Making the transition to management is one of the most difficult challenges first-time managers face. Almost half of them fail.
The findings of ASTDs 2011 State of the Industry Report show that organizations are just as committed as ever to learning and development (L&D). ASTD estimates that U.S. organizations spent about $171.5 billion on employee L&D in 2010. This amount includes direct learning expenditures such as the learning functions staff salaries, administrative learning costs, and nonsalary delivery costs. Sixty percent ($103 billion) of total expenditures were spent on internal expenses and the remaining 40 percent ($68.5 billion) contributed to external expenses.
Such turnover of first-time managers represents a significant loss for organizations. First, organizations lose money on the costs associated with recruiting, hiring, and training first-time managers who fail and on the costs of replacing them. Second, organizations lose human capital investments as first-time managers take with them knowledge and skills required to do the jobs they leave. Therefore, organizations should assist first-time managers to assume their responsibilities in a meaningful and planned way.
To increase the competitive advantage of the organization, training and development practitioners should think strategically about staffing needs for key positions as the organization grows. As staffing plans are developed and potential new managers identified, succession plans should be created. Succession planning is a series of activities organized in a planned way to develop workers with the knowledge, skills, and abilities the organization will need in the future. Such a plan should include activities that begin before and after the promotion in two pre-promotion phasesconsideration and explorationand two post-promotion phasestransition and adoption.
In the consideration phase, employees and the organization are considering whether a promotion to management is what the employee wants and what the organization needs. Employees should be able to consider a promotion to management and decide against it without penalty. Conversely, the organization should be able to determine whether the employee is a good candidate for a management position, also without penalty. Employees who are no longer being considered for management positions should still have opportunities for promotions and raises in nonmanagement positions.
Participation in the activities in the consideration phase should occur a year or more prior to a potential promotion. This phase should include a series of management seminars, informational interviews, job shadowing with current managers, and focus group sessions with employees in nonmanagement positions. These activities should be designed to provide a realistic view of what management entails at its most stressful times.
The management seminars should include scenarios around real-life, difficult situations that first-time managers often face such as reprimanding or terminating a former friend and peer and dealing with charges of sexual harassment, workplace violence, or bullying. Informational interviews are conducted with an experienced manager in a formal session or an informal discussion over lunch. Job shadowing should occur for a period of at least a day and be designed to cover specific duties of management that might not all occur in a given day.
Job shadowing will require the organization to provide release time for the employee without penalty. The focus groups should be guided discussions led by training and development staff comprising small groups of employees interested in management. Topics should include the good and bad qualities of managers, potential problems, the transition to management, and the career trajectory of management.
The exploration phase begins when employees have decided to pursue a promotion to management. Participation in the activities in this phase should occur a year or less prior to a potential promotion. During this time, the manager designate explores the roles and responsibilities of management. The exploration phase should start with the manager designate understanding and recognizing that the promotion into management involves a transition process. The activities in this phase should be focused on providing experiences that develop management skills, providing insights on changing relationships, and addressing misconceptions about performance expectations of managers.
Training should include areas such as interpersonal skills, people management skills, negotiation, conflict resolution, leadership, team building, and performance appraisal so that first-time managers can better handle the dilemmas they face. Development should include doing their managers job for short periods while the manager is away, participating in a job rotation, and performing the role of a project manager.
While acting as a manager is often a short-term assignment, participating in a job rotation and working as a project manager can last weeks or years depending on the needs of the individual and the plans of the organization. This will enable employees who have misconceptions about management to have a more realistic frame of reference.
The transition phase begins with the promotion of the employee to manager. In the previous phase the employee learned the roles and responsibilities of being a manager specifically in terms of interpersonal skills. In this phase the employee should be taught the processes and procedures required of an administrator and manager of people.
Participation in the activities in this phase should begin just prior to the promotion and last throughout the first 100 days. The activities should be focused on providing information and guidelines on the policies, processes, and procedures that managers must follow, problem solving, strategic thinking, time management, and work delegation.
Training should include information on policies of the company such as termination, discipline and reward, employee development, evaluation and appraisal, performance improvement, and scheduling. A searchable CD-ROM or website should be provided with instructions on how to find the relevant information quickly. The manager requires information on the workflow process of her unit and the relationship of the work done in her unit to the work of other units. In addition, time management and work delegation strategies that will increase efficiency and effectiveness of the work product should be shared. Procedures such as how to complete evaluations and appraisals in a meaningful way also should be explained.
To increase problem-solving ability and strategic thinking, new managers need to share problems with and seek guidance from experienced colleagues or mentorswho are the most useful resource first-time managers can have during their transition. First-time managers who experience difficulties may find mentors helpful as they engage in critical reflection and discourse, explore options, and implement plans.
Training and development professionals can match mentors and mentees along various dimensions such as length of time a potential mentor has been a manager or amount of experience the potential mentor has with the new managers unit. Mentoring should include a formal and informal component. The formal component should include regular meetings and scheduled observations, and the informal component could include any activities the mentor and mentee might like to engage in where work can be discussed such as golf outings.
In addition to formal mentoring, informal networking events can provide venues where new managers can discuss everyday problems with colleagues. Informal networking events should be hosted by the organization away from work and where colleagues can meet in a casual surrounding over a shared meal, coffee, or drinks. Hosting these events does not require the organization to pay for them; the organization just needs to find and advertise suitable locations.
While we have suggested 100 days for the transition phase, the transition could take as much as six to 18 months. Probation periods are generally 90 days, during which supervisors determine whether first-time managers have succeeded. Neither 90 nor 100 days seems enough time to learn all that must be learned to be successful. If turnover of new and first-time managers is high in an organization, it might help to reconsider the probation period.
The adoption phase begins after the transition to manager ends. The end of this period is somewhere after the first 100 days, possibly closer to the six-month mark. This gives first-time managers time to learn all that they need to and incorporate it before moving on to this next phase. In the previous phases the employee learned the roles, responsibilities, policies, processes, and procedures of being a manager. In this phase it is less about teaching the employee new skills or information and more about supporting the first-time manager as he grows and develops a professional identity as a manager.
The activities in this phase should be focused on performance, attitudes, identity, and adaptability of first-time managers, especially by providing feedback as the manager develops. Concrete feedback can be provided on the quality and timeliness of their work, and include areas for improvement. Because negative or positive attitudes are felt by subordinates and superiors, members of both groups should provide evaluations. These evaluations can be discussed with the mentor, who can help the first-time manager work through his own emotional responses.
The first-time manager can then critically reflect on how he communicates his position. For example, when speaking about management actions, does the first-time manager identify with management?
The degree to which the first-time manager is adaptable to change will surface in the performance and attitude evaluations. This is another area where the mentor can provide continued support and guidance as the first-time manager works to improve performance, promote a positive attitude, shape a managerial identity, and become adaptable.
Organizations pay for the failure of first-time managers and benefit from their success. Implementing a succession plan for first-time managers will help them to transition to their new roles, decrease turnover, and increase their success and retention.