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With more expected of managers, invest in new manager training
What it means to be a manager has radically changed in the last couple of years.
The pandemic spurred a new way of working with the rise of hybrid and remote work environments. As the line between personal and work lives blurred, it’s clearer than ever before that employees need to feel like they belong.
Unfortunately, employees in the United States are facing a connection crisis. Despite an overwhelming array of asynchronous communication tools at their fingertips, they feel more isolated than ever before.
Even pre-pandemic, we know that managers have a massive impact on the employee experience. In fact, we’ve studied this. The caliber of a person’s direct manager is the second most important factor when it comes to predicting a good employee experience.
At BetterUp, we talk about the “fail or flail” with new managers. Why? According to our data, an estimated 50% of new managers fail within their first year. And in that chunk of managers who don’t outright fail, they’re often learning by trial and error. It’s a coin toss on whether or not your new managers will become good leaders, let alone effective managers.
We’re living in a time where the margin for error is slim. Many companies don’t have the time, resources, or flexibility to gamble on whether or not their managers will succeed. So when it comes to training new managers, to say it’s important is an understatement.
First-time managers are stepping into shoes with more responsibility and demands than ever before. And for many, if not all, leadership skills are just that — skills to be developed and strengths to continue to grow.
A great leader isn’t a born leader. It takes training, resources, access to coaching, and the motivation to grow. We’ll talk about why new manager training can be the secret ingredient to retaining top talent — and how to build a new manager training program in your company.
Why is new manager training important?
Your leaders wield an incredible amount of power and influence in your organization. New managers are stepping into a role for the first time, often tasked with more responsibility than ever before.
- Managers have a huge influence over employee retention. We’ve all heard the saying, “People leave bosses, not companies.” Well, the research says this saying holds some truth. A 2019 survey found that 57% of employees have their job because of their manager. Additionally, 32% have seriously considered quitting their jobs because of their manager.
- Team performance struggles if the manager isn’t thriving. After studying 1,600 teams, we identified that leaders who struggle see poorer performance within their teams. Overall, leaders who aren’t thriving also see lower resilience, lower agility, and lower strategic thinking.
- Trial and error, on-the-job training simply doesn’t work. In the data cited above, we’ve found that it’s not very surprising that new managers struggle when we look at how they’re prepared for their roles. In a survey by DDI, of 1,130 frontline managers, only 11% say they were trained to be a leader. More than half reported they learned their leadership skills through trial and error.
- Investing in your new managers can help increase employee engagement. According to Harvard Business Review, managers make up for as much as 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. If managers have that much of an influence on employee engagement, why would you gamble on that 50/50 chance that it works out?
- Investing in your leadership development translates into dollars. As in, when you have happy, engaged, thriving employees, your organizational performance benefits.
What training do new managers need?
In a complex, fast-changing world, managers need an arsenal of skills in their back pocket. From navigating uncertainty to building resilience within the team, a leader’s job is to help ensure your people are reaching their full potential. But your workforce can’t tap into that potential without the right support.
At BetterUp, we talk about key training and muscles that all managers need to build. Professional development and employee development, especially for new leaders, should be top of mind for any organization.
Inclusive leadership training can be a competitive advantage for your organization. We’ve found that employees are 50% more productive, 90% more innovative, and 150% more engaged. Inclusive leadership also results in 54% lower employee turnover.
New managers also need to start flexing their future-minded leader skills. With BetterUp, your new managers can work one-on-one to develop their future-mindedness.
With future-minded leader training, your leaders will produce higher-performing teams with increased agility and innovation. Your teams will also be more engaged, have more resilience, and see an overall higher organizational performance.
New managers also need training in performance management. Stepping into a manager role for the first time brings on an onslaught of new things that many employees have never done before. Conflict resolution, delegation, project management, and even team building are all crucial components that can make up a performance management training program.
3 challenges new managers encounter
Any manager stepping into a new role means they’re also encountering new challenges. Here are three challenges a new manager will likely face.
Managers, in general, spend a lot of time resolving and mitigating conflict. And with change moving at record speeds in the last couple of years, it’s likely that there might be more miscommunications. More misunderstandings.
Companies need to get really tightly focused on their priorities to avoid conflict from happening. But that’s difficult when change interrupts even the best-laid plans.
So for new managers coming into the role, it’s time to invest in conflict resolution skills. How are you helping diverse perspectives be heard? How are you mitigating or eliminating the risk of conflict within your locus of control?
Of course, conflict for any organization is inevitable. But there are skills you can build — and muscles to develop — that can help keep that risk low.
Managing employee performance
Management skills and managing employee performance go hand-in-hand. For any new manager, you have to first learn about your employees. What are their strengths? What are their areas of opportunity? Where can they bring the most value to the team? How are you tapping into their full potential to optimize your team’s performance?
But as we all know well, sometimes, employees need extra support. You might be managing an employee who displays some signs of insubordination. You might now manage an employee who simply isn’t delivering but you’re not entirely sure why. You might have two high-performing employees who are great at their job. But together, they can’t stand each other. It’s hard to get them to collaborate on even the simplest of tasks.
You might be uncomfortable giving feedback or asking for feedback. You might not know how to coach an employee who has incredible potential but they’re just not there yet.
People are hard. Humans are complex. So when it comes to managing employee performance, it can be a steep learning curve for any new manager.
Trust and psychological safety
Every new manager, whether you’re new or not, comes across this battle. How are you building trust with your employees?
For new managers, this might be especially daunting. After all, new managers don’t have that successful track record or impressive leadership resume. Team members might be skeptical of a new manager’s capabilities to lead.
But hand-in-hand with trust is psychological safety. How are you creating an environment where people feel safe? A work environment where employees can voice feedback, ask questions, or even challenge ideas?
5 skills a new manager should develop
New manager training programs should focus on creating learning experiences to target key skills. We’ve outlined five skills that good managers should develop.
1. Communication skills
Effective communication skills are foundational to being a successful manager. Open, transparent, and direct communication is leveraged day-to-day for any manager. If new managers need to build their communication muscles, consider how coaching can help improve their skills.
2. Good decision-making skills
Especially in a fast-changing world of work, decisions are coming across managers’ desks more at an accelerated pace. Things change fast, which means there’s an increase in the number of decisions that need to be made.
We’ve all had those managers that waffle on decisions. When decision-making isn’t a strength, it can negatively impact the team’s productivity, employee engagement, and even your employees’ autonomy over their work.
3. Conflict resolution
I once had a manager where in my very first meeting with her, she told me this. “If you are ever running into a roadblock or a conflict, it’s my job to be your bulldozer.”
It’s inevitable that workplace conflict is going to occur. People are bringing their whole selves to work on top of juggling competing priorities, stress, caregiving responsibilities, stretched workloads, and more. And sometimes, productive conflict can help unlock the potential within the team.
So, conflict happens. And often, managers are pulled into conflict to help resolve it. As my same previous manager told me once, “If you know how to solve problems with people, you’re golden.”
4. Strong interpersonal skills
Interpersonal relationships are a big part of what it means to be a manager. But we know that connections in the workplace are on the brink of a crisis. Our data found that 43% of employees don’t feel connected at work, which has a ripple effect across the business.
Managers, however, are somewhat insulated from this effect. They report a 22% higher sense of connection and 53% more friends in their workplace. Because of the collaborative nature of their work, they also have a direct impact on how connected their teams feel, as well.
So what do strong interpersonal skills actually mean? Well, a new manager needs to have a sense of self-awareness and emotional intelligence to be able to read people well. They need to meaningfully connect with their direct reports and team members. They also need to be able to help facilitate connections, like through virtual team-building activities.
5. Feedback and coaching skills
Part of performance management is being able to invest in your employees’ development. In some ways, this aspect of being a manager can mirror the same skills one would need in a mentorship. New managers need to build their feedback and coaching skills to coach their teams.
But feedback shouldn’t just pop up annual performance review. In theory, a great manager will coach individual contributors as they go. And depending on the situation, that might mean helping employees build key competencies. Other times, it means making sure employees are using their full skill set to reach their full potential.
Let’s say that a new hire, Clare, is struggling to grasp some fundamental concepts. Employee onboarding was virtual and her manager, Harry, knows that onboarding comes with a firehose of information.
But after a few weeks, Clare doesn’t seem to understand the goals of the project given to her. As a new manager, Harry needs to give Clare effective feedback and help coach her to succeed. He’s never been in this sort of situation before, so it’s new territory.
But because Harry has training in people management, has invested in building his soft skills, and works regularly with a coach, he’s prepared. In his next one-on-one with Clare, he gives her measurable actions to help improve her performance. He also helps her prioritize her workload effectively. In the next couple of weeks, Harry sees that Clare’s performance has improved.
What to include in a new manager training program
If you’re looking to put together a new manager training program, here are five things you should include.
5 things to include in a new manager training program
- Access to coaching
- Mentorship or “buddy-ship” program
- Professional development opportunities
- Clear and measurable objectives and goals
- Diversity training programs
1. Access to coaching
Remember those challenges that new managers need to overcome? Coaching can more than help. With BetterUp, you can provide personalized, one-on-one support to your leaders. A coach can help guide your new managers through every complexity, from how to resolve a conflict between teammates to bubbling up feedback to the top.
An investment in coaching is an investment in your employees’ mental fitness. Our data shows that leaders who are thriving lead teams that are 31% more productive. Our data also shows that thriving leaders have direct reports that are 78% less likely to leave voluntarily. And beyond increased employee retention, thriving leaders are also more resilient and more satisfied with their jobs.
JLL, a BetterUp customer, invested in training its leaders from the very beginning. JLL knows that investing in engaging and retaining its leaders helps them become more resilient to the change being thrown their way.
2. Mentorship or “buddy-ship” program
When I first joined BetterUp, I was assigned a buddy. As a new hire, my buddy was my crutch to lean on. She wasn’t on my team and our workstreams didn’t cross over much. But she was a resource and a guide to help me through this transition period.
Think about how you can create a mentorship program for your new managers. Can you pair new managers with seasoned leaders as guides? How are you making sure new managers have access to the help they need to succeed in their roles?
3. Professional development opportunities
New managers are entering organizations with a slew of new responsibilities. Not only is it a massive shift in the type of work, but it also might call on managers to flex skills they’ve never used before.
Offer management skills training sessions. This can be workshops or case studies where new managers can go through a new manager orientation that could mirror some employee onboarding. This can be other professional development opportunities, like coaching, that allow for leadership development catered to the person.
How are you providing ongoing support for your managers to build skills? How are you putting your managers’ employee development at the top of your priority list?
4. Clear and measurable objectives and goals
Give your new managers goals to work toward. Make sure clear and measurable objectives are clearly communicated. Your new managers also need to know what’s expected of them — and what success looks like in their role.
With clear communication and clear objectives, your new managers will be better equipped to steer their teams in the right direction. And, if things do get off course, you’ve also outlined a clear path to get back on track.
5. Diversity training programs
Last but certainly not least, consider how diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) fold in your new manager training program.
Diversity training programs aren’t a checklist you need to fulfill for human resources. Diversity training, when done right, can help drive performance, innovation, and the sense of belonging that your employees feel. The result? Your organization will be better equipped to attract and retain top talent — and your employees will thrive.
At BetterUp, we talk a lot about the power of inclusive leadership. In addition to formal diversity training programs, think about how you can build inclusive leadership skills with your new managers. With access to a DEIB coach, you can make sure your managers are fostering a culture of trust, psychological safety, and belonging within their teams.
Start investing in your first-time managers
New manager training programs aren’t one-size-fits-all training courses. Your workforce is unique. For first-time managers stepping into a new role, they need personalized support more than ever.
With the constant ebb and flow of change, it’s likely all of your new managers will confront challenges. And those challenges can emerge when you least expect them.
BetterUp can help develop leaders, not just managers. Tap into the full potential of your new managers with access to virtual coaching. Together, we can build a more resilient, agile, and high-performing workforce that helps your people thrive.
Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.