January 26, 2021

One aspect of the ongoing workforce development challenges that will continue to unfold in the coming months and years is the need for supervisors, managers, and leaders to understand the ways they can foster an effective workforce optimization in pursuit of business goals.

From a training perspective, the softer skills—effective team leadership, workforce optimization, and others—bring significant value. This training often takes place at three distinct levels: among supervisors, managers, and leaders.

For the purposes of this article, supervisors will refer to those individuals operating in front-line, shift-supervisor and similar roles; managers are those who may have hourly workers reporting to them, as well as supervisors and other professionals. These managers are often responsible for converting the company’s strategic vision into a work plan for those who will carry out the work.  Leaders, on the other hand, create that strategic vision and guide those in management roles.

Not surprisingly, although the lessons are similar among all three groups, as individuals progress through the ranks, the training becomes more nuanced.

Workforce Development for Varying Levels of Seniority

Donna Butchko, DVIRC strategic partner and President of Leadership Systems, Inc., brings her decades of training expertise to bear on each of these training programs. She says that two of the primary features of the training are communication and feedback—elements of personnel management that can have a dramatic effect on workforce effectiveness.

“The need to communicate effectively doesn’t change as you work your way up, but the message can change, as does the audience,” Donna says. “At the supervisor level, communication is straightforward. Supervisors assign tasks and responsibilities as simple as who works on what machine or product line. At the other end of the spectrum, leaders are tasked with communicating the strategic vision. That’s a much more abstract concept.”

At any level, clarity can be a challenge, and Butchko says a great deal of this training deals with the need to communicate in ways that enable solid understanding. “We spend a lot of time discussing the most effective ways to convert ideas—whether they are process or strategy-related—into a clear message that can be passed on.”

The training also includes a discussion of tools to determine the best means of communication, (written vs. verbal) for a given individual or group.   “We discuss this in Management Development training in particular,” Donna says. “We know that people need to hear something seven times before they truly understand it. So how do you express something so that the message is received in the right ways and often enough that the audience knows you are serious about it?”

From a leadership perspective, Donna says the issue of communication deals more with the impact on people. “Leaders are discussing topics like retention and succession planning. Those topics must be communicated in such a way that the workforce understands your level of commitment.”

Providing Feedback – a Struggle at all Levels

Feedback is another key aspect of these training programs. Donna says that even though giving feedback is a critical skill, it’s something many new managers—and more than a few experienced ones—struggle to do well.

“People often give positive feedback that’s too vague, and they avoid giving negative feedback at all, because they don’t want to deal with the reaction,” she says. Perhaps to a greater degree than other aspects of communication, how feedback is presented is a significant part of how it’s received.  Negative feedback that conveys a belief that the recipient can do better can actually inspire improvement.”

In the management class, students learn strategies to give effective feedback and build their ability to leverage that process to engage reports and make them more committed.

Building Engagement

“If you don’t train and empower workers, every day you’re letting their skills and contributions walk out the door without contributing to the company’s forward motion.”

Donna builds much of the training course as it relates to building engagement from Patrick Lencioni’s book The Truth About Employee Engagement. Previously titled The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, she says one of the signs of misery is not knowing if one is performing well in a given position.

“Knowing that you are a valuable part of the team breeds enthusiasm,” Donna says. “The three pitfalls of insufficient feedback are Irrelevance (Do I make a difference?) Anonymity (Does my boss know who I am and what I want?) and Immeasurement (Do I have the feedback to know if things are improving?).

“All of these things have a direct impact on engagement. Managers can make it clear to their charges that they should be committed, by showing you are committed to them.”  The aspect of trust—which comes into play in management and leadership training—is critical. If employees don’t trust that their superiors have their best interests at heart, they won’t give 100%.

As for the importance of training as a method for upscaling the contemporary workforce, Donna says it is the best way to ensure you are leveraging your human resources.

“That’s the most important part,” she says. “The first module of supervisor training says if you don’t train and empower workers, every day you’re letting their skills and contributions walk out the door without contributing to the company’s forward motion. That thread continues through management and leadership training.  It makes no sense to hire chess players and treat them as though they are chess pieces.”

To learn more about DVIRC’s workforce development training courses, as well as other services to improve people and process, click here.