Preparing Your Managers Before They Start Managing Your People

How soon after promotion does your company start formally developing managers? After a few weeks? A few months? Ideally you’d catch them on Day One, right?

Unfortunately, the reality is far from the ideal. I’ve known senior managers participating in their first formal management development several years after gaining the responsibility of managing people.

A recent article published in Fast Company, 3 Crucial Things I’ve Learning In My First 30 Days As A Manager, outlined a common reality for new managers, which is more about them finding things out for themselves than being adequately prepared to manage a team of people. As the author of the article writes:

“Here I am, writing the post that I want to read. And in my first month in a new management role, I’ve found these to be the three things I’ve had to sort out above all else.”

I love that the first thing she realises needs sorting out is: ‘What is this job, anyway?’ How many of your new managers find themselves in this position?

You’d hope you could rely on the resourcefulness of newly promoted managers to find their own way, wouldn’t you? They’ve displayed enough about themselves to warrant the position in the first place and must now step forward with purpose, curiosity and a determination to be the best manager they can be. But with this hope comes a real risk. There are generally more first line managers than any other line of management in any given company and these people are directly responsible for the engagement and productivity of the vast majority of the workforce. However, according to a recent UK survey, nearly half (42%) of people have left a job because of a bad boss and almost a third of them feel their current boss is a bad manager.

It seems to me that the majority of new managers are learning what the job is – and how to do it – from their own endeavours, finding out what works, what doesn’t work and (in the worst cases) what they can get away with. Habits (good and bad) are formed and previous experience is applied to new situations. And like the Peter Principle suggests, new managers use what’s worked for them in the past, until that fails and they find themselves promoted to a level of incompetence. But how much of this is down to being ill-prepared? If new managers are using what has worked for them in previous situations, isn’t that just being resourceful? How will they know any different if help is held outside of their grasp until they attend a programme?

Tens of billions of pounds are spent on management development programmes each year aimed at retrospectively instilling best practice and correcting bad habits following an often prolonged period of self-assimilation.

Hmmm…? Something seems broken. But fortunately, it’s the 21st century and technology, constant connectivity and refined habits of web-search mean that there is an alternative available today…

Influence the way new managers learn how to do their new job before they start and whilst they are learning about it

The most powerful learning will happen at the moment of need and there will be plenty of these moments for new managers starting out on this path. So, rather than research and provide courses, provide digital resources that inform, equip and inspire them to follow trodden paths and learn from those who have successfully navigated the journey themselves.

Here are just a few moments of need you could be addressing today:

Moment of need #1: My friends and family are asking me all about my new job and I don’t really know the answers to their questions

Capitalise on the excitement of stepping up into management by providing the answer to the question: “What is the role of a manager at this company?” Do this by having existing managers, those who are already experienced and successful in comparable roles, share their responses to the question to make it real in the context of the organisation. Share these with new managers before they start in the job. This way, you can influence the way they start thinking about the type of manager they could be.

Moment of need #2: I’m about to start this new job and I don’t know what will be expected of me

Day One can be daunting and overwhelming, so set up new managers to succeed by providing insights, tips and routines that you know work. Ask existing managers (you could choose the same ones as above) to share what they’d wish they’d known as they started managing people for the first time. Package their responses up as digital resources: videos, articles and blogs that can be accessed like the best of the web – but with your organisation’s context.

Moment of need #3: How do I create the right first impression with my new team?

It can be easy to oversimplify ways of being and activities that could lead to better first impressions but to provide example routines, of interactions and insights from managers who already have the experience can be hugely powerful. Think about how you could package up the shared experience of managers, each of whom will have their own management style.

And remember it’s not just about good first impressions, it’s about creating and embedding healthy habits and routines for managers to control the environment from which productive and happy employees can thrive. So how are your existing managers doing this?

Moment of need #4: There seems so much to do, how do I make time to do everything?

As one of the questions in the Fast Company article above suggests: how is it possible to do the work required and manage the team? This is not an easy question to answer but there are managers who get it right, so how do they think about the role and what do they actually do? If you can ask them and turn their responses into resources for the benefit of those new to the role then there is real benefit. Share models or frameworks that can be employed to help. Make this all as accessible as a refined Google search.

Moment of need #5: What do I not know that I need to know?

From engaging a disparate group of stakeholders; to profiling your team’s work; to developing your own organisational savvy, there are any number of things that new managers don’t know they don’t know. Find out from fairly new managers what questions they had and what they wish they’d known. Package the answers to these questions up as digital resources (articles, blogs and videos) with an actionable element to turn content consumption into positive action.

So, get where your new managers are and let technology do the heavy lifting for you – and them

Today, it’s so easy to package up the experience and know-how of successful managers in short videos, blogs and articles – and then digital resources – that can be shared with your new managers to capitalise on their excitement, readiness and openness to learn. Think of these resources acting like a digital mentor (who is expert and experienced at all facets of management) who responds on-demand to your new managers’ taps on the shoulder. It’s real-life experience to help in real-life situations.

By answering their questions and guiding new managers based on actual ‘experience’ you immediately align your (L&D’s) efforts to the business, to what some of the most important people in your business need in order to succeed in their new jobs. And you can create these online resources as quickly as you could write an email.

More and more, companies are leading with digital resources to plug performance gaps and support their people with the work they are doing, whilst keeping them in the workflow. This approach mirrors the best of web-search via Google and YouTube, coupled with mobile accessibility, helping workers to be as enhanced and equipped at work as they are outside of the corporate infrastructure.

It’s not only quick, it’s much cheaper to provide digital resource than creating courses – and can be much more effective. You could create all of these resources for new managers today and be supporting them immediately. You can also refine the content in the resources over time so that they increase in value with every piece of feedback.

What I’m not saying is that this approach replaces face-to-face, because if you’re not supporting and influencing managers before and as they take on their new role, then these resources are simply replacing ‘muddling through’ and ‘forming bad habits’. What I am saying is that you’ll have more success with your face-to-face management development efforts because you won’t be trying to reprogram managers, you’ll be building on much more solid foundations.

And you could be doing this for your new managers today. The technology is available, secure and advanced enough – and this methodology is tried, tested and working in organisations who are equipping their new managers before they start and guiding them in their new role based on what their most experienced managers know and do.

How much more successful could your new managers be if you did the same?

David James is Chief Learning Strategist with Looop and a seasoned Talent Management, Learning & OD leader with nearly 20 years of experience in the field. Until recently, David was Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region.

Looop help their clients all over the world to digitally transform their L&D and capitalise on how people really want to learn today with a platform that is renowned for its extraordinary levels of learner engagement.

See also:

Embedding Learning Into The Workflow

How ASOS Got Their People Wanting More Online Learning

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