First-Time Managers

Set your employees up for success.

managerWhile there are many books, articles and seminars on what it takes to be a strong manager, studies show that most people in managerial positions had little or no management experience or training before taking on their current roles. In addition, studies show that 50 percent to 55 percent of employees who moved up to supervisory, managerial or executive positions came from other roles inside the same firm.

For these first-time managers, supervising others is a new responsibility—and a major challenge. Your company’s productivity and ability to retain committed employees depend largely upon the skills of its managers. And when you put people without experience in leadership roles for the first time, they may feel overwhelmed.

Many companies prefer to promote first-time managers from within. It is generally believed that the prospect of promotion offers employees a reason to stay motivated, in addition to presenting a defined career path. Internal promotions are often key elements in a company’s retention strategy and succession plan.

But promotions sometimes backfire and can just as easily derail careers as enhance them. Ironically, the very same skills that make someone appear to be an attractive candidate for advancement become less important once they are promoted and must then manage others.

When you are an individual contributor, you may think that if you work hard and follow company guidelines, one day you will find yourself promoted to management. Although such a promotion is often viewed as a destination, it is actually a point of divergence, a fork in the road less clearly marked than the old familiar path. Moving from a cubicle to an office requires answering the inevitable question: What now? The presumption is that because a person could do the former job capably, he or she can also excel at management. But the old job probably came with a clear job description and the new job may not.

Promotions sometimes backfire because the skills that make someone an attractive candidate for advancement become less important once they must manage others.

First-time managers often have misperceptions of what it means to be a manager. Ask some new managers what their roles involve and they may start off by describing management’s rights and privileges rather than its duties. Or they might simply say that being a manager means being “the boss.” They may struggle to reconcile their initial expectations with a manager’s real responsibilities.

First-time managers have to make sense of the complex, demanding and often conflicting expectations of many constituencies—subordinates, superiors and peers. The biggest change in both mindset and behavior is moving from doing the work oneself to achieving results through the work of others. This learning process can be emotionally unsettling as managers have to act as managers before they understand what that role really entails. Without careful preparation and planning for success, a promotion can be a recipe for failure, for both the individual and the organization.

As an employer who wants to promote from within, what can you do to make sure you are setting people up for success rather than failure?

Pick Competent People
Be sure to select people who have what it takes to do the job. Are they able to assert themselves? Rebound from difficulty? Think on their feet? Research has shown that the personality dynamics of successful managers differ from those of successful individual contributors and, for that matter, from those of successful leaders as well. Understanding these differences can be critical in planning a career path for individuals within your organization.

Another indicator of success is past performance. However, it is important to look not just at traditional measures of an individual’s skills and abilities, but also to see things from the expanded viewpoint of team orientation and leadership qualities.

In the past, have they helped, coached or mentored other people? Spent time with co-workers who were having difficulty to help them improve? In short, have they contributed to the success of others? If the answer is no, beware of promoting someone who is unlikely to meet your expectations in a managerial role.

Clearly Communicate Your Expectations
Will they be required to start up a new unit? Maintain and grow an already high-performing operation? Turn around a failing group? You need to have clearly defined criteria for success, in terms of both the right behaviors and the right results. Also, be sure to provide a definite “breakaway point” from the previous position, so the person can hit the ground running in his or her new role.

First-Time
Manager Solutions
  • Choose Competent People
  • Communicate Expectations
  • Orient and Train
  • Reward Performance

Provide Career Development
Before raising even outstanding individual contributors to management level, be certain to offer management orientation, training and career development programs to help them move more smoothly into their new positions. Training can also reinforce their buy-in to your company’s goals, as well as enabling new managers to develop the competencies required for their expanded roles.

Make Sure Your Culture Rewards Managers
What are the behaviors needed for success in a management role at your company? How do you measure those behaviors? Do you reward those behaviors? If so, how? If not, why not? Make your expectations known and then reward strong performance so that a first-time manager—or any manager—can be successful.

Managers who fail to manage their people effectively are not bad people; they may simply lack the ability and knowledge to manage others effectively.

By taking the steps required to set an employee up for success instead of failure, your message will be clear. Companies that show their employees that their long-term development is a shared goal have a definite advantage in attracting the best applicants and keeping their top talent motivated, challenged and loyal.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association

Eileen Krantz Meet the Author
Eileen Krantz, MHRM, is vice president of organizational development services at Caliper, located in Princeton, New Jersey, and on the Web at www.calipercorp.com.