BL&T No. 058: Building a Management Training Practice


This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively."

From "The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization" by Peter M. Senge [Book]


Last Monday, we welcomed an exciting new hire: NáLene joined the Barrel team as our Director of CRM. The CRM team is part of Creative Marketing Services, the group I lead as CXO. Creative Marketing Services encompasses CRM, Client Services, Design, and Growth Marketing.

For those of you unfamiliar, CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. Our CRM team leverages technology to help our clients nurture and strengthen their relationships with customers through memorable experiences (loyalty programs, email, SMS).

Despite being a fairly new team, CRM has already proven to be incredibly valuable to our clients. Our search for a director has been a lengthy and diligent one, but finding NáLene has been made it all worthwhile. We are grateful to have her and eager to see her lead the team in driving results for our clients.

Management Training

NáLene's first week marks another milestone: management training. About six months ago, we saw an opportunity to create a stronger practice around management. As part of my role as Partner and CXO, I've been leading the effort. Until we embarked on the initiative, management was fluid. Outside one-on-ones between a manager and their manager, there was little structure, training, or resources for existing or future managers.

When we first started discussing the idea for management training, I'll admit - it was overwhelming. In a good way. Overwhelming because there were so many ideas of what could make a stellar program. I had no idea where to begin. After a few attempts at developing resources like a format for managing one-on-one meetings, I decided to take a step back.

In a session with Peter, Barrel Co-Founder & CEO, we agreed that new tools and resources might be helpful down the line but without a clear management philosophy, managers may feel pressed to use them without understanding their value or purpose.

In my desire to make progress, I realized I was looking for overnight success, approaching management training as if it were a problem that needed to be fixed vs. a long-term vision. I thought that if I introduced thoughtful tools, our management team would somehow be in sync. In reality, I wasn't addressing the system at play, or lack thereof.

At the end of the day, we are less concerned about how a manager organizes their one-on-ones. We care more about their direct reports feeling confident in their own personal development and supported in their role. I left my session with Peter with a different mindset. I went back to the drawing board and started small, laying the groundwork for what would become our management principles.

We've come a long way since these early conversations. The management training program is still in its infancy but I can't tell you how good it felt to kick it off with NáLene and the team last week. In today's newsletter, we'll dig into what makes up our current iteration.

Session One

Management training is not a one-off course or presentation. It's a system of frameworks, rituals, and practices embedded into our culture. Like any learned skill, we believe management is not something you can master overnight. It's a constant work-in-progress that involves practice, feedback, and rethinking.

In its current form, management training begins with a 1-hour interactive session. In the session, me and the new manager:

  • Review Barrel's management philosophy (Barrel Management Principles) and framework (Manager Growth Framework)
  • Align on key topics like personal growth and feedback
  • Walkthrough monthly rituals where managers are participants and facilitators
  • Provide recommended reading for further exploration of our principles

I wasn't quite sure how this session would take shape until I got started. I found inspiration in reading Leadership and Self-deception: Getting Out of the Box by the Arbinger Institute with the Barrel partners last quarter.

The book documents a two-day workshop between a recent hire and a couple of members from the company's leadership team. The workshop, which is more like an hours-long conversation, is transformational for the recent hire. I wondered how we might be able to create even a fraction of the impact with management training.

With NáLene's session in the books, I'm even more enthusiastic for the future. While our session was guided by a slide presentation, I tried to make it feel more like a conversation. Rather than "presenting" concepts, we took time to discuss questions like:

  • What does management mean to you?
  • How have you grown as a leader in the last 5 years?
  • What opportunities do you see for future personal development?
  • When have you had trouble receiving feedback? How did you react?
  • What has been the single most helpful piece of feedback you've received? What about it landed for you?

These questions helped uncover insights and create alignment on topics that otherwise may have taken months (or longer!) to surface. I left my time with NáLene on a high, energized by our discussion and enthusiastic for our future collaboration.

Manager Growth Framework

The foundation for management training is our Manager Growth Framework. Our management philosophy is that management is a job, not a line-item tacked on to a job description. As a manager, it is our responsibility to help our direct reports push beyond their potential and together, achieve great outcomes.

In this way, management starts with the manager. We believe that their personal growth is critical to their ability to fully support their team and generate results. Personal growth means getting clear on development opportunities. This starts by having a vision. That's where the Manager Growth Framework comes in.

On the outer ring, vision is comprised of three core components: Internal Initiatives, Company Outcomes, and Management Principles. Internal Initiatives and Company Outcomes capture what we're aiming for as an agency at any given time. If a manager's job is to help their team achieve great outcomes, it's important that these outcomes are aligned with the company's trajectory.

Our Management Principles describe the qualities of an effective manager. In moments where we feel lost or off track, they guide us and remind us of how we can show up for our team. Here's a look at the principles:

While it is important for managers to have a vision and recognize where they're falling short, our work does not stop there. The goal is to help our managers close the gap between the Vision (outer ring) and their Personal Growth plan (at the center).

Earlier, I mentioned a system of rituals and practices. These are essential to creating a support system where managers are experiencing growth day in and day out.

On the left side of the cycle is feedback. Feedback is information that lets us know how others perceive our way of being in the world. A manager's willingness to solicit feedback about their performance is what helps them understand how they're progressing toward their vision. Our feedback ecosystem involves:

  • Self-Reflection: When we get caught in the action of the day, it can be easy to fall into old habits. Creating space to reflect on past events opens our eyes to new insights and lessons learned for the future. Self-reflection varies from manager to manager. Some journal, others prefer to reflect with their manager in one-on-one sessions.
  • Upward Feedback: An Upward Feedback session is an opportunity for a manager to get actionable feedback from their team about their performance. Upward Feedback takes place every six months and includes a self-reflection component, as well. The takeaways captured in Upward Feedback help prioritize a manager's personal growth plan.
  • Weekly 1-1s: Weekly 1-1s with managers and direct reports are not only an opportunity to connect on the week's happenings, they are a space to discuss growth and feedback. We've found that the best way to gain helpful insight is for managers to come prepared with specific areas where they're looking for guidance (often informed by their Upward Feedback takeaways).

On the right side of the cycle is learning. Feedback is nothing without a desire to be better every day and learn from those around us. To help foster a culture of learning, there are a few rituals we have in place for our managers:

  • Barrel Management Forum: The first-ever forum kicked off last week and will continue weekly! The space together is an opportunity for all managers to come together and discuss shared experiences in building and growing their team. I like to think of it as an opportunity to keep our job as managers top of mind weekly and make progress together. For the next several months, the forum will focus on Team Structure building and a deep dive into the Barrel Management Principles.
  • Bi-Weekly Leadership Dialogue: This meeting is a space to explore leadership topics and how they connect with day-to-day experiences. It is currently driven by the Admired Leadership coursework and helps give managers an outside perspective on leadership. In the future, we do see an opportunity for future managers to join these sessions from time to time.
  • Shared Resources: Every week, there are new articles, podcasts, and books that get shared over email and in Slack. These resources help us see topics from new perspectives and push beyond our existing beliefs.

In addition to the feedback and learning cycle, we are in the process of building out a Barrel Management Handbook. We want to ensure that a manager who joins us a year from now has exposure to all the value of the last 12 months. In that way, the handbook is an ever-evolving resource. It includes details like how to run an Upward Feedback session to relevant reading to writing on our management principles. In the future, we plan to make this public as a resource for others looking to grow their management practice.

Patience & Momentum

In my newsletter on May 17, 2021, I identified future lessons to be learned in my new role as CXO. One of them touched on management training:

"Frameworks and documentation will be critical to building out the components of management training. In doing so, they will need to be universal, scalable, and resonate with managers, regardless of their focus. I look forward to challenging my current beliefs, discovering new perspectives, and putting concepts to the test across multiple teams."

Looking back, it's hard to believe that none of this existed six months ago and by the end of this week, I'll have onboarded two new managers to the process. In May, I wrote that "an employee's relationship with their manager shapes their experience within a company." As good as it felt to notice the progress last week, I'm most encouraged by the value management training can bring the team. I look forward to revisiting this newsletter down line as we continue strengthening our management practice.

Lesson? When working toward a big, long-term vision, resist the desire for immediate results. Be patient. Remember that little comes from overnight fixes. Find satisfaction in the process of building and joy in the small wins along the way. Before you know it, they'll add up and you'll wonder how you got so far along.

Thought Starter

Where is my impatience for results getting in the way of my long-term vision?

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