How to Ensure a New Manager Succeeds

Being a new manager can be an exciting, and stressful, opportunity. It’s a great promotion, with new responsibilities, added prestige, and the pay bump to match.

It’s also a major career change to a world very different than what you learn in any school or classroom.

It’s important that you promote people looking to be a manager for the right reasons, and that they have the right skills and mindset.

However, once you promote them, your work is just beginning. Without help, a new manager is set up to flounder and fail.

Today, we explore the 5 most important things you can do to ensure your new manager succeeds.

How to Help a New Manager Succeed from Day 1

“The best day to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best day is today.” – Chinese Proverb

If you promoted a new manager awhile ago and they’re struggling, all of these approaches will still work to help them. You may just have to help them unlearn some things and build some new habits.  You may also have to rebuild trust with them that you’re there for them.

without support a new manager will fall

1) Provide more support through one on ones

The single biggest mistake that managers make when they promote someone is that they reduce the amount of support and attention they provide to that employee. This is a fatal mistake that sets your employee up to crumble like the train above.

The Peter Principle meets Task Relevant Maturity

When you promote someone, whether to management, or any other role, their responsibilities and daily tasks change.

Whether someone was an All-Star at your company or not, they will need help and support to succeed in their new role.  Otherwise, this is exactly how the “Peter Principle” can infect and destroy your company:

“In an organizational hierarchy, every employee will rise or get promoted to his or her level of incompetence.”

The biggest reason the Peter Principle happens is that leaders believe that someone who was great in their current role will automatically succeed after being promoted.

To avoid this, founder and former CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, coined the term, Task Relevant Maturity:

“How often you monitor should not be based on what you believe your subordinate can do in general, but on his experience with a specific task and his prior performance with it – his task relevant maturity…as the subordinate’s work improves over time, you should respond with a corresponding reduction in the intensity of the monitoring.”

This chart, from Grove’s timeless leadership classic, High Output Management, can help you understand how to apply it to your team:

New manager has low task relevant maturity help them with one on ones

Improve Task Relevant Maturity with your one on ones

Who has time for all these one on one coaching sessions? You do. When you promote someone, their one on ones become all the more important.

Use that time you set aside on your calendar to focus on their questions and concerns, and your feedback and coaching on how they’re doing. You’ll be amazed how quickly someone’s performance can improve with this modest investment of your time.

Schedule them more often.

For someone you trust well and seems happy in their role, you may have decreased your frequency of one on ones with them. When you promote someone like that, you need to have the meetings much more often again.

Just like you’d spend more time with a new hire, you should do the same for an existing team member in a new role. This is especially true for a change as big and dramatic as being a new manager.

Set an agenda together.

To make the most of your one on ones, make sure you both bring an agenda to the meeting (an app like Lighthouse can help you with this).

This will force you to prepare some thoughts on their recent work you’d like to either praise or see improved. Meanwhile, they can use the agenda to get your advice on the most pressing issues they have recently experienced.

Together, your preparations will make sure you make the most of the meetings. By using your one on ones for this purpose, you both have a recurring meeting on the calendar that makes sure these discussions don’t slip, and that you can anticipate the next time you will talk about these things.

a new manager will quit if you don't support them

A story: an unsupported manager quits

A friend of mine was promoted to manager about a year ago. He was excited for the new role after doing very well as an individual contributor at the company.

Unfortunately, when he was promoted, his manager decided they no longer needed to have one on ones.  Unsupported and unfamiliar with the role and responsibilities, he struggled and became unhappy in his job.

Less than a year into his role as manager, he quit and went to work at another company. An A player went from rising star to quitting in less than 12 months.

The bottom line: When you don’t support a new manager, you’re at risk of them quitting. Especially for high performers, there’s nothing that crushes their morale like feeling like they’re failing. If you are unavailable to help them when they feel this way for too long, they’ll quit.

The easiest way to avoid this is to make sure you have regularly scheduled one on ones with them.

you must teach a new manager the fundamentals or they're set up to fail

2) Give them good fundamentals to start

A new manager’s uninformed approach to leading their team can be as ugly, and dangerous, as the form of the weightlifter pictured above.  Without a firm understanding of the key habits and tasks that make a manager successful, they’re doomed to fail.

And this poor form doesn’t just affect them. Gallup’s research shows that managers contribute to 70% of the variance in the level of engagement of an employee.  If your new manager is failing, their team is at risk, too.

Don’t make them reinvent the wheel

Whether you were well-supported as a new manager or not, helping your new manager succeed is the right thing to do. While self-education is an important part of anyone’s success in their career, it should not be the only way they learn.

Make sure they’re doing the basics that make a manager successful and motivate teams:

Fundamentals drive excellence

When you give someone good fundamentals to start, it’s amazing how many other problems can be avoided, and the success that can be had.

It’s why legendary NFL head coach Vince Lombardi focused on the fundamentals when coaching and remarked:

give a new managerthe right fundamentals and breed excellence like Vince Lombardi

Other legendary coaches and players have also been quoted on the importance of fundamentals to success like John Wooden (10 NCAA Basketball Championships), Larry Bird (3 NBA Championships), and Michael Jordan (6 NBA Championships).

While the scoreboard may be different in the workplace, building good fundamental habits in your managers and their staff is just as important to winning as it is on the field or court.

Give them context

One of the most helpful things you can do for someone early in their new role is giving them context into their team and their work. If you’ve worked with some of the manager’s team, help them understand their strengths and weaknesses, and where their last manager may have left off for them.

Understanding what happened before they took over can be a critical step to success. If a manager before was great, then there’s a high set of expectations on what their manager will do to help, and when they’ll stay out of the way.

Meanwhile, if the last manager was poor, then there may be quite a bit of baggage and low morale to address head on.

Avoid creating politics

As a team grows, it is common for a manager to have to split their team. Suddenly everyone that reported to you can’t anymore.

Instead, you promote or hire a new manager or two to help you. This means that some people that you had a great working relationship with now report to someone else.

If you don’t prepare the new manager to handle this, it can plant the seeds of destructive politics.

a new manager that is not prepared can help create politics

A story: An old manager unintentionally lets politics grow

A friend of mine was in this exact situation when she became manager. Some were not thrilled to no longer report to her boss, and because she was learning as she went, she wasn’t able to immediately manage like her boss did.

This led to some of her new team going around her to her boss to ask for things, get support, and complain about her. This created a series of problems:

  • My friend struggled to build effective working relationships with some team members.
  • My friend’s boss was left answering more questions and staying more involved with the team than planned.
  • My friend’s boss’s continued over-involvement that undermined my friend’s ability to lead.

The problem wasn’t fixed until the boss started directing their former team members to go to my friend for situations within her responsibilities.  This change freed up her boss’s time, and my friend was finally able to lead everyone and trust they all would come to her when they needed help.

The Bottom Line: New managers need to first master the fundamentals in order to be effective in their new roles.  Help them learn those skills early.

As they start with their new team, help them also build stronger relationships by learning the most important context about each person on their team. These 3 questions for new managers can help.

you can't protect a new manager from every possible mistake

3) Make some failure okay

Rather than providing no support to your new manager, the other mistake you can make is being overprotective. Like the parent who wrapped their child in foam padding in the movie The Little Giants pictured above, going too far to protect your manager from failing can also hurt their ability to be effective.

Give them freedom to learn from mistakes

With all the new challenges a manager will face in their first few days, weeks, and months, it can be tempting to swoop in and help every time.  While providing advice and coaching when they need it is helpful, it’s important that they’re solving the problems in the end, not you.

Julie Zhuo, Product Design VP at Facebook, has written a series of great posts on management. Her most recent post has a particularly important insight when it comes to learning as a manager:

julie zhuo reminds us that a new manager has to learn from what they experience

How do you know when to step in? The Waterline.

There is an art and experience that comes with learning how hands on to be with your people. Andy Grove’s Task Relevant Maturity can help with how much autonomy to give someone, and to decide when it’s really important to intervene regardless of experience, you should use the simple concept called: the waterline.

help a new manager by considering what mistakes they can and cannot make

W.L. Gore, the $2.5 billion manufacturer of items like the clothing tech Gore-Tex, has an awesome boat analogy they use in their training that captures this well:

“The waterline principle means that it’s ok to make a decision that might punch a hole in the boat as long as the hole is above the waterline so that it won’t potentially sink the ship. But, if the decision might create a hole below the waterline which might cause the ship to sink, then associates are encouraged to consult with their team so that a collaborative decision can be made.

When you’re helping a new manager, apply this same waterline concept to how much you allow them to learn from a mistake versus when you intervene.

If a mistake will cost you a customer, cause an employee to quit, or prove very costly in another way, it’s below the waterline and appropriate for you to be more hands on. Otherwise, give them the opportunity to gain valuable experience on their own.

Take time to ask

Not everyone you promote to manager will enjoy the job and succeed. Unfortunately, because you promoted them, and they don’t want to let you down, you may not hear about their struggles. That’s why it’s important you ask them.

Julie Zhuo has learned this firsthand, as she shares in her post, “Unintuitive Things I’ve Learned About Management”:

“I have pushed people to become managers…only to burn them out and lose them down the line. It is crushing to have someone you asked to be a manager admit to you a year later that she is having trouble getting out of bed in the morning because the prospect of having to deal with her reports every day was that unappealing.”

It can be scary to admit you don’t want to do the job you were promoted to do, but you can make it safe for them to do so.  Netflix has even rumored to have gone as far as celebrating people returning to engineering from management to remove any stigma in admitting to unhappiness as a manager.

A manager is a multiplier, who can impact the morale, abilities, and productivity of their team. When managers report to you, you can have an exponential impact on the people in your company based on how you do or do not help your managers be effective.

By providing the right level of regular support, and helping them learn the fundamentals, you can ensure your new manager succeeds.


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