Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid has leadership training


I am deeply worried. It might seem a strange thing to get upset about, but I have been put forward for our ‘special’ effective leadership training. There are only two ways to get on the programme: one is to be assessed as high potential, the other is if you are such a bad manager that it is a sort of remedial treatment for poor behaviours. You will know by now that bad management is pretty much normalised in my company, so I think you would have to kill someone to qualify that way.

That cannot be why I have been selected. In fact, I am not even a manager, I am an individual contributor. While I do my best to guide my colleague Lazy Susan, she reports to Big Bad Boss. Are they planning to shift responsibility for her under me? Oh no. Lazy Susan is a law unto herself; her working day is just the boring bit between sleeping and her busy social life and I would be no more successful getting her to do any actual work than Big Bad Boss. What we should do is replace her with someone more suitable, but chances are we would not be allowed to replace her, and we would be no better off. At least now, if anyone notices how little Lazy Susan gets away with doing, Big Bad Boss would be at fault, not me. No, please leave things as they are.

So why am I upset about being put on the course? Surely, it is a credit to be recognised as a potential effective leader. In an ordinary organisation that is true, but not here. I do not know why, but there is a weird link between being sent on a ‘special’ leadership programme and getting made redundant. I cannot find the logic, but the correlation clearly exists. It may be that by having your name on one of the ‘special’ lists, the Higher Beings subliminally remember the name when they are drawing up the lists of people to let go. Worse, I happen to know a redundancy list is being formulated right now. We have had two quarters of bad financial results, and the only way the folks in finance can improve the numbers is to label some salary costs as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘below the line’ for reporting purposes.

Still, there is nothing I can do but go on the training as suggested. The last time I had management training, I was sent away to a nice hotel where we had business games and team-building exercises. At the time I hated it, but now I look back with nostalgia. At least we got a few days out of the office and some nice dinners. Now, I am just sent a link.

Three-part assessment

It starts with a 45-minute assessment in three parts. The first part is a personality test. It asks me obvious questions about extroversion and attention to detail, and I suspect it will result in a Myers and Briggs style assessment. I never know whether to try and make myself sound more sociable, or will this backfire and just make me look devious?

The second part has logic tests, such as what is the next number in the series? I can answer them, but the questions annoy me as they are not proper series at all, just silly patterns in numbers. Give me a nice Fibonacci series any day. Scarily, the questions go on to quite complicated maths. Working in reward, I am naturally comfortable with numbers, but I have not done complex fractions like these for years. Luckily, I can open Excel in another tab and solve the problems that way.  I wonder how any ‘high potentials’ from other departments would get on with these questions; it’s practically a Mensa test.

Finally, the assessment moves onto word associations. I have a good vocabulary, but a couple of the words do not have obvious correlations in the multiple-choice answers. This is exhausting, and I have not got onto the training proper yet.  I am now beginning to guess why this course is a high predictor for leaving the company. It could be the preliminary assessment identifies the participants as particularly dim sociopaths. What a pity we do not use it on the Higher Beings, our executive management team.

Training modules

The proper training modules are no better. I am guided to follow links to training on our performance management system and then complete a multiple-choice test on it. I hope I pass as I helped to design the system myself. I even have learn the elements of reward training that I personally recorded for the US. In order to move on to the next part of the training, I have to watch the video. It is cringing to hear my own voice, so I put it on mute while I check my emails. The only interesting bit is a new module, developed by the global wellbeing team, designed to help managers recognise signs of burnout and stress. As far as I can tell, all our employees exhibit such signs. What it does not say is what happens then. Sigh.

Finally, I am encouraged to use clear communication and active listening with my team. That, it says, means replaying back what someone said to show that I have heard. Is it me, or is this all a bit basic? Surely there is more to effective leadership? But the bar is set rather low around here.

Big Bad Boss calls me in to explain a detail on benefits costs. I consider practising by replaying his question, but it would sound clunky and unnatural. I can just imagine the withering look he would give me. Being an effective leader is not all it is cracked up to be, I can tell you.

Next time…Candid helps with inflation