Accidental Managers Saved by Peer Learning Groups

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Vicky was a rising star. After a few short years in the operations department, she had the best skills on the team. When the manager of her section retired, it seemed only natural for Vicky to be promoted into his position. However, signs of trouble soon appeared.

Does this sound familiar?

Vicky inadvertently became an “accidental manager,” someone with technical expertise and skills who is promoted into a management position without adequate management training or experience. They are more likely to have accidents- unfortunate incidents that happen unexpectedly and unintentionally, and typically result in damage or injury. The damage and injury may be interpersonal and/or programmatic, neither of which bodes well for the new manager or the organization.

Research by the Chartered Management Institute has estimated that as many as four out of five managers are accidental managers. This is equivalent to 2.4 million bosses who lack adequate training and so are not performing at their best.

How Accidental Managers Affect the Organization

Many organizations promote employees into management positions because of their technical expertise and skills.

On the one hand, this is great for the new managers and the organization. The managers benefit by having an opportunity to develop management skills and enjoy a higher pay grade. The organization benefits by retaining managers who have come up through the ranks, so they know the organization’s programs, culture, and history.

On the other hand, this is not so great for either the new managers or the organization. Often, the managers are dropped off in the deep end and expected to know how to navigate and get to shore. If they have no management training or experience, they often become frustrated, stressed, and indecisive when faced with personnel management challenges.

Organizations suffer in a number of ways if their managers lack necessary knowledge and skills. Poor management results in reduced employee performance, low morale, missed deadlines, customer dissatisfaction, and high attrition of top performers. All of these have a significant negative impact on an organization’s bottom line.

Traditional Management Training Programs are Only a First Step

It is terribly unwise for an organization to assume that accidental managers will gain the skills they need simply by being in the job. Sending them to virtual or face-to-face management development programs is a good first step, but it cannot be the only step.

There are at least three issues concerning the effectiveness of management development programs. First, if only one or two of the managers attend the training, they come back to the organization with a new vocabulary and techniques that are not shared, and may even be resisted, by the other managers.

Second, public management development programs are typically generic to meet the needs of a diverse audience. As such, they cannot duplicate the organizational context or culture in which the new managers need to perform. The managers do not have an opportunity to learn and practice how to deal with real issues in their organizational setting.

Third, new learning is lost without constant support and reinforcement. New behaviors take time to develop. A one- or multiple-day training program offers insufficient practice to help new managers become comfortable and competent in using new skills and techniques.

Peer Learning Groups are the Necessary Second Step

There is an excellent second step to help new managers gain, practice, and become competent in the knowledge and skills they need. Accidental managers can benefit from participating in peer learning groups that focus in on how to handle a current shared management challenge in an organizationally appropriate manner.

The Peer Learning Institute helps organizations establish peer learning groups of five to six managers with the same level of authority who meet in two 90-minute sessions separated by a month of reinforced practice. The peer learning groups target a real issue within the managers’ organizational setting. They are typically comprised of both new and seasoned managers.

The sessions promote collaboration as the managers learn from each other as well as from provided materials that introduce best practices. The managers work together to gain a new vocabulary and techniques, and support each other during the sessions, during the intervening practice, and after the sessions are completed.

If the accidental managers attend traditional management training as the first step, a good second step is to place them in peer learning groups. There they can take a deep dive into a management challenge, learn, and practice new techniques with adequate support and reinforcement, and become proficient managers.

If you would like to learn more about how to help your accidental managers become proficient, please contact Deborah Laurel at The Peer Learning Institute.

How do you help your accidental managers become comfortable and competent in their new role?

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