Learning to lead
UCARs new Leadership Academy provides training on becoming a successful manager
Mark Bradford of JOSS is discovering the importance of asking his staffers open-ended questions, rather than yes-no ones, so they can contribute their thoughts about projects.
Mary Barth of MMM/ACD talks about the benefits of building on the positive aspects of current or past projects when planning future projects, a process known as appreciative inquiry.
And CGDs Lawrence Buja now knows why a good supervisor takes ideas from staffers instead of trying to instruct them on what to do. Your staff usually has the right answers, he explains. Your job isnt to dictate the solution to a problem, but to guide the inquiry and ask questions in such a way that your staff comes up with the best solution.
Such insights are coming out of the Leadership Academy, an intensive UCAR course for supervisors and those who may soon find themselves in supervisory positions. The four-month program, which wraps up in late July, is meant to address an often-overlooked need in the organization: good managerial techniques.
We have so many people with Ph.D.s who are very educated and do technically very well in their fields, and then theyre made supervisors and expected to pick it up intuitively, says HRs Terry Woods. Supervising is not intuitive. It requires a specific set of skills.
Some two dozen people, many selected by their division directors, are enrolled in the course. To reach additional members of the organizations managerial staff, which numbers more than 300, the academy will be offered on an annual basis. In addition, Terry and HRs Cheryl Cristanelli are preparing additional workshops on management skills and gathering related resources through UCARs Staff Development Program.
This is a major cultural change within this organization, says Cheryl, who notes that other large organizations often provide their supervisors with similar training. Were just touching the surface. The more effectively that supervisors can communicate with, motivate, and help employees, the more effective the learning and the outcome will be throughout the organization.
The academy covers a variety of topics that includes managing projects and teams, resolving conflicts, writing proposals, developing the skills of employees, appraising performance, and understanding business operations. It consists of workshops and seminars run by HR and outside consultants (such as Chain Reaction, a Boulder-based company), as well as individual coaching sessions.
The academy is part of a larger UCAR initiative, Developing Our Human Capital, that relies on training, peer mentoring, career planning, and other strategies to help employees maximize their skills. When HR held employee focus groups over the past couple of years to ask about training needs, staffers and supervisors alike suggested a greater focus on management training. After evaluating this input, the Presidents Council asked HR to develop a supervisory training program for the organization.
One of the things that really came through loud and clear from both supervisors and staff was management training, Cheryl recalls. People are being put into supervisory or management roles without knowing what the necessary skills are and what is expected of them.
Mark Bradford, a systems administrator who supervises one staffer, finds the training invaluable. My work history has been mostly technical, he explains. On technical topics its pretty easy to get a manual and read for a week and learn something new. But its a lot harder when it comes to managing people and projects. Ive reached the point where I need to learn supervisory techniques if Im going to take my career to the next level.
Marks learned a lot from the training about working with people on an emotional level as well as a technical one. For me, coming from a very technical background, the common thread in these classes is you really have to understand how people feel as well as how they think, and you have to speak to their feelings and their comforts in addition to the more dry, day-to-day work, he says.
For Lawrence Buja, a software engineer who became a supervisor at the beginning of the year, the amount of information in the academy is staggering. Its like drinking water from a fire hose, he says. We are being exposed to such a large body of new knowledge and experience that it is a little overwhelming. He adds that the classes have already helped him. For example, hes asking his staffers how they feel they can best contribute to a project, rather than trying to assign them specific tasks. This enables each member of the team to feel included and to maximize his or her skills.
Because much of the academys emphasis is on interactions with others, the training can be applied to personal events as well as the work place. Its not just work, its home life, says Mary Barth, a scientist who works on several research teams but has not yet begun to supervise people. Its certainly enlightening about relationships and working with people. David Hosansky