A guide to manager training and development at high-growth companies
It’s unrealistic to expect a new manager (or anyone, really) to automatically have all the skills they’ll need to thrive in their role. This is why manager training and development is so critical — it creates structure and support so managers can develop the essential knowledge, skills, and attributes (often referred to as KSAs) they need to be effective.
Some organizations differentiate between training, which often occurs during an employee’s early days, weeks, or months in a new role, and development, which is less time-bound and more focused on soft skills and ongoing professional education, but often these terms are used interchangeably. This article provides you with guidance on supporting managers in fast-growth environments.
Challenges new managers face in fast-growth environments
Why might you need to provide manager training and development? There are several challenges new managers are likely to face, especially in fast-growth environments. These include:
Managing former peer coworkers
When an employee is promoted internally to lead their own team, they may suddenly find themselves responsible for managing their former peer coworkers. This can create awkwardness and reluctance to fully step into the manager role or feelings of resentment among their former peers.
Transitioning from individual contributor to manager
Making the initial jump from individual contributor to people manager requires an entirely new skill set and mentality. It’s no longer enough to look inwards and focus on your own contributions — this approach will only lead to burnout and exhaustion. New managers need to motivate, inspire, and support others, but these are skills that don’t always come naturally!
Navigating the balancing act between strategy and people
In some fast-growth settings, people managers can also feel pressure to focus more on strategy to help launch the company into its next phase of growth. But if this comes at the expense of leading and providing support for their team, it can lead to a lack of confidence and motivation among their team members. “Today, successful leaders must be more person-focused and able to collaborate effectively with people from various teams, departments, cultures, nationalities and backgrounds,” says Hakemia Jackson, Global Executive Coach, DI board advisor and CEO of Divinely Powered.
Lack of training or support from the company
In fast-growth environments, HR is often stretched thin and you may not have a dedicated learning and development team. But this shouldn’t be used as an excuse. Doing nothing to support new managers is a choice, and it’s one that sets them up to fail. Defining what it means to be a good manager at your company and providing support to help people get there is important. See our guide: How to choose the right manager training courses for your company for support here.
The importance of manager training and development
Why is it so critical to invest in manager training and development? Consider the following points.
Managers directly impact the employee experience
Gallup finds that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement and Culture Amp’s research shows that when employees feel disconnected from leadership, there will be a double-digit decrease in employee engagement. Similarly, the old adage that people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers, appears to be true: At least 75% of voluntary turnover can be influenced by managers.
Good management is a skill most people don’t naturally possess
Only about one in ten people possess high talent to manage others and only about one in five (18%) of those currently in management roles demonstrate a high level of talent for managing others. This means we can’t assume that our current or new managers will automatically have the skills they need to succeed.
Most employees want more from their managers, not less
One of the biggest areas where managers are falling short is in giving feedback to their teams. Gallup finds that 98% of people will fail to be engaged when managers give little to no feedback. And according to a 2019 LinkedIn study, 94% of employees said they would stay with their employer if it invested in their development. Just as managers need to proactively offer feedback and development opportunities to their team members, companies must consider how they can provide the same types of support to their managers.
Ignoring managers’ development is a costly mistake
We saw earlier that managers have a major impact on voluntary turnover. If 25% of a company’s workforce leaves voluntarily in a year, Gallup estimates it could cost a 100-person firm between $438,000 and $4 million a year to replace these employees. When you compare this to the cost of providing training and development to managers, it becomes clear that investing in training is a better business decision.
5 skills new managers need
The complete list of specific skills a new manager needs will vary depending on their role and company, but there are several skills that can be useful to any new manager.
1. Business knowledge and strategy
One of the biggest differences between an individual contributor and manager role is that managers are generally expected to have a better sense of the company’s overall business strategy. What does the market look like? How does your company differentiate itself? Developing a firm understanding of company goals like OKRs (objectives and key results) or KPIs (key performance indicators) is a key skill that will help managers motivate their teams and guide them to focus on the right things.
2. Giving effective feedback
Being able to tell team members when they’ve done something well — and when they have room for improvement — is a fundamental skill of good managers. Yet it’s an area where many are lacking. Research shows that 60% of employees haven’t gotten any feedback over the past 6 months or more, and 70% say their performance and possibilities for success in their careers would have increased substantially if they had been given more feedback. “I actually think it’s the conversations we’re not having that drive our success or failure,” writes executive coach and consultant Maureen Falvey. “The best gift we can give to someone is to feed back to them how they’re being perceived or received based on our observations, for their benefit.”
There are only so many hours in the day, and managers will often find their calendars stuffed with meetings. This is why the ability to delegate tasks is critical. As Jesse Sostrin, Director in PwC’s Leadership Coaching Center of Excellence puts it in a Harvard Business Review article, “The upper limit of what’s possible will increase only with each collaborator you empower to contribute their best work to your shared priorities. Likewise, your power decreases with every initiative you unnecessarily hold on to.”
4. Emotional intelligence/EQ
Let’s not forget that one of the most important parts of being a people manager is your ability to work with people (it’s right there in the name!). It’s not just about driving results for your business, but being sensitive to your team members’ feelings and adjusting your communication style and expectations to the situation. Emotional intelligence or EQ is found in 90% of top performers. Co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 Travis Bradberry writes, “You can be a top performer without emotional intelligence, but the chances are slim.”
While similar to emotional intelligence, which is the ability to get a read on others’ emotions (and your own), empathy takes it a step further by striving to really understand what they’re feeling. “A lot of times what I've seen with managers is they'll automatically go to those tactical things, like what are the next steps, what do we do to address this, instead of taking that step back to understand,” says Patty Martinez, Senior People Scientist at Culture Amp. Developing this understanding requires an intentional approach to management, says Stacey Nordwall, Head of Employee Experience at Pyn: “For me, empathy is really about that attempt to listen, understand, and thoughtfully spend time with someone to truly understand what their experience is and what their feelings are. A lot of that is about curiosity and listening.”
How to provide ongoing support to managers
Now that you’ve seen the value of manager training and development and have a sense of some of the essential skills for managers, you might be wondering how you can provide this type of support at your organization. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.
Pairing more experienced managers with newer managers in a mentoring program is one effective way to provide support. This type of program can be formal, with a set schedule and structure, or more informal with participants meeting whenever they have a specific question or challenge to address. You can also consider offering shadowing opportunities where newer managers can spend time observing someone in a more senior role and asking questions about the experience.
Just as an aspiring athlete or musician might work with a coach to develop their skills, new managers can work with coaches to do the same in the professional arena. Depending on the size of your organization and the managers in question, you may be able to find a coach within your company or it might make more sense to hire someone externally. There may be some overlap between mentors and coaches, though coaches are often skilled at asking questions and helping their coachees arrive at their own solutions while mentors are more likely to share their own knowledge and experience.
You can use a tool like Pyn to deliver relevant information to new managers in a structured way so they don’t get overwhelmed. This type of well-timed communication also works well for ongoing manager development. For example, Snyk used Pyn to run manager training for four different cohorts. They were structured as sessions that provided managers with valuable information like:
- Ideas for “missions” to do with their teams
- Resources to carry out those “missions”
- Challenges to help managers grow personally and professionally
- Reminders to cultivate a deeper relationship between managers and direct reports
“We deliver all of this through the campaigns module with Pyn so that we're not manually sitting there every week trying to figure out what we're supposed to send to each individual,” says Brij Palicha, Director of Learning and Development at Snyk. “We just set everything up once at the beginning of the program and let the campaign run itself.”
Finally, your managers can get a lot of value from ongoing education such as online courses, cohort learning, peer-led workshops, and even online communities where other managers share their challenges and useful resources. You might choose to mix and match some of these offerings depending on your organization’s size, budget, and the level of engagement among your managers.