Developing your company’s in-house manager training is hard: training managers requires serious engagement from a group of employees who already have a lot on their plates. The reality is most companies struggle to roll out effective manager training series that lead to real change. But in a growing org, training your managers to be effective leaders and communicators is critical for your team’s successes. Below, we’ll break down the three things we’ve learned that take training from “I’m here because I have to be” to “Wow, I learned something!”

Here at Ethena, we take training seriously. Because we understand the power training has to affect change and set the tone for company culture. So when we rolled out our in-house training series for managers, our goal was to make it every bit as effective as the training courses we sell.

We collected feedback from our managers on the topics they were struggling with most. Our first three sessions were run by yours truly and focused primarily on coaching through conflict and performance management (setting expectations, accountability, and managing underperformance). And while we’ve still got one training left in the series, the feedback so far has been stellar. In fact, each training has consistently received a 100% favorability rating for the survey question, “Would you recommend this training to other managers?”

So, no matter where you are in your manager training program, from teams looking to upgrade their existing training to first-time teams looking to get started, we’ve got some universal takeaways (and downloadable templates!) that you need to bring to your next training session.

Here are some of the activities that helped make our manager training series so effective.

Roleplay — hear me out!

I’m not talking about on-the-spot improv (which I think we can all admit is a teensy bit . . . cringe).

I’m talking about you as the instructor acting out a script that you prepare beforehand.

Why use a script for roleplay? This approach forces you to replace vague advice with clear and specific examples of the behavior you’re coaching for (and against).

Think about it: managers are constantly bombarded with vague, pithy-sounding advice like, “be kind, but don’t sugarcoat” and “be direct, but keep it motivational.” But what does that actually mean? And how does anyone know if their definition of “direct” is the same as yours?

With scenario-based roleplay, managers don’t have to guess. They can listen to realistic examples of common missteps (and wins) and see for themselves what it looks like for a manager to sugarcoat when they shouldn’t or remain motivational while being direct.

Even better, once they see the examples in action, it’s easy to throw in a few empathy-building questions, such as: “Why do you think the manager approached the discussion this way?” and “What do you think is going through the direct report’s mind right now?”

Peer coaching

The number one thing I hear managers consistently ask for is more opportunities to talk to other managers. And it makes sense: When you go from acting as an individual contributor to functioning as a manager, your day-to-day work can feel isolating and full of uncertainty. Questions like “Am I a good manager?” and “Am I the only one experiencing these challenges with my team?” are common among managers — especially first-time managers.

Incorporating peer coaching into your manager trainings has several high-impact benefits:

  • It gives managers the sense of community they crave
  • It reassures managers that they’re not alone in experiencing these challenges
  • It empowers managers with the knowledge that they have valuable insight to offer

Bonus points: Get more peer coaching to happen across your company by incorporating it into your “How to work with me” user manuals. Just add these two questions:

  • What skill am I great at that I’d be happy to peer coach on? (Answers should be things having to do with ways of working, so topics like effective public speaking, writing agendas, projects management, effective delegation, etc.)
  • What’s one skill I’m looking for peer coaching on? (Same type of answers)

This way, you can easily see who is looking for, say, peer coaching on better delegation and then you can pair them with someone who’s great at that. Not sure what user manuals are? Check out our blog post and sample user manual to get started!

Click here to download our Manager Training Worksheet, complete with sample exercises for coaching through conflict, sharing critical feedback, and managing underperformance.

Live working sessions

Managers have a lot on their plate. And while that’s not an excuse for deprioritizing critical management responsibilities, the reality is that sometimes, managers get hyper focused on tactical items (i.e. project management and status checks) and forget to set aside time for more strategic things like: giving consistent and direct feedback, partnering with their teams on career growth, and managing performance issues.

(And if you’re curious about having higher-quality direct report meetings, check out my blog post on Making the Most of Your 1:1s.)

The beauty of building live working sessions into your trainings is that it creates the space for managers to execute on high impact tasks they otherwise might have put off. And by the end of the session, they have a ready script for their next 1:1 with their direct report.

Examples of high-impact live working sessions include: mapping out the script for a difficult discussion they’ve been putting off, evaluating whether or not their direct report’s performance meets the expectations of their role, and creating a vision for the team.

Click here to download our Manager Training Worksheet, complete with sample exercises for coaching through conflict, sharing critical feedback, and managing underperformance.

Of course, there’s a whole lot more that goes into making an effective training — in fact, we plan to write more on this over the next few months — but choosing the right activities is a critical first step in ensuring your managers retain the information you share and effectively apply it in their everyday management.

If you like the way we think about trainings, you’re in luck! Creating effective trainings is our entire business model. Click here to check out our product offerings.