ATD Blog

Empowering Extraordinary Managers

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

2020 is here, and by now company executives have seen statistics that show employees are leaving their bosses, not their companies. Continued turnover from high performers can be defeating, especially if an organization is investing in culture change initiatives. So, what can leadership do to mitigate cultural silos throughout their organizations? As talent development professionals, we know the solution: manager training.

Let’s say an organization’s executives commit to improving employee culture. Engagement surveys and exit interviews reveal widely varying reasons why employees feel negatively about the organization. Leadership wonders how they can improve the culture throughout the organization when employees are having such different experiences and varying levels of engagement. That contrast in employee experience is mainly driven by something called an inconsistent leadership brand.

Company culture is built on the way each person experiences the employee life cycle. One of the largest influencers of those experiences is a person’s manager. A manager’s philosophy on people practices can completely make or break a person’s perception of the company culture. However, even when a leadership team has good intentions for how they want to define their leadership brand, many companies have trouble implementing accountability and structure around it.

A starting point for creating a consistent leadership brand is to develop and use a common language. A common leadership language is like an external brand strategy. Most organizations have brand guidelines that tell employees how they can use the logo and give specific approved color palettes and fonts so that a company's image remains consistent in external interactions. Similarly, a leadership brand provides guidance on the way employees should be experiencing the company in interactions with their managers and other leaders. The leadership brand is based on a company’s leadership language or the behaviors that reflect the organization’s core values. Like a branding guide, a leadership language tells what leadership behaviors and values are expected so that internal interactions are consistent with a company's leadership brand.

When a leadership language is not firmly established, leaders behave according to their own belief system and experiences, opening a company up to inconsistencies within the leadership brand—and how the employees experience leadership. The best solution for these inconsistencies is to create a baseline for accountability for every manager by defining and communicating internal leadership brand expectations.


How? Start by reviewing current expectations for managers throughout the company. Often managers are fantastic at their technical jobs and receive promotions because of great results they achieved as an individual contributor. And when they move into a managerial role, they attempt to drive similar results by pushing their teams to mimic success in the way they know best. But they may not understand that different people have different styles, motivators, and backgrounds. They get frustrated because they’re acting as project managers, not people managers.

Many companies send new managers to “soft skills” training. As an introduction to interpersonal skill development, this training can be helpful, planting a seed in a manager’s mind to think, “Maybe there is a better way of leading my team to success.” However, managers frequently struggle to connect these abstract leadership ideas with their current teams or experiences.


Manager training should not only introduce interpersonal skill development to employees; it should explain how those interpersonal skills reflect the company’s leadership brand. Once this baseline of expectations is established, accountability is significantly more feasible.

When manager training includes internal leadership brand expectations taught by senior management, connections begin to form between new managers and more seasoned leaders. Learning effectiveness then becomes more successful when leaders throughout the organization can coach and story-tell about the cultural expectations on an informal basis, even after formal manager classes are completed.

How is your company connecting your managers with your executives? Are you communicating a consistent leadership brand?

To learn more, join me May 17--20 at the ATD 2020 International Conference & EXPO.

About the Author

Megan Galloway is the talent development manager for U.S. Engineering Company Holdings. She believes that all companies can unlock fulfillment and engagement for their people with the right tools and conversations.

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