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How to Transition and Train Your First-Time Managers

Topics: Retention

We all know how it goes. You have one of those top-performing, goal-slaying rock stars and now you are ready to promote them. You offer, they accept, and celebrations ensue. Then Monday comes. They sit down at the same chair with this new title and stare at their screen. “Now what?” It’s a scary moment for the newly minted manager. 

When many leaders simply expect newly promoted managers to know how to do their new jobs, it’s no wonder that Grovo found that most first-time managers didn’t feel like they had the tools to be effective. In fact, their research found that 44 percent felt unprepared and 87 percent wished they’d had more training before becoming a manager.

How can we alleviate these worries and bridge those statistics gaps?

1. Ask Better Questions

The worst thing you can do is roll by the desk of your newly minted manager and utter these three words: “How’s it going?” They will almost always reply “good” and end the conversation right there.

How’s it going” is a close-ended question; it’s unspecific and it doesn’t invite vulnerability or curiosity. In its binary nature, it implies that things are either good or bad, with no gray area in between.

Better questions are open-ended and elicit deeper conversation. Try questions like “What do you feel like you should know but aren’t confident in yet?” or “What have been your peaks and valleys this week?”. And here’s my personal favorite: “What has been surprising that you didn’t expect in the role?”

Managing isn’t surface level and your check-in questions shouldn’t be either.

2. Don’t just say it, show it


Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

So often new managers are told that they should aim high and fail forward, but how many of those platitudes are backed up with actions? When you meet with your new manager, are you asking them as often about their failed attempts as you are about the progress they’ve made?

As a culture, we seem to be enamored by stories of perseverance and grit in the face of failure. J.K. Rowling’s rejections, Beyoncé losing Star Search, and of course Michael Jordan’s story about getting cut from his high school basketball team. Bill Gates’ quote regarding celebrating losses gives us the perfect way forward. He said:

In the corporate world, when someone makes a mistake, everyone runs for cover. I try to put an end to that kind of thinking. It’s fine to celebrate success, but it’s more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

How can you provide cover and runway for your new manager to experiment boldly? 

3. Frequent calibration is key

The worst thing you can do is promote an individual contributor, hand them the keys to the “house” and take off for a figurative (and/or literal) vacation. This transition period is critical to the long-term success of the individual. It’s not just about the two of you. Showing confidence in the newly promoted manager will bolster the confidence and trust of the team as well.

Don’t forget, it’s always best to recognize publicly and give critical feedback privately.

Compference Call for Speakers

4. Don’t boil the ocean (with training)

We see it all the time at Blue Shoes Leadership: Companies want to inundate the newly promoted employee with every managerial tactic, thought leadership, and theory that ever existed. Clients often ask us: “And could you train all that in one eight-hour day? If so, that would be great.”

No, it’s not possible and no, it wouldn’t be great. Sadly, we can’t download information into anyone’s brain Matrix-style (yet). When our brains reach overload, the prefrontal cortex shuts down, the part that helps you make good decisions. To combat this, we recommend limiting training time to six hours or less and most importantly, breaking topics down into chunks.

Learning takes time, experience, and application. You can’t rush those things, so stop it!

5. Form an internal community

Here’s the best news: you can’t and shouldn’t be the only touch point for your new leader. Another great way to support them is to form an internal People Manager community at your company (if there isn’t already one). This can be a great place for sharing to occur which leads to social learning. A casual lunch-and-learn meeting with a central topic and facilitator is all you need to get started. #FreeisFabulous.

Managers have the biggest impact on the most employees, so investing in them upfront for long term success is a no brainer. Before you know it, your team will be known as the team to be on.

The old adage is that people leave managers, not jobs. But on your team, when Monday comes, they won’t be asking themselves “Now what?,” they’ll be diving in confidently.

Tell us what you think

Do you have any tips on how to develop successful first-time managers? Share those with us in the comments below or on Twitter.

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