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What do line managers really want?

What do line managers really want?

There’s a cracking group of line managers who have generously share their insights with me. They’ve been telling me what they want, what they really really want when it comes to guidance in supporting parents. As someone who spends a lot of time saying line managers have the potential to make or break the experience of parents in the workplace, I’m hell bent on including them in the conversation rather than ‘telling’ them what to do. 

Amongst the rich tapestry of experiences and opinions that came out, the reflections fell into 2 buckets. I’m going to share the insights with you – swiftly followed by some suggestions to get some strong foundations in place.

1. Empowerment

82% of the line managers I spoke with said they felt they had to seek permission for anything relating to decisions about supporting parents on their team. 

Examples came from temporary working pattern changes, to requests to fund coaching or other external support, to needing time away from the workplace to care for a child with complex medical needs. 

The line managers all had a range of experience, so you could argue that those who are relatively new may want / need the additional support – but in many of the examples shared with me, it was very much falling into the camp of too many cooks. They are all line managers who are budget holders and decision makers in many other ways. Lots of the anecdotes shared with me all ended with ‘that’s something I could make the call on, but I’m having to go through multiple levels of sign off.’

If I was a betting woman, I’d hazard a guess that some of this ‘escalation’ process is down to organisations wanting to be as fair and equal as possible. The rationale being that someone with a helicopter view can make decisions with a broader view. However, what that doesn’t always allow for is nuance and equitable practices. Empowering line managers closest to your valued team members could be a great way forward for engagement, genuine support and stopping the backwards and forwards of decision making. 

2. Conversation support

This came as absolutely no surprise. ‘I can read a policy’ was a resounding observation, and 74% of the line managers said they had little to no support on how to handle conversations – only policy upskilling. 

And the thing is: they’re two very different things.

It’s a significant insight that resonates with my last (almost) 6 years of running Power of the Parent® – the real pain points are having the confidence and trust to have conversations, and that even the sharpest, most empathetic and compassionate line managers could do with some help on broaching some of these conversations with parents and carers in their team. 

It also exacerbates the problem of an over-reliance on policies – there are many organisations out there who have market leading, award winning, big gold badge awards policies at their disposal. However, they’re not worth the paper / web page they’re written on if they’re implemented well or fail to meet people in their reality. 

A very, very clever pal of mine describes nuance as something that we all need, but can be hard to give. But it’s generally where I end up with clients – that the art of giving that space for curiosity and tailored support is an absolute must. Of course we need policies, they bring a strong foundation to work from, but think about everything from how you’re presenting them to the wording you use, to the examples you could include in them to bring them to life. THAT is what your line managers really want to hear.

So what could you do?

There’s so much pressure on line managers to get things ‘right’ and not say the wrong thing, to know the ins and outs of policies straight away and to prioritise the headspace required to think through everything from returner support to how you can help parents feeling the childcare pinch over school holidays. And about 278 things we haven’t mentioned.

My advice (if you’re looking for some) when it comes to putting a metaphorical arm around your valued line managers is this:

1. Create a community – think parent support network but for line managers. Let them have a space to share their stories, get peer support and hear what’s working well. It’s inspirational and low maintenance. 

2. Have a hub – if I had a pound for every time a client has said to me ‘we have lots of great stuff but nobody knows how to access it’ I’d have approximately £79. If you can craft a space that houses everything they need, do it!! The best ones are those that don’t focus solely on policy, but also bring in conversation support and promote the importance of storytelling.

3. Set up a feedback loop – Whatever you’re asking line managers to do, whichever policy you’re landing or whenever you’re rolling out a new workshop – make sure they can tell you how it’s gone. Get their ideas, their experiences and hear their reality. 

I’ve got a few hundred more ideas, but nobody likes to feel overwhelmed! So I’ll leave it there with some food for thought, but please feel free to book a call with me if you want to look at some specifics for your organisation – you can book in here.

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