Using technology to develop your people managers

I met Raluca and Bogdan when they pitched Nestor to myself and my manager. Before meeting them, I did not fully understand what they could do for us. By the end of the appointment, I was totally impressed. Not just by the tool, but also by the research behind their approach, and the mindset of the team.

Since Offbeat is also a way to connect L&Ds with technology, I couldn’t pass the chance to share their story. Enjoy!

Tell us a bit about you guys, what are you doing with Nestor, and what’s your background story?

We believe that happy people make a business thrive. Nestor started at Y Combinator in Silicon Valley in 2018. Its vision is to help people reach their full potential in the workplace while driving business growth.

Our mission is to bring coaching in the workplace in a more assisted way. Nestor helps leaders with actionable intelligence on different levels. Coaching their people for performance. Enhancing a leadership culture through coaching practices. Increasing Culture-ROI based on business and emotional intelligence prediction and analytics. Our holistic approach improves the employee experience, well-being, and personal growth while driving Culture-ROI and business growth at scale.

Based on years of research and experience in technology, people science, and people management processes, our team helps organizations adapt their development programs. We aim to support an ongoing method of clarifying expectations and reviewing the progress of their objectives in a constructive, future-oriented way. All whilst focusing on developing and applying employees’ strengths.

If I’m a company just starting to understand leadership development, what should I do first? What would be your starting point for small organizations, and big ones?

The modern workplace presents many challenges for employees and managers alike. Ever-changing job requirements, fast-moving technology, cross-functional teams, global expansion, or remote work. More than that, we are in the middle of a global pandemic that changed everything companies knew so far.

The new normal is still uncertain and so are the rules for any new development programs being designed and implemented. Regardless of the company size and the level of uncertainty, there are some good directions we’ve seen organizations take:

  • Involving the leadership team more in contributing to the business direction;
  • Promoting and maintaining the company culture alive;
  • Redefining the hiring process to include a culture-fit evaluation;
  • And being more involved in helping employees’ personal and professional development.

One of the most important things is getting it right from the start. The bigger the organization, the harder it is to make the change. Changing the culture when there are more than a couple of hundred employees it’s a hard or nearly impossible job. By that time it is already built and shifting people’s focus is a lengthy process. What you can do is adding small adjustments and constantly evaluating people based on their fit to the corporate values.

Is there a way to scale culture through a leadership development program?

Deeply connected with the company culture are the leaders of the organization. Leaders are those that help the CEO promote the culture and bring corporate values to life. Before designing leadership development programs, we recommend a value-based leadership assessment. We suggest starting with the leadership team itself and top-level managers within the organization. This way you have a clear picture of your leader’s context. The skills they have, the teams they lead, their work values, and how close they are in matching the company culture.

Employees want their manager to provide clear expectations and help them rank what they should do next. They need their manager to know what they are working on and to coach them toward excellence. Talented and dedicated employees will always want to also be held accountable for their performance. So, helping managers with coaching their people is important for any leadership development program. Setting leadership development goals, offering the support and the resources they need, and tracking the progress over time is critical. Connecting them with personal leadership development trainers also adds benefits to such programs.

You guys are working with a lot of data. Could you point us to 2-3 behaviors that make up good people management? Is it different for each company or have you seen some common patterns?

Indeed, we’ve been working with people across various industries. Measuring behavior differs from one company to another. This is usually coupled with the company’s industry vertical, the target market, the region people live in, or the type of operations their job requires. Although there can be variations in the management style, there are a few behaviors we’ve been noticing. Some of them are Communication, Coaching, Empathy, Trust, Results-Oriented.

What final impact do these behaviors have on the team and the business productivity?

Aligning role-specific expectations with the business’ strategic direction is critical to any organization. Managers and employees, together, commit to the company’s purpose, brand, and culture.

Aligning individual performance expectations with team goals ensures that they do not conflict and that any employee’s expectations support teamwork. Employees whose expectations align with their team goals, understand that they are expected to both give full effort to their personal responsibilities and at the same time collaborate at their best with their coworkers. More and more organizations have recognized the value of coaching as an effective People and Performance Management method. It offers employees at all levels the opportunity to grow, enhance their value, and reach their personal and professional goals.

Let’s assume people managers in your organization have different skill levels. How can you build a personalized program at scale?

People are different and so are their skills, reactions, and experiences. People are the most important resource a company has, and companies need to pay special attention to it. Leaders ensure the connection between business demand and people’s needs.

In our opinion, people are the best source of knowledge for others. When designing learning programs, one of the first things to consider is using your people to help others grow. This way, all parts involved achieve a greater level of satisfaction while contributing to an internal optimization of resources. Skilled people managers practice their skills and challenge themselves in working with various people through internal coaching or mentoring sessions. Learners are more familiar with colleagues within the organization and they can establish social relationships while developing their skills. Moreover, HR budgets are optimized when using internal resources to develop such programs.

How can L&D teams spot skill gaps before them having a negative impact on the team or the business?

In terms of practices, we’ve usually seen L&D team members having regular 1:1 sessions with leaders. These sessions usually target two main directions. Learning more about the leader, and learning more about the relationship the leader has with his team.

Regular feedback sessions are a great source of knowledge for L&D team members as well. This allows them to spot skill gaps or changes in the leader’s behavior early on. As a result, they can tackle them before they could potentially have a negative impact on other team members or on the leader’s business objectives.

Another practice we’ve seen frequently giving good results is organizing focus groups on various topics. L&D team members should get involved so that they can get a fresh sense of a leader’s behavior and skill set in a timely manner.

In terms of tooling, we recommend having a data collection system in place. It will bring you just in time information to evaluate people’s needs, behavioral changes, and address any risks before they become a problem.

Some L&Ds don’t rely on a People Analytics team to gather insights about people management practices and measure their leadership development efforts. Are there any other sources they could use or easily build to get insights & measure impact?

There are two main parts involved in gathering people’s insights. The internal process and the tools you use to ease up the work. When a People Analytics team is not in place, you can get insights from many other sources. 1:1 sessions, feedback loops, pulse surveys, career aspirations, or interactions with others.

Moreover, when a tool is not in place, leaders in the organization could help the L&D team get meaningful insights about people.

L&D teams still do a lot of manual work – building programs, working with data, communicating with their target audience. As in every other field, technology helps with scaling up, personalization, measurement and so much more. Could you help us dig deeper into the benefits of using technology in learning programs?

First, using technology helps L&D teams customize learning plans. In return, these plans will address more specific individual learning needs.

Second, technology adds great value in measuring the impact of the learning programs. Our technology at Nestor uses a variety of statistical techniques. Through data mining, predictive modeling, and machine learning L&D teams can get meaningful outputs. By analyzing current and historical facts you can make predictions on future trends, potential gaps, organizational opportunities, and risk management.

What answers should L&D prepare before selling a new tool to the final decision maker in their organization?

In our experience, the decision making process involves a combination of the benefits the tool brings. Time- and cost-saving, the value of insights gained, the easiness of use, and the right timing in addressing the need of the organization. This is usually what the assessment of a tool involves. Assessment which is in the end presented to the decision-maker.

What should they expect in terms of the integration of a new tool? What should they keep in mind in terms of tech integration and making sure the tool is getting traction?

The integration of a new tool is different for each company. It depends on various factors. The company size, the target audience, the inputs, and then the outputs of the tool. An immediate requirement concerning the adoption of the tool is the ease of use in solving the internal need. The bigger the company is, the more important is the integration with other internal applications. Other requirements might be automatic user management, and personalization of flows and obtained outputs.

Final thoughts

Technology is already a huge part of everyone’s work. Understanding what it can do for us, as L&Ds, is becoming critical. Nestor is a great example of using it to analyzing current and historical facts. Facts that can be afterward used to make predictions on future trends, potential gaps, organizational opportunities, and risk management. Raluca is one message away, so if you want to know more about what Nestor can do for you, give her a ping!

Lavinia Mehedintu has been designing learning experiences and career development programs for the past 9 years both in the corporate world and in higher education. As a Co-Founder and Learning Architect @Offbeat she’s applying adult learning principles so that learning & people professionals can connect, collaborate, and grow. She’s passionate about social learning, behavior change, and technology and constantly puts in the work to bring these three together to drive innovation in the learning & development space.

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