A dose of training for ailing first time managers

Many people move up the ranks from front-line to management, but some HR experts say making that transition can be a nightmare if an individual is not prepared.

Dan Ondrack, professor of management and director of executive programs at the University of Toronto, has been observing the “transition trends” of businesses for many years and says there are many factors to deal with when it comes to first-time managers.

“They have to go through a shift in confidence and it’s a fairly fundamental shift which they might not have received training for. That shift has to do with people management skills and work organization.”

People management is the core of this shift, since a first-time manager is now responsible for the productivity of a group. Ondrack says new managers have to be people savvy because the biggest variable in organizational performance is human capital.

“It’s not just the human variable in terms of people doing their particular job, it’s also about how people work together in terms of teams, colleagues, citizens of the organization. That can really only be accessed through good management and leadership.”

But, what kinds of skills are needed to be a successful new manager? Frank Acuff, a consultant for the Canadian Management Centre, says self-reflection is a must before jumping into the new position.

“They need to recognize that what put them there in the first place is not going to keep them there,” says Acuff, who also operates his own management consultant firm in Olympia Fields, Ill. “They shouldn’t assume that their title will have a lasting impact on their success.”

Often, first-time managers are chosen for their technical ability and their interpersonal and communication skills get overlooked. Acuff says that’s a hurdle new managers must get over.

“Success is not going to just come from your job title or knowledge for that matter, but it will be from your interpersonal skills, your networking ability and the ability to get things done through and with other people.”

A first-time manager’s obligations go far beyond formal, administrative work. They have to set new boundaries and limits with their employees, according to Acuff.

They must define a personal behavioural style, learn how to give and receive feedback and motivate others, he says.

As Ondrack points out, some people are naturally predisposed to handle these situations suitably, however there are those that struggle with the new responsibilities.

“There are two kinds of people, those that can make the accommodation and adjust, and those that will never really be able to make the transition and so they will flounder.”

HR should recognize that this transition demands crucial training because first-time managers have to learn a new set of skills, Ondrack says, and HR should be ready to give them a dose of training.

He also says HR should be looking at a two-dimensional appraisal of people when hiring for entry-level and technical-level jobs, creating a larger pool of qualified candidates to move up the management ranks.

“One dimension is how good or qualified are people for the current job and the second dimension is do they appear to have signs of potential for higher level jobs. If HR can be sensitive to that at the very beginning (of the hiring process), they might be able to reduce some of the problems later on.

“If you can pick out people at the entry-level who are competent but also have potential for leadership, then you’re stockpiling people for the future.”

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