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Five Reasons to Focus on Your Newest Managers

(as published in the Central Pennsylvania Business Journal October 3, 2014)

“I got promoted to Manager!”
“That’s great! What will you be doing?”
“I have no idea.”

Management ability isn’t innate; it’s learned, like any other behavioral skill. Yet, 50% of new managers report that they received no training before assuming the role. We don’t allow a new employee to run a machine or to enter data without training; should employees who are new to management be treated any differently? Here’s why new managers are worth more time and attention.

1. Tremendous Impact on Productivity.

While top management plays the most significant role in setting the overall direction of the company, its agendas and its priorities, it is up to managers within the organization to actually implement these strategies.How well they execute these plans affect the business quickly—positively and negatively. A new manager might have to discuss new return procedures with his customer service staff. Another recently promoted supervisor is empowered to roll out new quality control standards at the warehouse dock. A third has to explain a change in the employee handbook to the workers. But how can any of these managers be expected to communicate such critical direction if they have never been taught the skills to do so?

2. Organization Morale and Motivation.

In my experience, the excitement and pride on a new manager’s face at the first training session is a wonderful sight. Just being invited enhances his or her self-esteem, and respect and appreciation for the organization grow. In workshops and coaching sessions, new managers are absolute sponges, soaking up every idea, article and role-play. It doesn’t matter if he or she is responsible for maintenance, accounts payable or engineering. All of these new managers take their energy and recently acquired skills back to their jobs and then work hard to improve their own performances and those of their teams. The enthusiasm is infectious; soon, many more employees are invested and engaged in the company. What follows? Other employees want to know how they, too, can qualify for the Management Development Program.

3. Reduce Turnover, Increase Retention.

The true cost of turnover has been calculated, depending on the employee level, at a staggering 150-250% of the employee’s income. In other words, by the time you replace a $40,000 employee, it has cost the company $60,000 in lost productivity, unemployment expense, recruiting, training, etc. Two frequently cited reasons for employees leaving their jobs are “My boss doesn’t communicate with me” and “I have no room to move up.” Training new managers in the most basic of communication and motivation skills counters both of these complaints, and others as well. A formal management development program also tells employees that they can have careers, not just jobs. In fact, manpower planning must begin not only with new managers, but actually even earlier–before potential managers leave.

4. No Bad Habits Yet.

Every executive reading this knows that he or she improved as a leader over the course of his or her career. Maybe you used to show favorites, or you used to try to do all of the work yourself, or you used to ignore a subordinate you didn’t like. But, over time, your communication skills (verbal and non-verbal) improved, you learned to delegate, and you became more comfortable with those “tough” conversations. When new managers are given the opportunity to practice these skills in a safe and fun classroom setting before encountering real-life situations, they are ready when those situations arise. Sure, they will still have a learning curve and make mistakes, but shouldn’t they have an easier chance to succeed than some of us had?

5. Bench Strength and Culture.

In sports, the teams with the deepest benches often win, because they can weather a loss due to injury. In organizations, the unexpected happens all of the time: a manager gets ill, or leaves the company. Senior management can be more comfortable and executives can make bolder decisions knowing that whoever takes the department reins understands not just how to do the job, but also how the company operates. The latter, better known as corporate culture, is easier to maintain when managers are promoted from within and are trained in a formalized way, sanctioned by the organization.

In a 2013 national Gallup poll, employee disengagement–the relationship between an organization and its employees–was measured at 70%. Gallup estimated that these actively disengaged employees cost the United States $450-$550 billion each year in lost productivity and that they were “likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays, and drive customers away.” More to the point: the survey also stated that the leading factor influencing engagement was an employee’s relationship with his or her own direct manager. We cannot afford not to train our managers in leadership, management, communication, delegation and other vital issues.

Let’s start with the newest ones.