Growing Great New Managers
Erika Andersen, Founder/Partner
Being a new manager is tough. For most people, in most organizations, there’s not much of a learning or ramping-up period; you wake up one day, go to work, and your boss calls you into his or her office and says, “Starting next week, I’d like you to manage Joe and Susie.” And, presto-change-o: you’re a manager .
It’s really kind of crazy. Managing people is a complex and important enterprise. It’s unlikely that your boss would one day say to you, “Starting next week, you’re going to be managing our finances,” or “Starting next week, you’re going to be the company lawyer.” But managing people without any prior experience or training? No problem.
Of course, there are some companies that do a great job of preparing people for management and leadership roles, and—as you might expect—it really pays off. The Hay group does a “Best Companies for Leadership” study every year, and their data shows that “In Best Companies, 95% of senior leaders take time to actively develop others. Only 48% of leaders at peer companies do this”—and also that “Best Companies outperform the S&P 500 almost 2x over 10 years.”
And those results make complete sense: if you’ve ever been a new manager, you know how often you feel like you’re screwing up (and how often you probably are screwing up). I just read a good little article in the WSJ “lessons in leadership” series about the common mistakes of new managers. And they all arise from lack of knowledge and direction: misunderstanding what the job entails and how to go about doing it.
A few years ago I even wrote a “ChangeThis” manifesto for 800CEOREAD called Growing Great New Managers about how goofy it is that companies do the presto-change-o thing with new managers, and offering a kind of first-aid kits for new managers; a summary of my book Growing Great Employees. Both the book and the manifesto were my attempts to help people who get thrown bodily into people management.
And helping new managers to succeed isn’t a huge mystery. There are a handful of approaches (reinforced in the Hay group study, and others) that have proven successful over time:
Invest in good-quality management and leadership training, and provide it early on in people’s management careers. Yes, this does generally require some investment (either in outsourced programs, or in people in-house with the actual capability to create and deliver such programs), but if done well, such programs have a great ROI.
Hold senior mangers accountable for developing young managers. Let senior managers know that their own success is partly dependent on how well they develop those managers in their part of the organization; that ‘good managers below them’ is part of the results they’re on the hook for.
Start small. If you think someone has management or leadership potential, let them get their feet wet before you throw them into the pool; give them opportunities to manage interns, or let them manage team members on a cross-functional project, or let them co-manage an employee, working with a more experienced manager.
Create mentoring programs. These are especially useful when the mentor isn’t too many levels above the mentee—while being mentored by a senior vice president can be heady stuff and very inspiring for a first-time manager, it’s unlikely to yield practical insights for the day-to-day—it’s probably been many years since that SVP was just stating to manage, and the trials and tribulations of that first-time manager are a distant memory. Pairing first-time managers with somewhat more experienced, high-performing managers is generally more helpful.
These are not impossible things. Most any good HR function, backed by senior management, would be happy to make these things happen. So what’s the story? It seems so obvious—and so clearly backed up by the data—that companies would benefit by investing in manager development. Think about it this way: if somebody told the senior executives of a company that there was a technology that would improve productivity, lower turnover, and increase employee engagement and satisfaction—don’t you think the organization would invest in it?