Moving into management–Help new leaders get off on the right foot

Companies rely on their managers to motivate employees, enforce policies, set and achieve goals, control costs, increase profits…the list goes on and on. Given how much they expect from their managers, employers are often surprisingly poor at helping them to succeed.

According to a survey conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity in June 2009, only 24% of 324 respondents rated their organization as “good” when it came to helping employees make the transition from worker to manager.

The problem is multifold. Measuring the success of a manager presupposes that the company has defined success. Further, it means that managers have been selected based on qualifications and skills they have for a managerial role and then are given appropriate training and coaching.

When all this happens, managers are likely to succeed. Unfortunately, this alignment doesn’t occur often enough. Many companies make their first major misstep at the outset—hiring or promoting the wrong people.

Hiring right Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the founder and principal of Human Resource Solutions in Northampton, Mass., and author of Suddenly in Charge! The New Manager’s Guide to Influencing Up and Down the Organization.

It sounds like a no–brainer, but companies need to make sure that the right people are placed in management roles, Matuson says. Someone who is technically proficient will not necessarily make a good manager.

While the tendency to hire those with strong technical skills is common—especially when promoting people from within the company—technical competency does not ensure managerial success. Instead, communication skills tend to trump operational skills, says Ben Dattner, founder of Dattner Consulting in New York.

“Companies tend to pay much more attention to the technical aspects of new manager orientation, giving them the technical information they need, but not always sufficiently attending to the softer, more cultural aspects of the job,” he says. Those softer skills, which include the ability to successfully connect with, motivate and lead employees, are critical to being an effective manager.

As many of us have seen in our own careers, even experienced managers can fall short of expectations when it comes to successfully navigating the more culture–related aspects of the job.

External vs. internal hires Can you improve the chances of a manager’s success by bringing in an outsider or are you better off promoting from within?

“To pluck a leader from one organization and bring them to another does not necessarily mean they will be equally successful,” says Milan Yager, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations in Alexandria, Va.

In fact, research suggests that an outsider’s performance often drops in a new organization. Why? “Sometimes what made these leaders stars was related to the environment they worked in,” Yager explains. Of course, promoting current employees into managerial roles also can present challenges.

“The danger of hiring from inside the organization is that the person will come to the job with alliances, prejudices and baggage harmful to the overall group and mission,” Yager says.

Dattner offers a similar perspective: “The good news and the bad news is that people (being promoted from within) are familiar with you. Any sort of problems or issues that occurred in your old role might follow you to the new role.”

For an employee being promoted into management for the first time, another challenge can be getting co–workers to change their perception of the person from that of an individual contributor to a leader.

Linda Henman, president of Henman Performance Group in Chesterfield, Mo., and author of The Magnetic Boss, says that companies often fail to properly train their own employees when moving them into management positions.

“They come to the erroneous conclusion that the person already knows, after having been with the organization, the lay of the land, the clients and all of that. They overlook the really significant part of that sort of promotion—that you’ll be asking that person to manage people who were once peers.”

That shift, Henman says, “is one of the most complicated aspects of promoting internally.”

Even experienced managers coming from the outside need training to be successful at your company.

“I think that one of the arguments for the importance of training is that, no matter what, that person hasn’t ever had this particular job in your particular company. So even if someone is very experienced in management, often that person needs to learn the culture, the products, the customers and the players at your company,” Henman says. “There’s just so much that a new person has to learn and the faster you can give that information to them, the faster that person can get up to high performance levels.”

Best practices In the end, training managers to be effective, whether they are new to management or new to the company, is critical for increasing the odds that the transition will be successful.

“So many people are tossed into management without a safety net,” Matuson says. “Companies assume that because you have the traits that may indicate that you’d make a great manager that also means you already have the skills.”

Training obviously represents an investment—of both money and time.

“Many organizations don’t see the value of pulling people out in order to have them participate in different types of training programs,” Matuson says. “It’s an investment and some companies view this as ‘nice to have’ rather than as a necessity.”

Henman agrees: “I had a client ask me, ‘What if we spend all this money and get these people ready and they leave?’ My response was ‘What if you don’t and they stay?’ ”

But even companies with small budgets can take steps to train managers.

“Some companies think, ‘If we can’t do a training program, we can’t do anything.’ That’s far from the truth,” Matuson says. There are myriad ways to boost new managers’ skills, including:

  • Bringing in management experts, perhaps over lunch, to talk to new managers
  • Providing books or articles then reading and discussing them as a group
  • Inviting an outside facilitator for a roundtable discussion of various management issues
  • Pointing new managers to online resources.

If you plan on promoting several people, you can structure group training programs, Henman says. When she’s worked with companies that have promoted—or anticipated promoting—a number of individuals, many used joint training to help provide a common language and strengthen the cultural alignment of new managers.

One mistake companies make is assuming that one–size–fits–all when it comes to training. Training needs to be tied not only to the needs and culture of your company, but also to the needs of each individual manager.

“Everyone needs to get what they need, when they need it,” Matuson says. Employers should assess a new manager’s skills, identify gaps and then design training to fill in those gaps.

A way to bridge the gap between individual and group training is through mentoring or coaching. Mentors provide new managers with both a resource and role model.

While a manager’s boss will play an important role in his development, Henman advises against having that boss serve as a formal mentor. Instead, she recommends selecting “somebody who has been successful in a management role and can meet with the new manager on a regular basis.”

Susan Cucuzza, a business coach with Live Forward LLC in Bay Village, Ohio, suggests that a mentor should be at least two levels above the new manager and, as importantly, “needs to want to be a mentor.”

These relationships can fail if not well orchestrated.

“A mentoring process should be in place that guides the mentee and mentor into their relationship and helps them determine how to structure their mentoring relationship, as well as set goals, frequency of meetings and outcomes,” Cucuzza says. The human resource department often is in a good position to facilitate this process.

Managing expectations Of course, where the rubber really meets the road is how managers interact and work with their direct reports. Because there are many opportunities for misunderstanding and conflict between managers and workers, both the manager’s expectations and the direct reports’ expectations should be discussed explicitly, Dattner says.

He recommends that new managers create a “user’s manual” that offers insights into their personalities and preferences. It should covers topics such as:

  • Motivation
  • Work style
  • Management and delegation
  • Communication and feedback
  • Learning and decision–making
  • Values
  • Personal style

For example, under “work style” a manager might write: “I like to get things done far in advance in order to avoid the stress of deadlines” and then give direct reports this suggestion: “When preparing things for me, don’t leave them until the last minute. Even if you can pull it off at the last minute, it makes me nervous.”

Or the manager may say: “I’m a morning person. Come see me in the morning about important issues because later in the day I just won’t be as focused.”

Under “values,” the manager might say: “I take the company’s values very seriously and insist that everything we do conform both to the letter and the spirit of our values.” To staff, the manager could say: “Don’t present any ideas that conflict with our company values, including ideas that might appear even just on their surface to conflict with our values.”

“It’s a great way of building understanding,” Dattner says. “When people are first getting to know a new boss, they might misinterpret things.”

For instance, a manager may ask a lot of questions. Workers may perceive this as a lack of confidence in their abilities when, in fact, the manager may simply be a person who needs to thoroughly understand a project. A boss can help to manage employee expectations in a case like that by saying: “I’m a person who needs to know all of the details, so I ask a lot of questions. I’ve been told in the past that people sometimes think I’m being too controlling when I do this, but I want you to know that I don’t mean it that way.”

Ultimately, it’s the relationships with staff members that will determine managerial effectiveness, says Matthew Modleski, vice president of Stovall Grainger Modleski Inc., a training and consulting firm based in the Indianapolis area.

“Great leaders know that if they invest in their people and establish relationships that are deeper than a co–worker relationship, an individual’s performance and effort will go way above the minimum and move nearer the maximum level,” Modleski says. “Once that relationship has been built by the leader, leading a team to accomplish the business objective becomes much easier.”

Measuring success Once you’ve hired or promoted a new manager, trained her and given her a chance to set expectations for herself and her staff, you still need to determine if she is being successful.

Ultimately, you need to measure it. A surprising number of companies don’t.

Remember that in the survey conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, three–quarters of respondents said their companies weren’t very good at training managers. And many of those said their companies were especially weak in measuring managerial effectiveness. In fact, two–thirds of the firms responding didn’t even have a means of evaluating the success of people who had moved into management.

Of companies that do use such tools, a standard performance appraisal is the most common, with almost 75% of respondents using it. About 60% use a 360–degree feedback instrument and 40% use leadership competency assessments or coach/mentor evaluations. Tools such as performance metrics and skills gap analysis are used by 25% or less of companies.

Whether coming from the outside or being promoted from within, management experts agree that the skills required to be a successful manager are dramatically different from the skills required to be a successful worker. New managers who understand what is expected of them, who are provided with training and resources and who receive feedback based on measurable outcomes have a far better chance of success. And, as we know, successful managers lead to successful companies.

Experts: You already have a pool of promotable people By Lin Grensing–Pophal

When it comes to hiring managers, companies often overlook the employee down the hall in favor of someone perceived as a hotshot from the outside. But there are a number of reasons why going with the known can make good business sense.

Despite his position as a managing partner at Los Angeles–based executive search firm Kensington Stone, Kurt Weyerhauser sees big benefits to promoting from within. Perhaps the greatest is “maintaining a sense of continuity, culture and the overall fabric of the organization.”

“A company that relies too heavily on outside hires often finds itself in the throes of constant churn and change that can tear at the very fabric of an organization,” he says.

Another benefit: Hiring managers from internal ranks sends a positive messages to other employees, increasing loyalty and retention.

According to Rebecca Schalm, a practice leader of executive selection and integration at RHR International who works from Calgary, estimates vary but experts generally suggest “that somewhere around 40% and up to 60% of external hires are unsuccessful.”

“This drops to about 25% for people who are internal,” she says.

Why? There are two key factors: What we don’t know can hurt us and it can be hard to find the right cultural fit.

How to do it right Milan Yager, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations in Alexandria, Va., says hiring managers from inside should be encouraged but also carefully managed.

“The whole concept of good management is to be able to identify good people early and test them as they learn, adding to the culture and success of the company,” Yager says.

Karissa Thacker agrees. Thacker, a management psychologist and executive coach based in Rehoboth Beach, Del., says recruiting from within saves money and can be more effective, but companies need to use best practices.

For instance, companies should have coaching and executive education programs designed to develop the specific skills needed in future leaders.

“I am talking about the ability to lead a team of 1,000 people toward a clear goal, to turn around a low–performing team, to elevate morale, to start a new business in a foreign country, etc.,” Thacker says. A development program needs to be in place ahead of even a recruiting effort.

“It is absolutely fair to say that the best people have a high level of learning agility and will develop under any conditions. However, that is not a high percentage of the population within any organization,” Thacker says.  Consequently, companies need to be developing more of their workers to reach their potential.

“The added bonus is that they are also developing with the ethos of your organization,” Thacker says. “That means they are learning the real culture of this specific place and how to get it done right here. That can take an excellent executive from the outside six months to even begin to comprehend.”

“As the market for talent becomes tighter, it will become even more important to have qualified internal candidates ready to step up,” Weyerhauser says. “Increasing the number of internal promotions is an important way to counter the smaller pool of talented executives on the open market.”

Balancing insiders & outsiders But companies shouldn’t just promote the next person “in line” for a managerial position, Yager cautions. Even for internal promotions, you should have a hiring process in place. As Yager says, not interviewing an internal candidate because you think you know him is a mistake. Job descriptions for managers should be developed and should include crucial competencies that all applicants should be evaluated against.

The bottom line? Mistakes can be made by going to either extreme. Weyerhauser offers this guideline: “Depending on the company and circumstances, a proper ratio is typically somewhere around 30% to 40% external hires and 60% to 70% internal.”