Request a demo
Request a demo

What science says is the sweet spot for ongoing manager development

What science says is the sweet spot for ongoing manager development
Why return to office success hinges on managers with one key capability

There's new science behind how to develop your managers. Here's what's working.

The limitations of most L&D

Management is undergoing some uncomfortable shifts. What got results before 2020 is not yielding as much juice today. We know employee attitudes toward work have changed. Older employees are leaving the workforce in droves, while younger workers are craving development and mentorship. More millennials are stepping into leadership roles. It’s become more difficult to retain your top talent. Remote and hybrid work still has staying power. 

Has your manager development strategy evolved to meet these new realities?

The shift required of your people leaders is more than just upskilling or reskilling. While skills are essential, and the need for reskilling and upskilling with so much change in the workplace is obvious, the truth is that the skills required keep changing. In this new world of work, skills have a shorter half-life than ever. While the ability to learn new skills is crucial, having managers that can ask the right questions to use their tools and skills to get closer to the outcomes that matter is even more important. 

While training and workshops can help new managers learn the technical skills they need to succeed, social-emotional capabilities that drive impact are harder to develop in a one-time setting. Studies show we can lose up to 75% of new information if we don't apply it within six days. 

Traditional learning content is often designed to have broad appeal, but lacks depth to be specific enough for most real-world situations. The delivery of this type of learning tends to be on a schedule that makes sense to the organization versus in the flow of work (where it is more relevant, contextual, and easily absorbed). The opportunity to practice and cement learnings is heavily curtailed, and meaningful practice is elusive. 

Without feedback, how are your managers learning and applying? They need accountability and self-reflection because change and growth cannot happen without them. 

The cost of failure is high, too. Across industries, studies show manager effectiveness dramatically impacts team performance, affecting engagement, creativity, productivity, and retention. Strong managers boost team performance and retention, and poor managers hamper it. However, manager effectiveness accounts for 70% of the engagement variance — more than any other factor. This means poor managers are the single biggest driver of disengagement. 


New challenges are emerging and managers need a new kind of support to develop necessary skills

Meanwhile, most managers feel they are not set up to succeed, especially given the changing dynamics of work

New managers struggle to adapt to these new realities, and their IC success doesn't always translate to managerial thriving


The development “sweet spot”

So one-and-done and one-off won't work — but how much continuous and personalized development do managers need to be their most effective selves? Science says six months to start, but the ripple effect and impact reverberates around the one-year mark and only builds from there. 

We studied 42,000 BetterUp Members across industries and learned that nearly everyone (97%) can grow (and does) across the thriving and inspiring behaviors that drive performance. 

One fascinating finding is that learning and growth doesn’t level off. Managers continue to grow monthly, even for 12+ months, and their impact cascades outward over time. There is no downside to ongoing manager development if done properly. New challenges only mean new opportunities for growth—whether that’s a promotion, growing a team, adding new functions, or even layoffs. New situations create new opportunities to apply those thriving and inspiring behaviors.

Effectiveness grows as development scales

After studying thousands of managers on the BetterUp platform, we’ve found that between the 6- and 12-month development mark, they have learned and strengthened the emotional and social foundation they need to increase their leadership capabilities, but they only grow from there. As you can observe below, at this point in their developmental journey, managers learn how to “put on their oxygen mask first,” by prioritizing self-management topics in their coaching development.

At first, managers need to focus their development on themselves

Yet over time, we see a decrease in focus on well-being. Not because it's less important, but because around year 2, managers have the skills to be more strategic in their thinking

As development goes on, managers are able to shift gears and become more strategic than ever

At the 12 month mark, however, there is a pronounced shift away from self-management toward an embrace of strengthening capabilities like leadership skills and strategy. While this shift takes a little time to get going, ongoing development creates an exponential ROI impact (reduced direct report and manager turnover and increase in self-reported productivity). 

Moreover, we see more than 2x (~2.5x) ROI impact for longer continual development period (e.g. 12 months) compared to short development period (3-6 months).

The shift from “me” to “we” empowers teams

As people shift their focus from self-management to leadership and influence, they unlock more effectiveness which leads to a ripple effect across their teams.

The next frontier in manager development

Prioritizing ongoing, continuous learning allows your managers to be resourceful, confident learners who own their learning, identify when they need to learn new skills or behaviors, and who have the confidence to drop what isn't working and seek out new information. In a day and age when change happens daily and managers have much more on their plate, empowering them to seek out what they need, when they need it may end up making all the difference in whether or not your business thrives in this new chapter. 

Khoa D. Le Nguyen, Ph.D. is a behavioral scientist at BetterUp Labs, studying well-being and human potential in and outside work. He has published on a broad range of topics, including the geography of personality and language, meditation and biological aging, psychedelics and spiritual experiences, meaning and purpose, positive emotions, and human connections. He aspires to use behavioral science and data storytelling to help individuals and organizations thrive.
Adam Wood is a Principal Content Marketing Manager at BetterUp, where he writes about the future of work through the lens of behavioral science. Over 15+ years, Adam has worked as a content marketer, writer, and strategist for Fortune 500 companies and hyper-growth startups with a particular focus on healthcare and employee benefits. His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Vox, HR Dive, Worklife, Time, Bloomberg, Inc., and more.
Also in this issue
Explore issue

Mindsets on the move: what effective management looks like today

Authentic managers help their organizations achieve +50% net profit margins. How do they do it?

What science says is the sweet spot for ongoing manager development