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The Way I See It … Training Managers to Manage

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Paula Rome, Employment Law Training and Development Associate at Lewis Silkin, explains why she thinks investment in people management training is crucial.



Training budgets are tight (they always are). Understandably, preference has to be given to those courses which are necessary for compliance or are compulsory within the organisation. Once these courses have been arranged and paid for, there is often little scope left to provide other training within the organisation.

Finding the time and money to provide people management training to managers is often seen as a luxury. This, however, is an important area to consider.

Over a number of years there has been a trend for HR to move away from having a hands on approach to dealing with people issues and instead, they have been remodelled as an advisory service for managers. In many organisations this has gone as far as HR advice being provided through a call centre with staff and managers rarely, if ever, meeting the HR team in person.

This empowerment of management is sensible in many ways when we consider that in most organisations, once they reach a medium size, it is the manager or team leader who has the closest and most direct relationship with their staff.

The problem occurs when there is the gap between empowering managers and providing them with the skills and information that they need to carry out these extended roles. It is often believed that common sense will carry managers through but this overlooks the impact and complexity of the legal framework the managers are operating within.

Managers often have to deal with union representatives who may be well versed (and well trained) in employment law issues. On the other hand, they are also dealing with individuals who may have been wrongly informed about their rights. A classic example of this was when the right to request flexible working (and have that request seriously considered) was introduced.

Many newspapers which ran the story on the new legislation failed to realise it was a right to request flexibility (which could be refused) not the automatic right to a flexible working arrangement that was introduced. This caused many a manager a sleepless night as employees were convinced that they had a legal right to work flexibly and managers were aware that this may not sit well with the business requirements of the organisation.

Line managers are the front line in dealing with the legal issues of people management. These are often complicated and emotional situations and when insecurity about your own knowledge is added to this mix it is no surprise that line managers can feel stressed and very vulnerable.

As well as providing extra confidence to managers, training on the legal issues of people management can also support HR. Quite often HR are left with the impression that managers believe that their place in the organisation (if not their aim in life) is to make the line managers’ job more difficult.

By taking line managers through the maze of legal technicalities, it is easier to make them see why compliance with policies and procedures is so important. It may also actually be the only time that the managers are able to take the time to read the policies and procedures that form the backbone of their organisation’s strategy.

One of my favourite games when training managers is to ask who has read the policies - if more than one hand in the room goes up, I am always quite surprised. By providing an understanding of the legal framework in place, line managers can better appreciate why HR are sometimes cautious when advising them, especially in absence, disability discrimination and performance management cases when legal compliance can lead to frustrating delays.

As a financial incentive for the business, and a concrete means to measure specific teams’ performance, in my experience monitoring the number of Tribunal claims will demonstrate a reduction. Where training has been on specific issues, such as absence management, there is usually a significant decrease in absenteeism levels.

These results are especially striking when the training course also emphasised the use of various tools within the policy such as the return to work interview, and encouraged managers to pro-actively address potential issues. By encouraging a more consistent approach when dealing with staff, organisations are able to instil a more confident management style, which can only improve the overall morale and contribute to the organisation’s performance.

Paula can be contacted on [email protected]

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