I wish my manager could have attended this…

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Written by Rob McWilliam on 25 February 2015

If only I could have a pound – actually, make that £100 – for every time I’d heard the statement in the title from a participant on one of the workshops I run. My life would be different! I’m sure this is also true for many of you.

Typically I’m given this opinion by the more junior managers during programmes that focus on essential skills. The majority refer to flexing leadership styles and performance management approaches. In effect, they’re saying that their senior managers are not using the good practice we’re focusing on during the programme.

I must admit that I quite like receiving these comments. I take it as a compliment that the event I’ve designed is being seen as potentially useful and enjoyable to attend.

However, at a fundamental level (Kirkpatrick’s Level 1 of evaluation, for example), I need to remember that all I have received from the comment above is validation of the event. In some ways, it’s no different to attending a music concert. For example, in a few weeks I’m going to see Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds perform at the O2 Arena in London. I’m sure I’ll really enjoy it - it’ll either meet or exceed my expectations. I’ll briefly consider its value for money, whether he played the tracks I was hoping to hear, the quality of the sound and lighting and how well I could see from my seat. I’m sure that I will want to recommend to my group of friends that they should go too in the future.  But, will I do anything differently as a result of attending? Probably not!

So this prompts me to challenge the participants who tell me that their manager should “come on this course”. The first challenge is that any person who comes on the course needs to implement the learning as a result of attending.  It’s great to know that the experience is enjoyable but does it support development and change? I think that a participant who states that their manager should attend needs to demonstrate that they can apply the learning and then make their recommendation.

The second challenge is to make sure that the participant is not ‘passing the buck’ for learning onto their manager. In other words, are they saying that they’ll implement the learning only when they see their manager doing the same? Well, in my view, that’s not showing leadership and needs to be discussed.

And a final check based on this statement is to find out whether the L&D strategy is being challenged and is working. Undoubtedly, we target certain learning at certain populations – in management development, this usually relates to level of seniority/responsibility. Yes, it would be great to ‘flow down’ all learning but that’s rarely practical. In L&D, we need to start somewhere and spend our budgets strategically. We all want organisations where managers at every level manage ‘perfectly’ and we choose ways of developing each level of managers accordingly. But hearing this statement might give us a useful point of reflection as to the approach we have chosen.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue wishing for a few more of those pounds!  After all, there’s some tickets I want to buy...


About the author
Rob McWilliam is executive coach, facilitator and consultant at Change Formation. He can be contacted via rob@changeformation.co.uk

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