Educate New Managers on Their New Responsibilities

Guest post by John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog (since 2004).

Far too often, companies promote employees into management positions and expect them to fulfill the obligations of their new position without helping prepare them to meet their new responsibilities. People who excelled at doing their non-supervisory job often have little education or experience to succeed with their new responsibilities.

Managing a software development team is a completely different job from being a great software developer. Most everyone would acknowledge that. But if you look at what actually happens in many organizations, the management system is not set up with this fact in mind.

A company with a Deming-based management system will actually provide relevant education and experience to all employees and will benefit new managers (much more than most organizations do). Since the Deming management system includes educating everyone on useful management tools and using the abilities of everyone as much as possible, most non-supervisors will have gained significant knowledge and experience during their career. In Deming-based management systems, employees are called on to work cooperatively, coach colleagues, evaluate priorities, assess the success of changes, and take proactive action to improve processes, etc. But in many other organizations, this education and experience is often fairly limited.

And even in organizations where everyone is encouraged to learn and take on leadership responsibilities in various ways such as leading a project team, leading a PDSA improvement cycle effort, helping colleagues apply a management tool that others are not familiar with, continually improving the standard work instructions, evaluating data to determine the proper course of action etc., normally they would benefit greatly from training and education specifically aimed at helping them succeed in their new role.

image of quote by Dr. Deming "Best efforts are essential. Unfortunately, best efforts, people charging this way and that way without guidance of principles, can do a lot of damage."

Large organizations have some advantages in this area as they can afford the overhead to create a plan and provide structure to assist those taking on significantly new responsibilities. Formal internal training and education for those taking on management responsibilities can be very helpful. Of course, one of the problems with such efforts is they often reinforce management practices we, The W. Edwards Deming Institute, are trying to help people overcome. Still, the idea of courses to help people learn about how to be successful managers is a useful one. Just be careful to choose the right content. Good strategies are undermined by poor tactical choices.

Even with very little structure in those cases when a wonderfully designed system for assisting new managers is not realistic, we can help our organizations by providing some help to new managers (and existing managers, actually).

Reading several good books can help a great deal. But such a tactic has limited value; it is hard for most people to learn a great deal about management in just that way. Online training and videos also offer some promise, as do podcasts and blogs and other online resources. It is normally very useful for new managers to have people they can interact with when taking on such challenging new responsibilities. An internal mentor can be a huge help. Coaching from a consultant for new managers can also be very valuable.

Taking the time to create a process for new managers, which gives them every chance to grow into their new positions, is important. Paula Marshall, CEO of The Bama Companies, spoke at our 2014 Annual Conference and mentioned how she personally leads training sessions for all managers. All new managers get 40 hours of meetings and seminars with her.

For small organizations, the efforts might well be on a smaller scale than that.

I strongly believe the ideal way to set up such a system would be to use a capacity matrix.  Even if you decide to make the number of items in the matrix very small, that would be a great start. It is also surprising how much you will learn about what is actually needed to do the job well. This could be used to help recruit and evaluate candidates more effectively, a nice extra benefit from using this idea.

Providing a list of resources for new managers to learn from will also help. It could be as simple as a list of 3 books, 2 webcasts, and 5 articles. Maybe you would include specific training courses such as The Deming Institute 2 1/2 Day Seminar or online courses. Those resources should be picked to aid learning about the capabilities identified in the capacity matrix.

In an ideal situation, resources for learning about specific capabilities would be linked. Realistically, this is unlikely to be created at the outset. My advice? If it wasn’t created at the outset, have those people who are using the capacity matrix complete those linkages for those who follow in their footsteps.  And just like a standard work instruction, this should be a living document that is updated as it can be improved.

Give new managers someone to talk to as they learn from those resources and attempt to expand their capabilities. They also need someone to talk to as they experiment and try to apply what they have learned for themselves within their new responsibilities.

Maybe that person to consult with could be their supervisor, maybe it could be a mentor, maybe it is their supervisor and a coach. And of course, likely there will be several people even if none are formally assigned such a role, but it is wise to formally assign at least one person. Use whatever process makes sense for your organization. Put that process in place and continually improve it based on what you learn.

Some positions will require specialized capabilities. Make sure your process is flexible given that the needs are going to vary. A base capacity matrix that then has modules added on for specific roles (perhaps some managers need to present to large audiences or be interviewed by journalists, etc.). With a good system in place, it is easy to build a customized capacity matrix for each position. And creating such a system is a powerful way to improve the value managers can deliver to the organization during their career.

Related: Give People Enough Rope (and the Right Rope) to AchievePaula Marshall Thoughts on MentoringInstitute Training on the JobCreating a Great Software Development Team

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