SHRM Launches People Manager Qualification Program

Dana Wilkie By Dana Wilkie August 4, 2020
SHRM Launches People Manager Qualification Program

​Elle can tell you a thing or two about being a new manager.

She can tell you that it's not easy introducing new initiatives and tasks to her staff. How she pivoted when one of her ideas for the team bombed. About having tough conversations with a direct report who's also a childhood friend.

These aren't easy things to learn. And they don't come naturally to all managers. Often, they require training, and that's where Elle—a virtual character in the People Manager Qualification learning program created by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)—comes in.

On Aug. 12, SHRM will launch its People Manager Qualification, or PMQ, designed to help people develop the skills they need to successfully manage their teams.

"Nowhere is it more important for employers to be good citizens than in the workplace itself, and there is no greater lever than the relationship between 'People Managers' and their employees," wrote SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, in his introduction to a SHRM workplace culture survey report that inspired the PMQ. "As working Americans challenge organizations to manage and lead differently, those that don't will find themselves left behind. It is time for all organizations to become more people-centric."

Addressing Poor Management

That 2019 survey—the results of which were detailed in The High Cost of a Toxic Workplace Culture: How Culture Impacts the Workforce—and the Bottom Line—found that more than 3 in 4 surveyed said their manager sets workplace culture, and almost 60 percent of workers who left a job because of the workplace culture did so because of a manager. The U.S. cost of turnover due to workplace culture over the past five years: $223 billion.

The PMQ program is taken at one's own pace online, and it is a virtual experience unlike any that managers have experienced before.

"There is nothing like this in corporate learning and development," said Nick Schacht, SHRM-SCP, SHRM's chief global development officer. "Nobody has developed a series approach where character story lines intersect and weave and cross dozens of episodes. We are a species of storytellers. Before we could write anything down, we were learning through storytelling. It's still the most effective way to learn, because it allows us to picture ourselves in situations."

Upon logging into the program, participants are greeted by six characters who are either established managers, new managers or individual contributors. Through their interactions in a virtual coffee shop and their workplaces, they discuss the managerial challenges they encounter and advise one another.

The PMQ includes three seasons and 28 episodes. At the end of each season, the participant must complete a knowledge check before moving on to the next season. The seasons and episodes cover topics that include having difficult conversations with workers and setting realistic expectations for employees.

After completing the program's three seasons—which Schacht estimates should take from 12 to 20 hours—participants take a final assessment designed to ascertain what they've learned about managing people. Unlike the knowledge checks at the end of each season, the final assessment is behavioral and places the participant in the middle of the storylines they've been experiencing. But this time they, not the PMQ characters, need to make the decisions. And, according to Schacht, the choices facing the participants are not right or wrong but instead have "a best answer, a worst answer and a couple in  between." If they pass, the participants receive the PMQ.

Responding to Crises

There are about 16 million managers in the U.S., and they may need this training now more than at any time in workplace history, says Liz Supinski, SHRM-SCP, SHRM's director of data science and research projects.

"Even beyond the current crises—increased attention to racial injustice and COVID-19—the workplace has become more complex," she said. "We have five generations of people at work, all with different expectations of what work should be like. We have increasingly diverse workplaces. Business has complex international supply chains so that we're much more linked to the larger world. Technology has changed the way we do business. We're looking at workplace flexibility differently than we did even five years ago. We have a workplace that is more challenging than never to navigate."

She noted that many new managers, often early in their careers, are promoted from within their organizations because they are effective individual contributors, not necessarily because they have the skills and training to be effective people managers.

Supinski and SHRM Vice President of Research Trent Burner, SHRM-SCP, created the business case for the PMQ after conducting focus groups with HR professionals and U.S. workers. They discovered that one of HR's biggest challenges is dealing with managers' poor performance, especially in an area that Burner called "managerial courage." That, he said, means "the ability to have tough conversations with employees, a boss or peers."

"How do you feel comfortable in your new position," he asked, "now that you need to push back not only with your subordinates, but also with your peers and superiors?"

Another thing that new managers need to know but sometimes aren't trained on is what they can and can't do in their new positions.

"When someone asks for time off for medical reasons, how much information can you ask for before you violate privacy laws?" Supinski pointed out. "If someone refers to harassment and discrimination, now you have an obligation to report that to the appropriate person. You can't assign your buddy all the best shifts and give all the worst shifts to the guy you didn't get along with.

"A lot of organizations don't have formal programs for new managers, which leads to HR having to handle the fallout," she said.



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The PMQ teaches managers to lead effectively, giving HR more time to meet the demands of the workplace.

The PMQ teaches managers to lead effectively, giving HR more time to meet the demands of the workplace.

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