The great leap
Wright, N. (2007) ‘The Great Leap: Developing the New Manager’, Training Journal, Fenman, February, pp32-35.
The leap from experienced practitioner to new manager can be a breathtaking experience. It may well involve redefining previous relationships, creating new ways of working and tackling fresh challenges that lie outside of current expertise and comfort zones. The new manager can experience a marked shift in expectations from team members, peer group, senior managers and other colleagues. Amidst the excitement of a new role, new managers’ anxiety can rise and confidence falter as they start to navigate through unfamiliar territory.
This article draws on numerous years’ experience of supporting new managers through this emotional, psychological and technical transition process. It will focus on five dimensions of management induction and development, namely: job, organisation, culture, leadership and management. These dimensions are very much intertwined in practice but represent different aspects of the manager’s context, role, responsibilities and expertise and can, therefore, provide a valuable framework for management development strategy.
It’s John’s first day in his new role and he’s not entirely sure what to expect. He’s read the job description and passed the interview but he knows in the back of his mind that the map is not the territory and the realities of the job are about to materialise. John feels genuinely hopeful and excited and yet, at the same time, experiences a nagging sensation in the pit of his stomach. Will he be able to deliver what he convinced the panel at interview or will he be found wanting?
John is greeted warmly by Jane, his new boss, who approaches him smiling with outstretched hand. ‘It’s great to have you here, John. There’s a lot to take in when you’re new to the role but do be assured you will have time to settle in and I will be here to support you.’ They leave the reception and go for coffee before John is introduced to his new team. John feels himself relaxing and his spirits are lifted as he embarks on this new venture.
This short cameo describes an experience that will feel familiar to many new managers. The first day on the job can be very daunting and Jane’s approach demonstrates the importance of the senior manager’s role in helping the new starter arrive well. Jane is emotionally intelligent, welcomes and invites John as person-before-role and immediately conveys an important cultural message of personal value and support. The invitation to coffee models an action that mirrors Jane’s words.
In Gestalt terms, planning for the new manager’s arrival may be described as paying attention to the field. It involves anticipating how it might feel for the new person arriving, creating an approach and environment that communicates explicit and subliminal messages of value and support, ensuring congruence between words and actions.
The new manager often has a sense of what the job will entail in rudimentary terms, for example through having read the job description, discussed expectations at interview, seen other people operate in similar roles. Some aspects of the role will be more familiar than others, however, and what the new manager has observed in other managers may not be what is required in this role or cultural context. It is, therefore, very important to establish job clarity from the outset and this may involve explanation followed by opportunity to check what the new manager has heard and understood.
To start with, the senior manager should discuss the new manager’s job description with the new manager at the earliest opportunity to flesh out what is described there, check his or her understanding of what is involved and required (e.g. probationary goals with performance indicators), identify development gaps and provide key information (e.g. key dependencies that will need to be managed). Using a combination of directive (e.g. ‘this is what you need to do’) and non-directive (e.g. ‘how might you go about doing this?’) interventions can be a helpful way to conduct the conversation, ending as necessary with questions for clarification (e.g. ‘what is your understanding of that point now we’ve had opportunity to discuss it?’).
The senior manager should also clarify the level and scope of authority that the new manager holds for each goal or area of responsibility, including vis a vis team members, peers and key stakeholders. This will enable the new manager to act with the most appropriate level of freedom and avoid conflict through inadvertently stepping on other people’s toes. Bear in mind that new managers may need higher levels of direction and more constraints on authority in the early stages until they have grown in understanding of organisational culture and what is required. This can be a difficult balance so periodic review will be important to avoid the new manager feeling either unsupported or micromanaged.
A helpful model for managing delegation is to consider and agree, in relation to each task area, which of the following principles applies:
‘I don’t mind what you end up with as long as it will serve the purpose.’
‘What you end up with must meet these criteria – you decide what best does this.’
‘You must end up with this – how you do it is up to you.’
‘You must go about it this way – you sort out the details.’
The senior manager should introduce the new manager to team members, colleagues and key stakeholders at the earliest possible opportunity, ensuring they have been briefed in advance on the new starter’s arrival on what his or her key areas of authority and responsibility will be. Assigning a peer colleague as buddy can help; the buddy’s role being to act as informal guide to organisational and team culture – ‘how we tend to do things around here.’ It’s probably not helpful to introduce the person as ‘new to management’ as this could undermine his or her sense of confidence and credibility. Allow the new manager to explain his or her own story as relationships develop.
If the manager needs to use specific facilities or equipment in the office as part of his or her job, e.g. computers, bespoke software applications, photocopiers, voicemail etc., it’s best to ensure that relevant training is provided at the earliest possible opportunity in order to avoid embarrassment or frustration.
The new manager carries new responsibilities to represent and uphold the standards of the organisation and to engage in planning and decision-making at a higher tactical or strategic level than may have been experienced previously.
Melanie arrived at the meeting early, feeling slightly nervous and clutching agenda, notepad and pen. She had never attended a managers’ meeting before but had seen her own manager disappear behind close doors periodically in the past and return muttering something about new initiatives happening elsewhere in the organisation. Twenty minutes into the meeting, Melanie was suddenly asked by the chairperson to contribute to a corporate issue under discussion from her own departmental perspective. She stuttered and stumbled and wished desperately that she had been warned of this responsibility beforehand so she could have prepared for it.
This short cameo describes a new manager’s nightmare – the prospect of losing credibility before his or her peer group so early in the new job. To avoid this type of scenario arising, the senior manager needs to ensure that the new manager is properly briefed on responsibilities, expectations and protocols within those arenas where the new manager will be operating. As a general rule of thumb, it can be helpful for the senior manager to ease the new manager into new areas using an approach based on the following model, interspersing these steps with periodic coaching and review:
First time: senior manager takes the lead, new manager shadows.
Second time: senior manager and new manager lead together.
Third time: new manager takes the lead, senior manager shadows.
Fourth time: new manager leads alone.
The new manager also needs to understand the wider organisational arena in order to engage at a departmental or cross-departmental level effectively. This will entail learning about, for instance, the organisation’s history, mission, values, stakeholders, environment, priorities, structure, roles, processes, interdependencies, how his or her own team, department and role fits into the bigger picture.
This all represents a huge amount of information to assimilate and so creating a realistic development plan and timeframe with clear order of priorities that allows time to read relevant documents, attend induction events, meet key players, discuss, reflect and review learning is imperative to avoid disorientation and overload.
The new manager is likely to hold some level of responsibility for bridging aspirational values with current organisational realities, helping to inspire and ensure embedment of the former in the latter. This requires a good knowledge and understanding of organisational culture and sub-cultures, e.g. the characteristic beliefs, values and practices of individual teams or departments. If the manager is new to the role but already experienced in the organisation itself, development in this area will be easier and quicker than for the manager who is new to the organisation or sector.
Developing an understanding of culture should form an integral part of the induction and development process. This could include, for instance, briefing on what the organisation regards explicitly as ethical conduct or broader ‘good practice’ (e.g. core competencies, team culture, communication protocols). There are a number of practical methods that can be used to grow in implicit cultural awareness too, for example:
*Ask the new manager to keep a simple weekly learning log, noting any experiences that evoke a particularly strong emotional reaction; e.g. excitement, irritation, confusion. This is particularly valuable in the early stages before the manager becomes desensitised through inculturation. Note reflections and hypotheses alongside each reaction, e.g. what happened, what did it make me feel, what does what happened say about my own cultural framework, what might it say about the other person’s cultural framework? Complete the log with a simple action plan, e.g. ‘in light of these reflections, I will...’
*Encourage the new manager to meet with other new or recent starters, comparing and contrasting what they have noticed since joining the organisation, team or department. This process of sharing observations together can help the manager disentangle his or her own personal reactions from those that have been experienced by others too. If the same experiences have been encountered when engaging with more than one person in a particular team or department, those experiences could well be indicative of underlying cultural values and practices. The new manager will need to learn and review strategies to engage positively with them.
The new manager often needs to develop as leader as well as manager, especially if the role involves, for example, input into corporate, departmental or team visioning or managing people and teams. Leadership qualities tend to be a combination of personal (e.g. emotional intelligence) and interpersonal (e.g. ability to influence others) and the senior manager can support the new manager’s leadership development through intentional engagement in activities such as focused reflection, feedback, coaching, conferences, action learning.
Some organizations have core competency frameworks that prescribe critical behaviours for leaders, e.g. an ability to establish and maintain cooperative relationships. These behaviours are often embedded in personal goals systems, developed through coaching processes and evaluated through stakeholder feedback and appraisal. A basic approach to developing the new manager as leader is to focus on three core characteristics: vision, passion, presence; providing relevant opportunities for engagement, reflection and feedback.
*Vision: helping the new manager develop his or her own sense of vision and ability to envision others. This may entail coaching the manager to look beyond immediate horizons, see the bigger picture, clarify goals, sharpen and maintain focus. It could also entail helping the new manager to reflect on his or her growing ability to envision colleagues and team members.
*Passion: helping the new manager establish a heart or spiritual connection with the vision. Passion is concerned with belief, faith, emotion, energy, motivation, determination. The passionate leader aligns personal vision with team, departmental or corporate vision and is able to engage with, motivate, ignite and sustain passion in others. This may entail coaching the new manager to tease out underlying personal values and convert them into action.
*Presence: helping the new manager develop and enact personal loyalty, commitment, relationship, empathy, presence, support, teamwork. This entails coaching the manager to prioritise people, engage with people effectively and reflect on its impacts. The leader who is committed to standing with others in solidarity is most likely to inspire vision, passion, loyalty and commitment in return.
Management development tends to focus on practical knowledge and skills. The senior manager will need to ensure the new manager is familiar with key organizational policies (e.g. health and safety), his or her specific responsibilities (e.g. performance management) and how to enact them in the workplace. The new manager also needs to understand and apply a wide range of technical skills within organisational culture and policy frameworks, e.g. how to manage a budget, recruit a member of staff, develop a team. The senior manager can support the new manager’s management development in these areas through intentional engagement in activities such as training, mentoring from a more experienced manager or practitioner, reading, networking, action learning.
Professional bodies such as the Chartered Management Institute describe generic management standards that can be used as the basis for systematic training or mentoring programmes. The CMI Diploma, for instance, covers a range of topics including: developing management style, managing financial and non-financial resources, managing communication and information, managing customers and quality, managing individual and team performance, managing projects, managing recruitment and selection. If there are a number of new, inexperienced or prospective managers in the organization, this type of syllabus can be used to create a core management development programme, contextualised to suit organizational culture and development priorities and designed to incorporate opportunities for skills practice and feedback.
In order to ensure a holistic development package that enables the new manager to settle, perform well and thrive in the role and organization, the senior manager will do well to plan, implement and review a development plan that addresses each of the areas covered by this article. This could include drawing up a checklist of key competencies (required knowledge, skills and behaviours) during the recruitment and probation period (drawing on the organisation’s management standards if they exist) and using it with the new manager to identify, address and review his or her strengths and development priorities.
The manager who is supported and developed from the outset will grow in confidence, capability and credibility and, over time, add maximum value to colleagues, team and organization.