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How to train managers to start making real change

Managers already had a lot on their plates before the COVID-19 pandemic. After the lockdown started and the nature of work fundamentally — and possibly, perhaps, permanently — changed, their job became more complex.

In the 2021 workplace, the role of managers is more important than ever before. They are the face of leadership for employees who may not identify with or relate to the C-suite. They’ve been granted more responsibility to instill and enforce organizational policies and missions, while facing an increased pressure to perform. They also find themselves as a primary driver of delivering results ethically.

To thrive in this evolving reality, managers need tools and knowledge not only to become better managers but also to empower their direct reports to thrive. Training remains essential and is often the obvious answer — yet it is the approach and type of training that drives effectiveness.

Understanding microcultures

Managers set the tone for their teams and departments. They review employee performance; make command decisions; and can be the difference between a happy, high-performing team and one whose members are miserable and less than productive. Most frontline employees take cues from their immediate supervisor.

This reality leads to the emergence of microcultures. Teams and departments can often become insular, reflecting the attitudes and ethics of managers and/or employees. It is critical to identify and realign these cultures to the company’s mission, vision and values. Ensuring that your training provides measurement and behavioral insights to highlight these microcultures is essential to driving positive behavior change and building a culture of compliance.

The need for intelligent elearning

In a globally distributed, virtual world, we are increasingly dependent on eLearning for its self-paced, “access anywhere” capabilities. Like employees, managers come to the job with varying degrees of institutional knowledge and experience. Some may be familiar with policies and processes, proactively guiding their employees in the right direction operationally, while others may be limited by their own misconceptions or biases.

The quality of your compliance training, and how targeted it is in delivering content relevant to managers and employees, is foundational to building a culture of compliance. Intelligent eLearning solutions, like adaptive learning, rely on situational simulations and advanced algorithms. They continuously measure readiness and behavior to provide insight into trends, strengths and opportunities within any segment of the organization.

When your managers have access to this kind of rich data on how their team navigates real-life situations, they are empowered to have actionable conversations with their employees. This type of ongoing dialogue offers qualitative and quantitative benefits. Ethisphere’s 2020 ethical culture report series, a global survey of 500,000 employees, found that managers who frequently discuss compliance and ethics topics with their direct reports create an environment where those employees are:

  • Twice as likely to raise questions or concerns with their manager.
  • Ninety percent more likely to trust their manager’s commitment to non-retaliation.
  • Twenty-four percent more likely to believe they are personally responsible for ensuring the company does the right thing.

Conversely, there’s an unrecognized cost to maintaining the status quo. The survey found that employees whose managers never discuss compliance and ethics with them are two times less likely to believe the organization’s senior leaders always act ethically and 82% less likely to believe their organization will thoroughly investigate a concern if they bring one up.

Therefore, it is important to avoid reducing compliance to an annual check-the-box activity. Instead, empower managers with a framework to raise awareness, provide tools and resources for reinforcement, and continue dialogue with their direct reports all year.

Unlocking manager effectiveness

Managers can’t drive alignment with only policies, mandates and guidelines. In order to adhere to the organization’s values and deliver results in a compliant and efficient manner, managers need to learn how to be ethical leaders and have the tools to be trusted teachers. To unlock manager effectiveness, your compliance framework should include:


Put simply, managers should receive training designed for managers. Their roles are different from the C-suite they report to and the employees who report to them. Standard training initiatives won’t resonate the same way with all groups. For instance, sexual harassment prevention training for managers should include scenarios that educate them about different types of harassment and also include what to do as a supervisor when an employee files a complaint against a co-worker.


Training should drop managers into realistic, everyday scenarios that they might encounter. Those scenarios change — think of all the compliance challenges and risks that have intensified over the past year — so it’s important to ensure that your training reflects reality. Here is where adaptive technologies can provide higher impact by providing more relevant coaching and practice when managers find themselves struggling with making decisions that are aligned with the company values.


As the adage goes, you cannot manage what you don’t measure. This principle also applies to readiness. If you cannot see the outcomes of how your managers and employees navigate real-life situations, you are using an outdated training solution. Provide managers with insight about their team’s misconceptions and showing how their readiness benchmarks against the rest of the organization. This strategy is one of the most critical ways to empower managers to create actionable strategies that build a culture of compliance.


Managers can provide job aids and other resources to help their direct reports understand rules and best practices. For example, a manager whose team has responsibility for approving third-party invoices can give team members a checklist that walks them through how to spot red flags. Managers can’t just rely on a handout and an order to read the materials, however; they should use training resources to start a discussion that builds knowledge and trust.

An emphasis on dialogue

Supervisors may say they have an open-door policy, but it won’t matter if their team members are too afraid to approach them. Managers should emphasize the importance of communication and creating a two-way “speak up” culture. In this environment, direct reports will feel safe and empowered to bring up questions, concerns and ideas to their superiors.

Better measurement can also facilitate open dialogue. For example, presenting data and a call for action — ”This percentage of us chose to make that misaligned decision; why do you think that is?” — in a team meeting is a lot more impactful than stating the obvious (e.g., “diversity and inclusion are important”).

As organizations manage a pandemic and post-pandemic business world, they will need managers capable in leadership, empathy, inclusion and innovation. Ensuring that managers have a strong operating framework like the one outlined here will be key to achieving high productivity, protecting brand reputation and shaping the customer experience.

Article originally published by Training Industry Magazine on 3/24/2021. Access the original published article here.

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