Preparing good employees to transition into good managers

When staffers rise up through the ranks, it can be difficult to adjust to a new set of challenges and circumstances. But as Erica Iacono discovers, many firms are offering training to help pros learn how

When staffers rise up through the ranks, it can be difficult to adjust to a new set of challenges and circumstances. But as Erica Iacono discovers, many firms are offering training to help pros learn how

No one can dispute the value of good leadership and management in business. But defining what makes a good leader is sometimes tricky.

Adequately preparing staffers for leadership roles is something that is necessary for the future of any company - and PR firms are no different.

Peppercom has offered its Peppercom State University to employees in its three offices for the past five years. Jackie Kolek, partner and senior director at Peppercom, notes that the goal is to create both good managers and good businesspeople.

"People go up through the ranks at public relations firms because they're good PR people. Suddenly, they're thrust into a management position where they're responsible for managing other people for the first time, and they just don't have a clue," she says. "We really wanted to take that burden off people and better prepare them for meeting those new challenges."

One of the ways the firm addresses those challenges is through its supervisory skills training program, which trains both new managers and those on the cusp of a management position. The program, which involves two or three classes per month, is designed to help employees develop a management style.

"One of the hardest things about being a new manager is how you make the transition from being one of 'us' to one of 'them,'" Kolek says. "You've now become part of management, and you have to handle yourself differently."

Peppercom is not the only agency to offer a university-type training program for its employees. Edelman has its own Edelman University, which includes a multilayered approach to skills and management training.

It includes a summer school management-training program for 60 "rising stars" in the agency, global skills training for employees on the VP level or higher, and a craft and skills session deployed in the agency's local offices. The agency is also in the process of implementing a management "boot camp," a one-day intensive session designed to ease transitions to the initial management level.

Jennifer Reberger, SVP, western region and corporate HR for Edelman, notes that such training is necessary, no matter how well an employee performed in other positions.

"You can't assume that if someone is a good client-service person or great at new business that they'll have the first clue about how to manage and lead," she says. "We must teach them that like we teach people anything else."

Burson-Marsteller University, in existence since 1995, is a global corporate training center for agency staff. The "B-M Way" series includes two distinct courses: Leading Growth, which includes information on developing new business, and Leading Value, which instructs employees on how to establish and maintain true partnership, and develop value to clients.

"Leading Value is very much focusing on the performance of the person and growing them to become part of the leadership of a client team," says Aafke Huininga, an MD in Burson's Brussels office and dean of Burson-Marsteller University.

Burson also offers a program on executive leadership development through its parent company, WPP, Huininga says. Targeted to MDs, it is designed to help employees develop and hone executive leadership skills.

The university-type atmosphere also extends to Kellen Communications, which has held an annual leadership conference for employees since 2001. It includes several mandatory sessions and then elective sessions, which address skills, management, and personal development issues. Some of the topics this year included work/life balance, organization for effectiveness, and assertiveness training.

Peter Rush, Kellen president, notes that the conference provides many benefits. "It provides a clear vision to the employees of where the company is and where we're going," he says. "It also helps us elevate the level of what we provide for our clients, based upon the level of sharing."

Although Porter Novelli has offered leadership training as part of its annual partners get-together for several years, this year the agency began a mandatory program that begins at the account management level.

Greg Waldron, partner and chief talent officer at PN, notes that the program gives staff the training to make the transition into management a smooth one. Such training can alleviate concerns about work/life balance, he adds.

"People who operate in management and leadership levels, without having mastered the core management skills ... won't be able to work at the right level," he says. "We are calling these skills literally survival skills for managers and leaders in this business. [Without them], you won't have any work life balance, and you'll burn out."

Benefits of management training

  • Prepares junior-level staffers for growth within the agency
  • Gives senior managers additional guidance
  • Improves client service

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