma, offers a succinct closing point. He said: ”Development of first line managers is extremely important. They need to be able to use a very wide range of skills, from field coaching to influencing corporate strategy and only by effective development and training can they fulfil this mandate. Their role is critical in the success of any sales team and that will continue to be the case long into the future of the pharmaceutical industry.”