How do you invest in your next generation of line managers?

Steven Hargreaves

Steven Hargreaves, Head of Learning and Development and Freedom to Speak Up Guardian for St John Ambulance, shares his top insights into creating and implementing a developing future managers (DFM) programme. Steven is presenting at the CIPD Developing Line Managers Conference which takes place on 8-9 May 2019 in London. Book your ticket today.



How do you invest in your next generation of line managers?

A question St John Ambulance asked of itself after the realisation that some of its most ambitious and talented rising stars were finding it to tough to make that first step to first line management.


1. Know what the problem is that you are trying to solve

It is imperative to know what your business reason is and to check out your assumptions and opinions against good reliable data. Is your retention of aspiring managers poor? How do you know? Have you identified a deficit in leadership? How is that evident? Does the wider organisation agree with you?


For us the case had been made via feedback received from our internal PULSE survey, employee forums, exit interviews and performance development review conversations.  It was clear that we needed to improve how we develop our own people and help them progress into management roles. Our people were telling us that we needed to do better. Our first programme had over 150 people apply – further confirmation that the need and appetite was there.


2. Know what success will look like

How will you measure the impact of your programme?  What is it designed to achieve?

For us, we were clear that on completion of the DFM programme, we would have a group of people ready to apply for their first line manager role, having developed their skills and had opportunities to demonstrate their learning and competence. We envisaged other benefits of St John Ambulance being seen as an employer of choice, nurturing and growing our internal talent, retention of aspiring managers and having leaders fit and able to lead us into the future.  

As we come to the end of programme cohort 1 and begin programme cohort 2 we will be measuring how many candidates apply and are successful in making the move to first line management roles.  


3. Build a core team who are passionate about nurturing and developing talent

Having a small team of motivated, knowledgeable, people with a range of experience and expertise from across the organisation is essential. A whole organisation response requires a whole organisational team with the ability to make decisions and co-create the programme. Have people involved who have ‘caught the vision’ and have the will and capacity to do the work that is required to make it happen!

We have loved being part of developing the DFM programme. It’s been challenging and a huge amount of fun. We have all gained huge satisfaction and personal development from co-creating and implementing a programme that has taken root within the organisation so successfully and provided the conditions for our aspiring leaders to grow and flourish.


4. Ensure it is a whole organisation response with full executive and board buy in

Obvious, I suppose, but an imperative nonetheless.  Ensuring that key stakeholders and influencers within the organisation are fully supportive and providing full sponsorship is vital. Just because you may be living and breathing this area of work it doesn’t mean everyone else is and they may need your help to fully and actively engage. The positive and willing involvement of Line Managers is also crucial. How do they feel about their direct reports participating within such a programme? What support do they need to provide? Do they feel able and willing to do that? Will they be a hindrance or an enabler to their direct reports development journey?


5. Ensure the whole programme is a rich and hugely valuable learning experience in its own right

The whole experience of applying, participating in the assessment centre, receiving feedback and pulling together a personal development plan needs to be a hugely beneficial learning experience. Ensuring all participants feel valued and invested in is important. They will be future ambassadors for the programme, or not, depending on what their experience has been.


For us we wanted to ensure that whether a candidate was successful or not that the experience was positive, developmental, challenging and fun.  


6. Manage everyone’s expectations (including your own!)

Your programme cannot be a panacea for all the challenges in the organisation but it can be part of a wider set of interventions and approaches to the organisation’s development. Clarity of expectation of what the programme can achieve, what candidates can expect before, during and after the programme and what the co-creation team themselves can realistically achieve is hugely important


7. Reflect and review regularly and make the changes that are needed – continual improvement is everything!


We also have to consider the implications of new organisational thinking around leadership and to ensure that the DFM programme reflects this as our emphasis shifts to leadership and away from management as a distinct role and activity.

Whilst all the team have a great deal of personal ownership over and investment in the programme we know that we must be willing for it to change and improve in line with feedback, outcomes achieved (or not) and the wider needs of the organisation – it’s not about us.


Steven is presenting in the session titled “Investing in the next generation of line managers” at the CIPD Developing Line Managers Conference which takes place on 8-9 May 2019 in London. Book your ticket today.