There’s a great deal we don’t get right in our organization when developing our first-time managers.

  • We under-appreciate the complexity of the transition from contributor to manager.
  • In many environments, “sink or swim” is still the predominant development approach for new managers.  
  • We under-estimate the toll the unguided new manager’s learning curve exacts on the team.

These are serious issues that cost organizations RGM (real green money) in the form of lost productivity, reduced quality, poor engagement, and increased friction in the organizational machine.

Peel the onion layers and get closer to the root cause of new manager mis-development: the relationship between the promoting and new manager is often fatally flawed.

In Linda A. Hill’s research-based classic, Becoming a Manager, Hill offers:

“One of the most consistent and troubling findings was that new managers did not perceive their current bosses to be resources for coping with their first-year challenges. Most saw the current boss as more a threat than an ally.” 


Hill’s research interviews suggest the new manager viewed the boss as an evaluator, not a coach.

How do you act when you perceived you are being scrutinized for your faults and not supported to help you learn?

If this exists in your setting, it’s a problem.

We can all imagine the resulting dynamic.

The new manager navigating an unfamiliar problem or having made a mistake has nowhere to turn. There’s an incentive to mask the issue and hope it doesn’t reach the evaluator’s ears.

This fear of being constantly scrutinized for flaws perpetuates distrust, creating further stressors in the relationship and environment.

Six Actions to Fix the Evaluator/Developer Flaw in Your Organization

These actions are both systemic and local. If you can’t immediately change the system, fix your own approach by seeking coaching training, asking your team members to hold you accountable for this work, and living it daily.

1. Model coaching and developing from the top.

If top leadership doesn’t lead the way in coaching and developing, you can’t expect the middle-layers to deem it important. And, if you as the promoting manager want your new manager to make this a priority with their team, you’ve got to display this behavior. You don’t get to just play the role of evaluator. 

2. Teach managers how to coach.

The assumption that people naturally know how to coach and they just don’t do it is also flawed. Commit at the organizational level to helping your managers (formal and informal) learn and practice coaching skills.

If your organization is a desert of development for managers, seek training and coaching on your own. 

3. Measure coaching and development success.

Hold all managers at all levels accountable for development success—not just for new managers, but teams and contributors as well.

At the local level, ask your team members to evaluate your effectiveness as a coach and developer. Ask for help from HR or learning and development. If they can’t or won’t help, take it upon yourself to seek input both verbally and via anonymous surveys.

4. Remove poor developers from the people management ranks.

Don’t let poor developers live long in the role of manager. Make one exception, and the credibility of the organization’s words about developing others flies out the window.

5. Redefine the purpose of one-on-ones.

While this sounds tactical, too many of your one-on-one sessions are status updates. That’s a waste of precious development and coaching time. One-on-ones are for creating context, discussing what’s working and what’s not, and identifying opportunities for both parties to strengthen support and performance.

You control the tone and content in your one-on-ones. If they’re mostly status updates, work with your team members to redefine the agenda, leaving ample room to free-form. Make sure those three questions are part of every session:

  • What’s working great?
  • What’s not working?
  • What help do you need?

6. Integrate training and coaching.

The value of training is directly tied to what happens with the tools and insights after the session. It’s incumbent upon promoting managers to coach new managers to turn training insights into practice and outcomes.

Kudos if you invest in your new manager via a training program. Make sure to review their materials and insights post-session. Talk about areas that they need support for, and identify new goals and coaching opportunities that emerge from the training insights.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

A flawed approach to developing new managers is both a systemic and an individual problem. If you don’t have the power to fix the system, at least improve your approach. Redefine and commit to a coaching/developing form of relationship with your team members—particularly your new managers. They’ll thank you with their performance.

Art's Signature


Additional Resources:

Our upcoming live-online First-Time Managers Academy workshop sessions. (As of this writing, we have two different cohort dates: one kicking off 4/28/21 and another kicking off on 6/14/21. Check the site for other dates.)

Our evergreen on-demand version of First-Time Managers Academy

Our growing library of articles focused on first-time managers