No matter how high our hopes are for a newly promoted manager, things often go remarkably wrong.
Sometimes it’s the new manager’s attitude or belief. For instance, I’ve worked with a previously responsible employee who viewed his promotion as justification to stop handling details, because they’re for “lower-level people.” Another newly promoted employee saw her promotion as validation of her work and herself as she was, and decided she no longer needed to learn new skills.
Promotions can also bring hidden weaknesses to the surface. Another new manager was so conflict averse that she ignored looming problems, and feared her team members’ greater technical expertise so much that she wasn’t intervening when it was necessary.
How to Help a New Manager Get Back on Track
Moving up a level can be tough, so we shouldn’t be too shocked or disappointed when problems occur — and we should be ready to help newly promoted employees get back on a stronger footing. When you’re managing newly promoted people, their performance reflects on you. If they’re not working out in their new jobs, you’ll have to provide corrective action or shift their assignments, and you might as well give it the best shot you can. These five points will help.
- Learn why they’re not performing the way you expect. It turned out that the fellow who started dumping his detail work assumed the organization’s higher-ups didn’t bother with mundane tasks, and he wanted to look like he had the appropriate status. I recommended that his manager set him straight on the crucial importance of the details, with the option of handling them himself or delegating them carefully. And I encouraged her to recognize and praise his accomplishments and growth, to resolve his need to feel important and attended to. My client was able to help this manager connect the dots between responsible, accurate implementation and his ongoing success.
- Make it a partnership. Rather than reiterating everything a new manager did wrong and must fix, look for ways to team up in their weak areas. In addition to modeling appropriate functional and organizational behaviors, plan together how things should be handled, and afterwards debrief on how they went. When you take personal responsibility for the health of the partnership, you give the new manager a chance to address how they could come up to speed more rapidly. Ask: “Are there ways I didn’t prepare you enough for the new role, which requires A, B, and C? How could I be supporting you more effectively to ensure you’re able to do X, Y, and Z?”
- Provide any missing skill development. If you think newly promoted managers have potential, don’t waste your initial investment by treating them as if they’re supposed to have knowledge and experience that it’s turned out they don’t actually have. Whether the missing skill is technical, interpersonal, or business acumen, help them get it, even if that means bringing in outside expertise to teach or coach them. Replacing them would be even more costly and time consuming — without any guarantee of success.
- Remind them of their personal motivation to succeed and grow. After the conflict-averse manager and I chatted about her wasted time and effort and the loss of organizational progress, she recognized that her lack of action would eventually make her look weak and ineffectual. Since she wanted to be a good boss and continue to rise in the company, she resolved to turn the situation around in a way that felt consistent with her values and personality.
- Don’t wait. Don’t hope new managers will improve, have a change of heart, or suddenly realize that their approach isn’t working. If you get involved promptly and with a light hand, it’s much more likely that they’ll be receptive to input; the longer you wait, the worse the situation may become and the more remedial and punitive your attention will seem. Start out simply and plainly: “I’ve noticed that some of the details of the ABC event weren’t handled accurately/you didn’t take the course I recommended/your subordinates don’t seem to be working collaboratively/you haven’t been holding team meetings. Would you tell me about that?” After acknowledging their response, explain the logical ramifications and ask what support they need to move forward.
You may not be able to salvage every manager who struggles in a new role. You might need to shift responsibilities around, redesign the job, or in the worst-case scenario, let the manager go. But it makes sense to invest in preserving your new managers, and thereby demonstrate fairness and caring, both to the ones who don’t make it and to other potential candidates. At the same time, you’ll learn better what to look for next time.
Onward and upward,