In the depths of the Great Depression, Charles P. McCormick unexpectedly had to take over the Sparks spice company that bears his family name when his uncle, the company’s founder and head, died.
McCormick, known as C.P., took what at the time was an unusual step to keep the company afloat: He created an on-the-job management training program for himself and the company’s other managers.
“He said, ‘I want everyone’s input on how the company should be run,’” said Jim Lynn, director of corporate communications for McCormick & Co.
The management training set up by Charles McCormick remains an integral part of the $4 billion global food company’s culture, Lynn said.
In a still-tough economy, many companies cut back on management training programs to save money, but business executives and experts say that companies that invest in management training are rewarded by having managers who are able to supervise workers better and get the most out of the company’s resources.
“There is still a belief there’s a return on investment in funding training for the right individuals and also companies need to do it to retain their top talent,” said Greg Hanifee, assistant dean at the Office of Executive Programs at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park.
At McCormick, teams of managers from different departments work together to review problems and come up with solutions. Not only does that help solve problems, it provides an intensive management training program for managers, Lynn said.
McCormick’s program became known as multiple management boards and in the past 80 years thousands of managers have gone through the training, he said.
The company benefits in many ways. Senior leaders get new ideas while younger managers are prepared for the next step, said Lynn, who is among those who took the training program.
Despite the sluggish economy, many businesses continue to send employees to management training, either in specialized programs or for graduate degrees, Hanifee said.
“In the past three years it has not tailed off and we’re starting to see more activity and interest,” Hanifee said. One sign is that the business school’s program for executives to receive master’s degrees in business administration has seen classes grow from about 35 to 45 students, he said.
Management training is important because, broadly speaking, people may be promoted into supervisory jobs because of their technical skills and expertise, but then find the next level up requires different talents to manage people, Hanifee said.
“What’s often missing is the understanding how to motivate others without being authoritarian,” Hanifee said, “and the understanding that different employees need different styles of employee supervision.”
Some companies, such as engineering firms, high-tech companies and biotechs, have high value systems around individual contribution at the entry level, but when people become senior leaders, management training is “absolutely necessary,” Hanifee said.
Companies are more productive than ever with fewer employees, which makes having good managers even more important, he said.
The short-term savings of cutting management training might cost employers more in the long run, said Kathryn Bartol, the Robert H. Smith Professor of Leadership and Innovation and the co-director of the Center for Leadership, Innovation and Change at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“It’s really difficult when people are thrown into a situation where they have not prepared,” Bartel said. “It’s not good for the individual, it’s not good for the team and it’s not good for the company as a whole. But when the economy is difficult and companies are having to worry about meeting their payrolls and making their budgets, it’s one of the things they have to [cut].”
Lockheed Martin of Bethesda has continued to spend significant time and resources in providing management training at all levels, said Robin LaChapelle, the Bethesda federal contractor’s vice president of talent and organizational capability, who oversees its training programs.
The company has more than 80 courses to help employees at various levels learn to manage, not just their own work loads, but other people, she said.
“We’ve not scaled back on our [continued] learning investments because we do see return on investment,” LaChapelle said.
Generally, Lockheed looks internally to fill management positions, so it continues to “grow” its people, she said. Hiring internally for management positions has numerous benefits, from people who already fit into the corporate culture to retaining workers, and it also is often less expensive than recruiting from outside.
“The question we continually ask ourselves is, can we deliver [training] more effectively?” LaChapelle said.
Much of the management training involves “blended” programs, including a program with University of Maryland business school and internal programs, she said.
Globally, the company spends more than $25 million annually on leadership training programs.
“It’s a significant investment,” LaChapelle said. “It’s a real statement of what we value in the company.”
Much of the emphasis is on the first-level of supervisors, she said. The $47 billion military, aerospace and information technology company has found that two weeks of training in leadership and management fundamentals can improve the performance of subordinates, she said.
Having properly trained managers can make workers not only more productive, but more willing to stay with the company, LaChapelle said.
Human resource professionals often say, “People leave managers — they don’t leave companies,” she said.
Lockheed also has a program for employees who want to become supervisors and has a “day in the life simulation” of managers, so that those considering that path can determine if they really want to follow it, she said.
Such training not only helps people move up in a company, it motivates other workers because they see a possibility for advancement, Walters said.
“People are motivated much more if they feel like they are being developed than when that’s not the case,” Walters said.