Training managers to cope with change

If current circumstances have taught us one major lesson, it is this: the « VUCA1 » environment that has been described at length since the 1990s has become our 'new normal'.
Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity, all at the same time.

The machine of change has long since run amok with the advent of new technologies, but even more so in recent years with digitisation and most recently as a result of the pandemic.

Both drivers and victims of change, companies are faced with the burden of a paradox that weighs on the entire organisation and, as a knock-on effect, on the men and women who are the human capital of companies.

“Adapt or die” seems to have become the new mantra for many managers.
Caught up in the great “washing machine” of change are the front-line actors: the managers.

This is an opportunity to highlight the new demands placed on them, their training in response to the changes taking place, and the specific and appropriate solutions for the development of managerial training.

New demands on managers

At a time when vocational training was being reformed in France, the focus within companies was on employee employability and talent management and the corresponding training.
As a result, managers have seen one of their learning sources, i.e. training, decline.
Our discussions with HR directors have generally highlighted this phenomenon over the past two years.
However, current events are forcing many companies to (partly) reconsider this approach.
If employability is based on the acquisition of operational skills, the rapid pace of change leads to short-term thinking in this area which does not meet the necessity of anticipating the future of organisations in the longer term. Today's operational skills are likely to become obsolete very quickly and will no longer suffice.
Furthermore, companies are restructuring to better weather the storm, strategies are being revised to meet growth requirements and shareholder expectations, redundancy plans are being drawn up, essential recruitment commitments have been put on hold, etc...

A complex equation of change in which managers are once again brought to the fore.

As is often the case, caught between a rock and a hard place, they face several major challenges:

Planning and implementing a new work structure within their team (teleworking, in-person, meetings, information sharing, etc.);

Making the working process more flexible for themselves and their employees (taking leave, arranging short-time work, etc.);

Supporting their employees in their growth in a VUCA environment (training needs, requests for development, taking on responsibilities, etc.);

Encouraging and implementing change in organisations that are still predominantly pyramidal (reporting, feedback, individual and collective support during the phases of change, etc.);

(Continually) motivating employees who are morally affected by the crisis (support, individual meetings outside the work environment, exchanges within the team, etc.);

Performing their own duties and carrying out their missions in a performance-oriented manner (human, economic, commercial, financial).

A situation conducive to "it is necessary to..." and "the manager must...”.
According to some, who spread the word, managers "must" be "humble", "authentic", "kind", "empathetic", "positive", "in tune with their values", "take a step back" and of course (the icing on the cake), " pick up on anxiety" and " convey enthusiasm".
I don't know what the managers reading this will think of this list, but personally, I am stunned that one single manager can have so many intrinsic skills. Are we moving towards a “manager shrink”? It’s only a short step from that to believing it, and let's be pragmatic, it's not in a manager’s remit.

So I suggest, as recommended above, that you take a step back.
What is it that we can constructively perceive behind the events, the demands on managers and these heady messages?
Is it not essentially a matter of reviewing the training of managers in relation to the current change(s)?

Training managers to cope with change

To shed some light on the issue, I have decided to share with you some feedback from my work in management training (Please note! It is not my intention to generalise).
I have been providing tailor-made management training for many years to companies of different sizes and in different sectors. At the beginning of each course, I discuss with the client (often HR) and/or the managers how the training will be implemented and what the expectations are for the managers and the company afterwards. Usually, my contacts are able to express this quite clearly at the time and we agree on a schedule for x weeks/months.
However, I have noticed during training or afterwards that some of them (HR and managers) significantly change their expectations, which are sometimes unrelated to the initial expression of the need and therefore to the content of the training sessions. When this happens, they express surprise to me such as "I thought the training would allow managers to integrate this particular notion/role".

Where does this surprise come from?
Of the many assumptions I have made, the “at the time” mentioned above has particularly caught my attention.

There is a notion of time when delivering a training course, and in today's changing environment, months can feel like years!

As a result, between the time I identified the need, my time as a pedagogical engineer and my first activity, VUCA became part of the structure and the lines moved (sometimes considerably).
The “particular notion" or "particular role” expressed above was simply not part of the initial request, formulated a few months earlier by the client or the managers!
If the training can be reviewed during the course (I am also flexible) or in subsequent courses, the time frame is one of the limiting factors.
Furthermore, training represents a condensed package of information/notions (often numerous) delivered over a set and usually short period of time (often in 3-day blocks in the company).
Once completed, the system and its pressures return, and if they are not implemented quickly, the benefits of the training quickly melt away like summer snow (sadly).

Regardless of the training you received, what did you actually put into practice in your daily life? How soon after training? How many concepts have you really and truly integrated? Did the concepts conveyed really correspond to your needs at the time?
What do you think of this?

Given the constraints caused by the accelerating pace of change, managers experience the stress of daily (excess) demands and the need for adaptability, and training must evolve along these new (shifting) lines.

Potential solutions in the development of managerial training

1. Take a step back from your mental mode
The Neurocognitive and Behavioural Approach (NBA) provides some interesting reading in this area.
The work carried out over the last twenty years by Michael Posner and Jacques Fradin addresses the notion of automatic mental mode and adaptive mental mode in relation to stress.
The automatic mental mode characterises the automatic response we can express to a controlled and/or simple and/or known situation. For example, for experienced drivers, this may involve driving your car from a known point A to a known point B. Chances are you will do this automatically without even thinking about it. You are familiar with the situation and it is under control. A real routine that consumes very little mental energy!
The adaptive mental mode is expressed in the context of a complex and/or unknown and/or uncontrolled situation. This is the world of "VUCA"! This mental mode involves other cognitive processes that rely on curiosity, insight, flexibility, logic, etc. A mental mode that is well suited (so to speak) to the new expectations placed on managers.

It is not just a matter of developing automatisms but of taking a beneficial step back to better understand new situations.

« A beneficial step back? »
This work underlines the fact that functioning in automatic mental mode in a complex and/or unknown and/or uncontrolled context induces a phenomenon of stress and all the elements that accompany it (exacerbated emotions, negative thoughts and reinforced beliefs, stressful behaviour).

What would you say is your usual mental mode on a daily basis in the environment in which you operate?

What do you gain by using the automatic mental mode? What do you lose?

What do you need to happen in order to move into adaptive mental mode?

What are the benefits of moving into adaptive mental mode in your role as a manager?

2. Limit the risk of information overload
One piece of information at a time is a lot! The accumulation of information is clearly counterproductive.
This may seem paradoxical in an environment that is more conducive to information overload and versatility of mind and action, yet our short-term memory storage capacity (RAM in computer terms) is limited.
George A. Miller's work on the subject shows that our memory span (the number of items (usually numbers) that we can recall immediately after hearing them) is about 7 +/- 2 items.
There is no point in burdening yourself with concepts or information that you will not have time to process quickly enough to integrate.

It is therefore best to learn few things at a time, but the right things and in the right way.

3. Focus on the quality of learning
When I say quality of learning, I mean several things:

The quality of the information/concept to be learned: does this information/concept meet a real need? Is it likely to be of practical use to you quickly?

The quality of the person delivering the information/concept: did this person fully understand the essence of your need? How do they capture it? Are they able to contextualise their work? ;

The quality of your learning environment: are you in an environment that supports your learning?

The quality of the stimulation of your senses: multi-sensoriality (colours, visuals, supports, smells, sounds, etc.) plays an essential role in the acquisition of learning and how it is retained. Are the conditions met to address this? ;

The right pace: does the training session suit your own pace? Does the duration of the training course match your interest in the subject and/or its importance to you?

4. Aim for practical application and reflective analysis
If you are familiar with this quote from Confucius then you will easily understand what this means:
"I hear and I forget I see and I remember. I do and I understand."

If listening, visualisation and reading constitute the core of the learning process, putting them into practice is the key.
Have you ever tried to remember a concept that you did not put into practice?
If, for example, you learn to use a new piece of software and you don't apply the instructions quickly, chances are you will have forgotten them within a few days.
However, in a managerial position, the power of your actions and your ability to adapt to change will essentially depend on a complementary learning process: your capacity for reflective analysis.
The idea is to establish a positive cycle of questioning, feedback (what did I achieve? what happened?) and “feedforward” (how can I improve, how should I do it next time? etc.) to determine the real scope and impact of your practice/action.
Unfortunately, reflective analysis is still the forgotten part of learning processes in general. How can you question yourself if you don't ask questions?
It offers a step back and a solution oriented approach that encourages you to take three steps forward - the right ones.

An information/concept that is put into practice and analysed in reflective mode becomes an anchored and, more importantly, frequently revisited asset!

As you can see, knowledge and expertise are fundamental elements in the exercise of your role as a manager, the content, but interpersonal skills are crucial to the adaptability and flexibility required by organisations in a VUCA environment, the container.

Your actions to promote this learning will give you a solid foundation to cope with the change(s) taking place and to enable you to integrate other knowledge in a timely, sensible and stress-free manner.

With Ask'n Get by ARANSI, we have incorporated all of these elements to help managers resolve their problems and/or their daily learning needs, in line with their expectations, those of their company and their employees, while respecting their pace and the requirements of change.

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1 The acronym VUCA was introduced by the US Army War College in the 1990s, to describe the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A world that had become multilateral, more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

- U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center (February 16, 2018). "Who first originated the term VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity)?"
- Fradin, al.(2008), L’Intelligence du Stress.Paris, Ed. Eyrolles.
- Conférence de Pierre Moorkens sur l’ANC « Comment manager avec sérénité dans un environnement complexe ? » (2018)