A Proactive Approach to Preparing Your Next Group of Managers

“That person is a superstar and a subject-matter expert. Press pause. That does not mean that person will be a wonderful manager.” - Erica Edwards-O'Neal

Earlier this year, Sayge hosted a panel event discussing how companies can help new managers become great managers. Erica’s comment—and the entire panel discussion—reinforced just how critical it is to develop and implement a proactive approach to preparing future managers.

How true is that for your organization? Too often, companies assume excellent individual contributors (ICs) will automatically become wonderful managers, but that’s not always the case.

While organizing the panel, I also came across a statistic making this topic even more critical. The Wall Street Journal shared that in the past five years, managers born in 1982 or later have landed promotions twice as often as older leaders. Which means that many twenty- and thirty-somethings are not only managers, but they're also growing teams, managing more people, and being given even more responsibilities critical to the success of the organization. How companies prepare this young, mobile group of managers is so important. I learned a lot from our amazing group of panelists and have summarized what I see as a seven-part process for proactively supporting new managers.

1. Adopt (and live out!) a proactive mindset. Employer relations issues—like discrimination and wrongful termination suits—are incredibly costly yet often times, preventable! Press releases published by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cite settlements ranging from $10,000 to resolve a discrimination finding to $12 million for an age discrimination lawsuit. Make sure prospective managers have access to the right tools and knowledge before they’re pegged for that promotion.

2. Know what you’re looking for... and articulate it! What does your company mean when it says, ‘Management’? How does management look within your culture? And what does it mean to be an effective manager? It’s so valuable to discuss what great management looks like within each organization. With a shared language in place, you can outline clear expectations for new managers—letting them know exactly what they’re tracking toward.

3. Conduct a gap analysis to understand where upcoming managers need support. After you develop a shared definition of ‘management’, it’s helpful to conduct a gap analysis. SHRM recommends several gap assessment tools including interviews, focus groups, surveys, and observations. One panelist, Meghan Lapides, mentioned how companies expect managers to not only supervise, but to also advocate, coach, teach, and/or mentor. It’s easy to see how the transition from IC to manager is a big adjustment. Determine exactly what your upcoming managers need in order to successfully transition roles.

4. Promote and inspire self-awareness. Although your company may have a good grasp of training gaps, future managers also play a huge role in their own success. If you’re training someone who isn’t fully aware of their impact, you may need to bring an area of improvement to their attention. (I’ve written more on that process here!) When employees see self-aware managers show up authentically—mindful of their strengths, weaknesses, and identities—this consciousness can spread throughout the organization.

5. Promote and cultivate social awareness. The International Journal of Business and Social Science writes, “Managers should use compassion and empathy with themselves and others to increase understanding, cooperation, and collaboration.” Panelist, Deborah Wilson, shared how—after being asked herself—she started incorporating two questions into her approach to management: (1) “How do you like to be managed?” and (2) “How do you like to receive feedback?” Help future managers develop skills like empathy, organizational awareness, and emotional intelligence.

6. Provide the right training, tools, and support throughout the entire management journey. Panelist, Kevin Hannan, shared how important it is to support managers in three key areas: creating direction, creating a structure for achieving that direction, and coaching and supporting a team. By providing ongoing training in these areas, you can cultivate an environment where new managers don't feel like they need to fake it ‘til they make it. Panelist, Eli Bendet-Taicher, reiterated, “This mind shift that [future managers] have to make is very complex . . . our [training] program is not just a week of boot camp. It's an ongoing program and something people can experience for a long time.”

7. Respect and support the ‘non-manager’ track. Not everyone wants to be a manager. In fact, CareerBuilder reports that only 27-29 percent of survey respondents expect to become managers. If someone isn’t interested in managing people, listen to and respect that decision. To retain these individuals, create an IC track that doesn’t involve management. When companies force people down managerial tracks, or otherwise remove mobility, they risk losing really great people.

Superstar individual contributors do not automatically make great managers. And even though they’re great at what they do, subject-matter experts don’t inherently possess the skills to manage a team. If you see the value in a proactive approach to preparing managers, make sure your company has a shared definition of management, conduct a gap analysis for training purposes, cultivate self- and social-awareness, support managers at every stage of their journey, and offer non-manager tracks. As you move forward, how can you be more proactive in your approach to preparing managers?