Learning and Development for First-Time Managers

June 26, 2018

Studies show that strong managers lead to highly-engaged employees, and engaged employees are tied to greater productivity, innovation, and better business results. It should be a no-brainer then that we properly prepare our next generation of leaders. However, just the opposite is happening. In fact, 47% of new managers received no training at all after being promoted into a leadership role, and 87% of managers wish they had received more.

It’s clear that an investment in learning and development for this group is key. How can we better equip our first-time managers, provide them with L&D opportunities, and shape them into great leaders? Here are a few ways to get started.

Define their role and set expectations

It may seem like an obvious first step (and one that doesn’t really seem like L&D at all), but a transparent conversation defining their new role, setting clear expectations, and aligning on goals is imperative to success and is an irreplaceable learning opportunity.

More often than not, employees are promoted into management roles based on their technical skills and past performance. Where they were once measured solely on their personal ability to hit their goals, they now need to be able to enable and guide their team to do so. Without a clear picture of how their role has changed and what’s most important now, shifting to this new mindset and way of operating can be difficult.

Start by outlining the big picture, how their new role as a manager ties to company success, and break responsibilities and goals down from there.

By clearly defining their role and providing transparency into what’s expected of them, you’ll help them identify the critical skills they need to develop, and from there can map these to future L&D opportunities.

Help them develop the right skills

Arguably the most important thing you can do for a new manager is help them identify what skills are important for success, where their gaps fall, and provide them with continued opportunities to develop and improve.

According to a study conducted by Training Magazine and Wilson Learning Worldwide, the top four priority skills that make for strong leaders are communication, the ability to develop and coach others, team leadership, and strategy development/alignment.

While it will vary from individual to individual, it’s likely that much of their L&D will shift from improving technical skills to developing and improving soft-skills. Set an action-plan with the employee on how and where to start and take advantage of the time when they’re most excited to learn – typically soon after they’ve been promoted.

Traditional methods such as classroom trainings, online courses, and management books are great jumping-off points, and require little investment from both a time and monetary standpoint. Encourage them connect with other first-time managers (to share experiences, knowledge, etc.) and consider pairing them with another strong manager within your organization. Gaining perspective, guidance, and insights from others who have been there before (and aren’t measuring your performance) can open the door for productive conversations and learning experiences they may not get elsewhere.

It’s critical to remember that while training is important upfront (research shows that around 60% of new managers fail or underperform in their first year), it’s continued L&D that will allow these managers to hone their skills and become great leaders.

Act as a trusted advisor, mentor, and coach

Another important thing you can do to enable and develop your first-time manager is to act as a trusted mentor and coach. This is an easy way to ensure they’re focused on the right things and also serves as excellent ongoing learning and development.

Make sure you keep 1:1’s consistent and communication open – give constructive feedback, share techniques, and problem-solve together. Instead of simply giving advice or answering questions, ask them how they’d handle scenarios or situations and jump-in only where necessary. By guiding rather than telling, you’ll ensure confidence in their abilities (which is linked to better performance), while setting the stage for them to tackle similar problems in the future.

As noted in a Deloitte study, a shortage of leaders is one of the biggest impediments to business growth, and failure rates are high. By providing your first-time managers with continuous L&D opportunities, you’ll help them develop into great leaders while ensuring the success of your organization.

Talent Manager

Ellie is a go-to-market Talent Manager at OpenView. In this role, she works to find top talent to join the sales and marketing teams of OpenView’s portfolio companies.