Prepping First-Time Managers

When you read a statistic from the Corporate Executive Board that nearly 60% of frontline managers underperform during their first two years (source), it makes you wonder what’s really being done in companies to prepare employees for their first crack at management. Apparently, not nearly enough.


It’s an all-too-common story: Companies take great workers and turn them into managers, but if they aren’t equipped for management, they will just become a part of that 60% mentioned above. According to a study by the ASTD forum, it’s striking how many organizations simply don’t have their fingers on the pulse of their own talent, with less than one-third (29%) of the 513 respondents having conducted a baseline talent assessment in the past three years, while 55% did not conduct organization-wide talent assessments at all (source). How can you know if an employee is ready for management if you’re not keeping up-to-date on assessing the talent in the company. In addition, 77% percent of respondents said frontline leadership development is important, but only 38% have any kind of formal process in place, and only 25% of those believe their process is effective – a clear gap between what companies say and what companies do.

The thing to realize here is that a little bit of coaching, mentoring, and/or self-directed learning is simply not enough to make an effective transition into management. Companies who really want to tackle this have to put a lot more into it. And it makes sense to put in that extra effort because achieving greater success in transitioning to management clears the pathway for further leadership development – which is something that should be happening all the time in your company.

Higher-up managers who have already made this internal transition in the company need to get involved in the process. They experienced the transition and survived, but probably remember plenty of people who didn’t make it. They therefore have a unique understanding of what could be helpful to people facing the transition, and also help them make it happen. That means getting them in on both the planning and execution of development programming.

This should also be envisioned as the beginning phases of a longer trajectory where all workers are actively prepared for management (not just star performers or high potentials) because it’s the starting end of your leadership pipeline leading eventually tot the highest levels of the company.

The statistics presented above, however, may not change any time soon. Even though the post-recession economy appears to be making strides in recovering, lots of firms are still leery about investing significant resources into training and development programming. This in turn means that for many workers, getting ready for management is something they must do on their own.

It begins with understanding the pitfalls that lead to the 60% underperformance statistic mentioned earlier. If you were a star worker, it probably had a lot to do with the fact that you figured out how to manage yourself in a way to get the job done right. But managing others to do the same is whole different ball game. It can be surprisingly frustrating to find yourself suddenly trying to manage others to do what you already know how to do faster and more efficiently.

New managers need to get over that frustration and see the value of coaching and leading others to learn how to do their job as well as you did it. It’s about building trust, credibility, and respect more than trying to make sure people like you or to just enjoy that bigger paycheck and recognition that comes with the promotion. In short, you’ve got to take a keen interest in helping others succeed, which helps the entire company succeed.

Perhaps the most important things to keep in mind are the following: Maintain integrity, learn to communicate openly, and share decision-making without feeling like you have to have all the answers. Keeping these general principals at the core of your being will make you a more successful manager, whether your company has done anything to prepare you for it or not.

May 27, 2015   Updated :May 28, 2015   preparing managers, talent management   

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