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The Benefits of a “Try Before You Buy” Management Training Model

I was hired by a CEO to come into a technical support, customer-facing organization that was struggling to meet performance expectations and was losing money in their U.S. operations.

Within my first week of attending meetings at all levels within the organization, it became apparent that the director, managers, and assistant manager teams spent the first half of each week figuring out why performance had been subpar the previous week. By Wednesday afternoon, the director and her management team provided their answers to the VP of Operations, who would then direct the internal teams on how to conduct damage control. On Thursday morning, the teams would scramble to try to get the game plan for the current week going.

On Monday of the following week, the vicious cycle would start again. The VP was driving damage control and managing in arrears, gaining no traction on turning things around. This had been going on for months and was a vicious cycle that provided no increase in performance.

While I realize that understanding where you have been and how you got there are important questions to ask, there were three real issues:

  1. The organization suffered from the outdated management model that has managers telling people what to do, with absolutely no buy-in from customer-facing employees/workers or first-level leaders.
  2. The director and management teams didn’t know how to duplicate their efforts so they could efficiently gather the information they needed to give to the VP while simultaneously driving new strategies for the new week.
  3. Some members of the management team were not a right fit for their current positions.

The director and management teams were frustrated and voiced their concerns to me. The merry-go-round of requests and activity was causing a huge amount of stress, and they were gaining no traction in turning things around. During my one-on-one discussions with members of the management team and the director, they mentioned that there were better ways to handle this. When I asked each one if they had talked with the VP about a better method, they each replied, “She won’t listen.”

A lot of people feel they can do their boss’s job better than their boss. So why not utilize that thought process? As a leader, what if there were two of you…three of you…ten of you? What if you could duplicate your efforts without increasing labor costs? And what if leaders could spend less time managing the organization and instead multiply their success throughout your organization to increase performance?

Think about adopting the “Try Before You Buy” method.

For over 20 years, I have given employees at every level of my organizations opportunities to perform duties from the jobs they wanted while doing their current jobs and before being formally promoted. My organizations have done this without adding to their headcount or working outside of normal manager-to-employee ratio labor dollars. When you utilize this leadership tool, the workload of your current leadership will decrease. They will find that they have more time, and they can now mentor more leaders—without increasing labor costs.

The “Try Before You Buy” tool works for a number of reasons:

  • The candidate can try a portion of their manager’s position in small steps, taking on more and more responsibility, which builds their confidence.
  • The candidate gains an understanding of what their direct manager does in their day-to-day activities. They gain exposure to challenges in real time, and you can see how they treat people.
  • The team gets to see multiple team members, or even everyone on the team, do a piece of the direct manager’s position. With the right culture, this promotes teamwork without creating a competitive environment.
  • It becomes obvious who should receive the next promotion because others on the team will start going to that candidate for assistance.
  • The candidates must be top performers and in good standing with the company, and this encourages people to perform so they can participate. Your metrics and key performance indicators will increase automatically while you utilize this leadership tool.
  • There is a new strategic awareness for the entire team because people have a piece of the manager’s job.
  • Because people want to be in this program, these leadership candidates work faster and harder at their regular jobs so they can do the extra tasks, increasing productivity naturally.
  • The manager has more time to mentor and develop new leadership but also to learn some of their own manager’s job.
  • There is no cost to your budget. No one is given a formal promotion at this point, and there are no increases in compensation. These duties are temporary. In fact, you might even move some of these duties around each month to see team members’ different strengths and to find out what each person loves to do.
  • The entire team is energized, and it gives everyone a change of pace so their day-to-day work does not get monotonous.
  • Human resource professionals love this leadership tool because it cultivates more employee engagement and organically creates authentic inclusion.

Some of the “Try Before You Buy” candidates will decide they don’t want to do their manager’s job and voluntarily give up their extra duties. However, in trying these new duties, a new mindset and level of respect for their manager, and for leadership in general, has been developed. Perhaps there are other duties they can temporarily try in another department or for another position.

The beauty of this is that you don’t have to formalize it. Start by asking a few of your managers to list the three job duties that are the easiest to teach for training purposes. I recognize that there are certain human resource management tasks that can’t be handed off to a leadership candidate, but be creative. I always say it’s not if but how you can successfully utilize this leadership tool. Don’t get caught up in writing out the plan; do a small pilot program. Since it’s not a formal position, you don’t need a formal job description or a compensation analysis.

There is a chain reaction of success as more and more people want to get involved. Since everyone must be a top performer to participate, your organization’s performance will increase. I have been told that when this leadership tool is utilized, people are afraid they are going to miss something exciting if they don’t come to work, so I have seen absenteeism within the organization go down. I have never found a downside to this leadership tool. Training modules like sexual harassment and proper coaching documentation are offered to these employees, and they cultivate a new appreciation for their new leadership mindset.

Utilize the “Try Before You Buy” leadership tool as a pilot program, and see what happens. To get started, ask your current leaders where they feel they need assistance and what duties can be handled by someone else. Then work from there.

Employee engagement is an extremely important initiative in most organizations. As these programs evolve, they can become valuable components of your company’s leadership development and, in fact, put the program on the fast track. This leadership tool also helps identify the right people to promote without wasting time and resources. We set people up for achievements that reap huge rewards for employee engagement and satisfaction, as well as the customer experience without our budgets taking a hit. In today’s changing business climate, we need to upscale our leadership mindsets and programs. Tapping into our employees’ ideas is great for our culture, our employee experience, and retention while enhancing the customer experience driving top-line revenue and bottom-line contributions.