Cultivate Managers as You Would Hothouse Flowers
By: Catherine Conlan
New managers are often asked to hit the ground running. Yet experts say skirting past proper training and onboarding of your new hire can lead to lower performance and poor outcomes.
“More often than not, first-time managers are promoted without a road map for success and are left to figure out how to make the transition from individual performer to coach on their own,” says Jess Loeske, director of management consulting at Talent Plus, a talent-assessment firm based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Doing so can make young managers wither on the vine.
To grow their management skills, new managers need careful attention and resources. The good news -- those efforts are likely to pay off for your company.
Here’s how to cultivate your managers -- both new and seasoned -- and help them bloom.
Cultivate High-Potentials Early On
It takes time to learn new skills and roles. Yet quite often top performers are thrust into manager roles without any foundation, says Addam Marcotte, vice president of operations and organization development at FMG Leading, a business management consultant firm headquartered in San Diego. This is often due to a lack of employee development training.
Work with your managers-to-be early on to help make their transition smoother and easier. An early cultivation process ensures you cover all the ground needed to adequately prepare them.
One of the most critical skills among new managers is the ability to hold people accountable and provide employee feedback, Marcotte says. “It’s often challenging for new managers to be provide direction to people who used to be their peers,” he says. “The promoting organization can help facilitate this transition through proper communication and empowerment.”
Work with your managers-to-be early on to help make their transition smoother and easier.
Marcotte recommends addressing some of the common traps new managers often fall into, such as:
- Overuse of new authority
- A reluctance to hold people accountable for fear of being disliked
- Not providing timely feedback to reports
- Believing they have to suddenly have all the answers
There are two ways to gain the skills required to be a successful new manager, Marcotte says. “The first is via direct mentorship with an established and respected leader inside the organization,” he says. “Many organizations are utilizing internal mentorship programs as a means of developing high-potential talent, which can be a very cost effective and rewarding process.”
The other option is formal management skills training. The best ones are tailored to the organization and center around its unique culture and values.These programs can be offered by external consulting groups, or created leveraging internal resources.
“Many organizations often prefer external consulting groups because they can be provide more immediate expertise and don’t sap the time of internal resources,” says Marcotte.
Emphasize Training for Soft Skills
Your aspiring managers are likely well-versed in what it takes to be a strong individual contributor in your organization. But truly effective managers need skills that go beyond that. And now is the time to build those skills.
“When a company invests time and money on leadership development for new leaders, they set the leader up for success early on in their career and can see greater returns on their investment throughout the length of their tenure with the company,” says Melanie Lundberg, assistant vice president of talent management and corporate communications at Combined Insurance in Glenview, Illinois.
Lundberg suggests that all first-time managers attend a leadership development program to ensure they develop the following:
- A mastery of soft skills that will help them communicate more effectively
- How to coach others and influence people
- How to prioritize work for themselves and their team
- Learn to think strategically
Self-assessment tools, role-playing, behavioral guidelines and mentoring from more experienced managers can help new managers learn these new skills, as long as they have plenty of room to make mistakes and get supportive feedback.
Give Them Stretch Assignments
Loading up a new manager with lots of new projects on day one is a good way to make them feel overwhelmed and unprepared, experts say. New managers need time to develop their muscles on new tasks and skills that “stretch” their abilities before they take on the role full time.
“It can be a big shift in the way one needs to think and act, from thinking only about one’s own performance to achieving results through others and thinking about one’s people first,” Lundberg says.
Instead, ramp up soon-to-be managers’ projects and responsibilities before they take their new position in an official capacity and let them know what’s working in their approach to new tasks.
One of the most critical skills will be the ability to execute while maintaining relationships, Marcotte says. Good stretch goals can help develop skills in leading team projects, task delegation, employee feedback and all-important communication skills.
“Give future leaders the opportunity to lead projects with their peers and provide mentoring and coaching to make it a success,” Lundberg says. “Give them room to fail and provide feedback so they can learn to do better.”