Creative tactics for engaging managers in graduate development

Dec 10, 2018 | Development

Our Annual Student Development Survey reported that engaging managers is one of the biggest challenges facing development professionals. Anne Hamill, Founder of Talent & Potential offers some advice.

The challenge – recap

  • In rotational schemes (83% of all schemes), one graduate can have four managers over time – Thus a 100-person, two-year placement scheme involves 200 graduates and 800 managers!
  • There is often no budget for working with the managers – even though they deliver 200 days of the graduates’ on-the-job development each year
  • 74% of managers are assigned by business units; this can introduce a disconnect with the HR team
  • Although 80% of organisations train managers, the ISE Development Survey suggests survey suggests one in five managers don’t attend.

What are common ways of engaging managers?

The ISE Development Survey reports that:

  • 47% produce a manager guidebook
  • 31% are using regular group forums, update calls, feedback sessions 
  • 64% are moving from classroom training or eLearning to on-the-job briefings of managers – to connect directly with managers at their workplace
  • 18% are working on selection of managers – to get good, committed people.

Creative solutions


Do you have a budget specifically for supporting and developing graduates during the 200 working days? Think creatively – can this be funded from the management development budget or the apprentice levy?

Draw managers in:

  • Make every communication bite-sized.
  • Outreach – send teaser emails – a few lines that intrigue the manager into clicking. These might ask a question: ‘What is the biggest challenge graduates have?’ or ‘How would you deal with…’ and link to short answers.
  • Just-in-time information – e.g. ‘three things to do now before your new graduate arrives’.
  • Increase ‘What’s in it for me?’. Make being a manager of graduates desirable because it brings extra personal development, opportunities and visibility – aimed at helping THEIR career, not just the graduates. Can you offer psychometrics, access to senior people, visibility? Make links to their career: e.g. ‘Managing a graduate can raise your visibility – five actions to take’.

Make development important: 

  • Create a template for what a placement must offer, and ask managers to bid for a graduate, or prepare pitches which graduates choose from.
  • Create a gold standard for key aspects of graduate support – e.g. a weekly one-hour review meeting, response time for emails, the development days they’ll be released for. Share the gold standard with business unit leaders; ask line managers to sign it or email acceptance for more commitment.
  • Make line managers accountable: get graduates to supply end of placement factual data based on the gold standard (NOT rate their manager), and share this with business unit leaders.
  • Help managers see where they stand as a graduate manager. In teaser emails, report ‘72% of managers have completed…’ to encourage those who haven’t. Consider leader boards: show graduate/manager pairs in order of graduate development items completed.
  • Celebrate success – make your top performing graduate managers visible to senior managers and offer rewards. Can those who deliver Gold Standard engagement be recognised? Can it help their career?
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