Upskilling Managers

1st May, 2024 5 min read

How do you equip your managers with the people management skills they need today - even when they think they don’t need them!

Very few managers would, I suspect, say they aren’t invested in developing themselves to their full potential. But often they fall into the trap of believing that their experience provides them with the necessary skills. And if they’ve been in a management role for a few years, many are too embarrassed to admit that they need help. Both scenarios can mean that despite the best efforts of Learning and Development professionals, managers fail to take responsibility for their own skills development.

Whether you’re dealing with a ‘know-it-all-already’ manager, or a ‘trying-not-to-look-stupid’ manager, your organisation needs to ensure its managers are performing effectively. That means engaging them in continuous improvement opportunities, even if they don’t think they need them.

Upskilling experienced managers

Experience isn’t proof of expertise. As we illustrate in our behaviour-based interviewing skills video ‘A Question of Evidence’ it’s all too easy - and erroneous - to think someone will be good at a role purely because of their previous relevant experience.

Experienced managers may well reason that because they’ve been managing people for years, and because they communicate with members of their team every day, they are unlikely to benefit from management skills, communication and leadership training. This is where you need to employ some persuasive interpersonal skills of your own!

Telling an experienced manager that they need to improve their skills isn’t likely to go down well! Instead, showing interest in their particular challenges and helping to solve their problems (or rather, showing them how to address them themselves) is the key to influencing their attitude to upskilling.

Calendar-based events such as face-to-face ‘Leadership Labs’, lunchtime learning sessions and internal Management Development Programmes provide a structure for signposting everyday informal opportunities for performance support and self-directed development.

We’ve worked with clients in all sectors to provide thoughtfully mapped 5-minute resources and activities to trigger discussions, provoke thought and invite practice of new phrases or ideas. Watching a video on ‘What To Say When Someone is Being Difficult’ or ‘Enabling Motivation’, for example, or listening to an 8-minute podcast on how to conduct ‘Inclusive Meetings’ or for ‘Making Remote Teams Work’ takes little time and injects practical ideas for practising new skills. What’s more, they develop the performance of the manager and the people they manage. With double the impact.

Resources that are a catalyst for debate, reflection, and practical application work best because they draw on pre-existing experience whilst also highlighting the benefits of new, different and improved approaches. Even a reluctant ‘know-it-all’ will want to experiment with a new phrase, coaching question or intervention if they can experience the benefits for themselves. The ‘what’s in it for me’ factor is always relevant.

If you have an experienced manager who needs support with ‘the basics’ it can be particularly challenging. But a short video helps to illustrate the behaviour you are trying to encourage and the ubiquity of videos and podcasts in non-training related activities removes the stigma attached to other more obvious ‘remedial’ training.

Reiterate and refocus

We encourage our learners to watch our videos and listen to our podcasts more than once. Once is never enough. Crucially, asking someone to revisit a resource should be seen in the context of learning more, especially if you’re encountering it in a different context, or after some time has elapsed since the previous engagement. There’s always more to notice, additional points to consider and ideas that perhaps you didn’t pick up on before. Swap the connotation of ‘remedial’ or ‘refresher’ for ‘best practice’ and ‘skills augmentation’ and the reiteration become positive rather than negative. What more can you learn? What else can you do differently?

Private Learning

The experienced manager, who secretly knows that they are weak in a particular area, may be reluctant to admit their skills gaps publicly and feel too embarrassed to seek help from colleagues, even if they privately acknowledge their learning need. For this type of manager, the privacy afforded by online digital learning is perfect. Whilst tact is likely to be required when recommending areas for development, the general provision and promotion of performance support tools, combined with clear signposting and a culture which places high value on learning, makes it easier. Personal, private learning suits embarrassed managers who want to brush up on their skills and develop new ones they wished they’d learned before. It also enables neurodivergent managers to seek self-improvement assistance at a time and place of their own choosing.

Upskilling aspiring and new managers

New and aspiring managers tend to be more enthusiastic about upskilling themselves. They’re motivated by ambition and the possibility of promotion. Yet even these enthusiastic learners need guidance and support.

As we explore in our interactive Skills Challenge ‘Aspiring Managers’ and in our video ‘Using Competencies Successfully’ wannabe managers need to use your competency or behaviours framework to identity the skills necessary to demonstrate readiness for a management role. And once they are promoted, videos like ‘From Mate to Manager’ support new managers as they transition from being ‘one of the gang’ to being the team manager - not an easy thing to do.

Taking Responsibility

Upskilling comes about through learning and practising new ideas and applying them to real scenarios at work. Managers who take responsibility for their personal development identify their skills gaps and proactively address them, developing the skills they need to succeed.

Ultimately, your managers are the reason why their people choose to stay or leave your organisation. They are the factor that underpins everything else. Learning and Development can’t afford to get this wrong.

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Catherine de Salvo
1 May 2024

You can contact Catherine at or via LinkedIn