In the quest to develop a robust internal talent pool, companies often focus leadership development efforts on those high-potential people who are already managers, directors, or senior leaders. However, every time those mid- and upper-level managers get promoted, they leave gaps at the levels behind them. Filling those gaps haphazardly with high-performing individual contributors may work occasionally, but often, individual contributors aren’t ready to take on management and leadership roles.
To help keep your internal talent pool teeming with excellent candidates for lower levels of management, start targeting high performers who can learn some of the foundational skills that will make them excellent managers. Those high performers may already have some of the soft skills you want in a manager, such as emotional intelligence, good communication skills, and the ability to make strong connections in face-to-face interactions.
When you find high-performing individual contributors who already have strong interpersonal skills and some natural aptitude for leading people, target them for training in some functional leadership skills necessary to achieve the business goals.
Here are six essential management skills you must teach your great individual contributors to turn them into successful managers:
1. Interviewing and Hiring
Many brand-new managers have never been in a position to hire new team members. It’s possible they’ve never even been on the other side of the interview table. Teach your promising individual contributors how to navigate internal hiring processes, review resumes, interview candidates, and onboard new hires. By developing this fundamental skill early, you’ll increase their confidence and help them hire great team members.
2. Basic Finance and Budgeting
Individual contributors rarely have to manage a complex budget. While they may know some financial terms, they may need to learn how to read a balance sheet or understand the principles of corporate finance. Give new managers some training in managing a budget for their department. Be sure to tie department budgeting to the overall company finances. Teach some basic terms such as EBITDA, P&L, and others relevant to managing a budget.
3. Prioritization and Delegation
One particular challenge for individual contributors is moving from being a “doer” to a “delegator.” Often, highly productive employees are so accustomed to delivering results in their particular roles that they have trouble letting go of former obligations. They may move into a management role only to become overwhelmed and frustrated because they struggle to perform management duties while continuing to fulfill their old responsibilities.
As you target individual contributors for management training, be sure to include training on prioritizing management obligations and delegating tasks to team members. Reinforce the message that delegation is necessary for a management role.
4. Performance Management
For first-time managers who are unaccustomed to giving feedback to team members from a leadership role, conducting performance management with direct reports could be very intimidating. Many of those direct reports could be friends who were, until recently, at the same level of hierarchy in the organization. New managers could be concerned about how to preserve relationships within the new manager/employee dynamic. They may tiptoe around offering constructive criticism in a misguided effort to make everyone feel comfortable. In addition, the specific performance management process could be tough to navigate from a management perspective.
Offer these first-time managers training in conducting one-on-ones and giving ongoing feedback so that annual or semi-annual performance management cycles feel less intimidating. Train these new leaders to use assessments or feedback forms and conduct feedback sessions with direct reports. Whatever your internal processes are for performance management, new managers shouldn’t have to navigate them without some training.
5. Organization and Project Management
Another critical skill for new managers is project management. As high-performing individual contributors, your new managers were probably excellent at managing their own workloads and projects. However, these new managers will need to be able to look at the team’s overall responsibilities, projects, and deliverables and then organize them to produce business results.
If your organization uses project management software, start by ensuring new managers know how to oversee a project within that system. Make sure they know how to look at the big picture, check in on individual contributions, and manage dependencies.
Even if you don’t use a project management system, it’s still important to coach new managers until it’s clear that they feel confident to organize and manage projects.
6. Technology Aptitude
Leaders don’t have to be the most technically adept people in an organization. Still, they should have a working knowledge of any technology relevant to their teams. For some new managers, technical aptitude could be as simple as familiarity with basic office software and the ability to create a presentation. Other managers, however, may need to know niche software or technologies.
Having a strong aptitude for technology allows managers to be more efficient and less reliant on team members or the IT department, but it also builds credibility within the team. Managers who understand the challenges their team members face, including those they may have with technology, will go far in building trust within the team.
Some aspects of developing great managers may require more than just training sessions. For instance, developing active listening or conflict resolution skills may be more appropriately addressed through ongoing coaching and feedback instead of short-term training. However, ensuring that your new managers are prepared with fundamental skills will give them a strong foundation for long-term leadership success and contribute to good management practices across your organization.
- What is one skill that we could start training our new managers on tomorrow?
- Do we have a system for training new managers? Why or why not?
- How can we better equip new managers to lead their teams from day one?