In my article, New Manager Development—Put Your Back Into It, I implore promoting managers to get and remain involved as they move their best and brightest contributors into this challenging and often confounding job. My perspective:
“Too often, competent contributors are tapped on the shoulder and given a “great opportunity” to step-up and manage a group. Lacking context for this challenging role, they flail and regularly fail, creating headaches for the promoting manager, the team, and the hapless formerly solid individual contributor turned lousy manager. If the new manager flames out during the first year, the promoting manager is back to square one, and in many cases, the cycle repeats.”
The Disaster that Keeps on Giving
This misfire is the disaster that keeps on giving. Not only do you lose a valued contributor, the costs to the organization and team range from low morale and disengagement to increased turnover and reduced quality. And as the promoting manager, the damage to your credibility is significant. Your bosses trusted you to promote and develop the right person, and once that trust is lost, it’s nearly impossible to earn back.
Fortunately, for all of us, there’s a solution that’s within your control. It comes in the form of four different series of conversations essential for new manager success. The conversations strive to create context, build trust, promote coaching, stimulate experimentation, and drive continuous learning and improvement.
It’s time to start talking!
4 Critical Conversations to Support New Managers Success
1. The “Why Manage?” Conversations (pre-promotion)
I don’t move someone from contributor to manager regardless of my perception of their mad skills, without an extended period of dialog, exploration, and experimentation. The cost of failure is too high.
Instead, I use a three-step process that starts with a dialog focused on the question, “Why do you want to manage?” The goal is not to hear the right answer, but rather to start their wheels turning on the differences, challenges, and opportunities involved in managing others.
After one or two coffee sessions around “Why Manage?” I send the individual out to interview at least three experienced managers about their journeys and jobs. I want my aspiring manager to understand what people experienced from start-up onward. This context helps them tune-in to the challenges and opportunities they may encounter in the job. The final question is, “Why do you manage?” Taking notes is mandatory, and the interviews always generate rich material to continue our one on one discussions.
The next pre-promotion activity involves one or more try before buy experiments. The aspiring manager is assigned to lead a project team or initiative and experience what it means to get work done through and with others—in this case, without any formal authority. This process provides ample opportunities for observation and coaching, and importantly, sets the stage for our final, “Why do you want to manage?” discussions.
In the many instances where I’ve employed this approach, both parties typically show up in this round of talks having reached the same go or no go decision. At least in this setting, it’s more evidence-based than guesswork.
2. The Mission Conversations
Assuming the two parties are moving ahead, it’s time to kick off what I term The Mission conversations immediately with the new manager. In this case, I’m not talking about organizational mission, but rather the assignment as the mission to be completed. The focus here draws on the doctrine of Commander’s Intent and requires the promoting manager to clearly outline the purpose, key objectives, and parameters for the new manager at this point in time.
One of the primary challenges new managers grapple with is understanding what they are accountable for in terms of targets and results. The Mission conversations ensure clarity between promoting and newly promoted managers and offer opportunities to discuss corporate strategy, the specific department’s role in supporting strategy, and critical goals, objectives, and target metrics. The goal is to ensure the new manager connects corporate strategy with the work to be done and how their team will be measured for success.
3. The “What Their Team Needs” Conversations
The single most significant risk for new managers is misfiring with their teams. Unfortunately, it’s easy to do when you’ve never managed others before. It’s time for discussions that help the new manager tune-in to their role and specifically, to their team’s needs for support.
In this setting, the new manager draws upon Angela’s Question, named for the project manager, who taught me this technique. Ideally, in a group setting, the new manager facilitates a meaningful discussion around the question, “At the end of our time when we’re successful and done working together, what will you say that I did?“
Pause and re-read that question for a moment and ponder the context-building power of it. In addition to gaining critical insight into what team members need from their manager to succeed, this activity catalyzes trust-building. Every successful manager starts with and builds on a foundation of trust.
I ask my new managers to translate the input from the session into their version of a Manager’s Charter, which outlines their responsibilities to the team. I also encourage the new manager to strengthen the trust-building by asking team members to hold them accountable to the Charter.
4. The 3Ws Performance Conversations
I counsel promoting managers to start immediately with the 3W’s Performance Conversations, where the 3Ws are:
- What’s working?
- What’s not?
- What must be done differently?
Unlike traditional one-way feedback approaches, I encourage the new and promoting managers to operate with and capture their experiences and observations, using these same three questions. The mutual focus on the 3Ws provides a pre-built agenda for one-on-one sessions, where both parties share what they are experiencing. This approach contrasts with one-way feedback, allowing both parties to identify strengths to emphasize and gaps or problems to repair.
Benefits of Investing Your Time in These Conversations
That’s A Lot of Talking!
However, the benefits accruing from the four sets of conversations are many, including:
- Improved new manager identification
- Context for the realities of the job
- Role clarity
- Mission clarity
- Trust building
- Evidence-based ideas to strengthen performance
Importantly, the conversations serve to mitigate many of the most significant risks faced by new managers during their critical start-up phase. Equally important, this is the work the promoting manager must do to live up to their commitment to developing the next generation of managerial and leadership talent in the organization.
It’s time to start talking!
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Developing new managers is hard work. The cost of failure is prohibitive, yet the price of success is relatively low if you deliberately focus on the right issues with your new managers. Use the conversation ideas in great new manager health!