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Care and Feeding of First-Time Managers

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First-time managers often possess a lot of enthusiasm, determination, self-discipline, and of course those key skills that earned them the promotion in the first place. However, to be successful in their new role, they must also be able to communicate, delegate, mentor, motivate, and solve problems on a team or departmental level – abilities that they probably had neither the opportunity nor the need to develop in their previous position. When it comes to being effective leaders, first-time managers can only be as good as the support and training that the organization gives them. Here's what you can do to create nurturing and empowering environment that will allow them to flourish.

Bigger Roles, Bigger Challenges
According to HR Consultant Frank Marquardt, individual contributors face an overwhelming variety of challenges when first promoted to managerial positions. Previously responsible for just their own projects, duties and deadlines, first-time managers are suddenly placed in a situation where they not only have to monitor and maintain their own performance levels but those of their subordinates as well. "Without adequate training," says Marquardt, "it's easy to make mistakes. Some micro manage; some run into interpersonal problems; some fail to delegate." To help fledgling leaders avoid such pitfalls, Marquardt and other experts strongly recommend that all first-time managers undergo a focused training program. Fortunately for employers, formulating an effective and realistic training program for individual first-time managers can be simple. 'Individual' is the key word, however. Since each first-time manager is unique, experts caution against using a one-size fits all program, and instead suggest a training curriculum based on each first-time manager's specific needs.

In his article, Manager Training: Creating Programs for First-Time Managers, Marquardt outlines some essential steps for creating a first-time manager training program. These steps include:

  • Assess Needs. Gathering insight into the strengths and weaknesses, behavioral tendencies, and preferred work style the new manager will help you and other mentors zero in on specific areas of improvement. Pinpoint and discuss these areas with the new manager so that he or she can be more actively involved in the enhancement process.
  • Sell Competence. New managers will be needing key skills that weren’t necessary before. Encourage learning by demonstrating how advantageous it is to learn or cultivate these skills. If the new manager is uncomfortable with delegating, for example, show how projects can be completed more efficiently and expediently through strategic delegation. Some mentors use case studies and other concrete examples to bring home the need for training.
  • Set goals. Whether it’s a timeline or a to-do list, setting goals gives the training program focus, and breaks down the task into manageable steps. Setting goals also allows you and other mentors to track and evaluate the new manager’s progress.
  • Provide Exposure. Students often get a head start in learning the ropes by working as interns. This hands-on advantage is also an effective way to immerse the new manager into his or her new role and responsibilities. Role-playing, simulations, and application of a skill to the manager's work are all important parts of learning.
  • Schedule Sessions. Even the most effective training program can be rendered useless by interruptions and distractions. When undergoing training, new managers should be able to dedicate a solid block of time to focus on learning. If the training is done through an e-learning medium, sessions should be blocked off like regular meetings.
  • Check Retention. A few weeks or months after instruction, reinforce what is taught. This can take the form of a roundtable discussion, an additional practice session, or a set of questions that quizzes the managers on what they learned.
  • Maintain Consistency. As an organization, make sure you practice what you preach. If you have been training to instill punctuality, make sure upper management lead by example showing up for meetings on time. If part of your training teaches budget consciousness, ensure that the company enforces fiscal responsibility on all levels. New managers are fledgling leaders who know they have to learn things fast in order to succeed. Your responsibility is to make sure they learn the right things – the right way.

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