Friday, June 25, 2010

How to Onboard a New Manager

We all know how important it is to provide new hire employees with a good onboarding experience. Proper onboarding helps improve ramp-up time, productivity, moral, and retention.

However – what about onboarding a newly promoted manager? Unfortunately, a lot of companies probably don’t pay as much, if any, attention to this. The “onboarding” process is more of a coronation – “I now anoint you manager – good luck!”

It doesn’t have to be that way. Stepping into a manager role for the first time isn’t just an extension of the same job with a new title – it’s a brand new job, and should be treated like one.

The goal of new manager onboarding is to speed up the time from clueless to proficiency. Let’s face it, every new manager is going to make mistakes – we all did. A good approach to onboarding can help minimize the duration and impact of that challenging learning curve.

Here are 10 ways to help onboard a new manager:

1. Start the learning process well before the promotion.
As soon as someone expresses an interested in management and has the potential, the development process should start. A manager of these “management candidates” can begin teaching and providing experiences (shadowing, running a team meeting, interviewing, budgeting) that can provide valuable exposure to the role and begin to prepare for possible promotion.

2. A peer mentor.
Help the newly promoted manager find a peer mentor, or “buddy” - someone who can help advise and provide support, at least for the first 6-12 months.

3. Help form an “advisory board”.
The new manager should have a number of subject matter experts and experienced peers, inside and outside of the organization, that act as an informal, virtual panel of advisers.
Some companies have begun to use web 2.0 capabilities to encourage this user generated best practice sharing and peer community building.

4. The new manager’s manager as coach.
A lot of managers become very hands off when it comes to coaching and teaching their direct report managers. While it’s true the amount of hand holding tends to decrease the higher you move in an organization, first time managers require and should get a lot of their manager’s time and attention. Unfortunately, a lot of mid-managers aren’t very good at coaching managers.

5. Management training.
Again, a lot of companies don’t provide training (internal or external) to new managers. BIG mistake. If I had to prioritize where to spend my limited management development resources, it would be for the new first level manager. That’s the point in a manager’s career where they going to be the most open to learning, and where you can begin to develop a foundation of good habits and skill.

6. HR outreach.
HR should personally reach out to every new manager and introduce themselves as a resource. I’m not talking about a 3 day course in all things HR (EEO, hiring, discipline, performance appraisal). The problem with those HR-centric immersion programs is that a new manager is going to forget 90% of what’s being shoveled at them. They aren’t going to need to know how to hire someone until they actually have to do it, which might only be every 2-3 years.
An outreach call should only be about 30-45 minutes, to show the new manager where they can find resources and who to call if they run into an issue or need advice. They should know when to call HR, i.e., the first sign of a union card, before you discipline an employee, when they need to hire someone, if they have a benefit question, or before they do anything insanely stupid.

7. Provide mandatory compliance training.
This is the training that every manager needs to take to reduce your company’s legal liability, most of what can be covered with online self-study training.

8. Provide a coach.
I realize not all companies or individuals can afford to hire an external coach. Many companies only do this for their newly promoted or hired executives.
Some companies have started internal coaching programs, where they train pools of volunteer coaches. This has proven to be very cost effective, and provides great development for the coaches as well.

9. New manager integration process.
Have a trainer, HR person, or a coach help you conduct a new manager integration process. It’s a great way for a team to get to know their manager, build trust, and establish mutual expectations.

10. Provide 1-2 good books.
For newly promoted managers, I’d recommend:
1. Michael Watkin’s The First 90 Days
2. Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
3. Scott Eblin’s The Next Level
4. Wally Bock’s Working Supervisor’s Toolkit
5. Art Petty’s Practical Lessons in Leadership
6. John Baldoni’s Lead By Example
7. PDI’s Successful Manager’s Handbook
8. Lominger’s For Your Improvement FYI

How about you? Any other ideas on onboarding new managers?


Unknown said...

my name is yossi koren
i'm a consultant from israel.
like to read your posts.
thank u for sharing with us your knowledge

GCohen said...


Great suggestions! I would like to emphasize the idea of mentor. The most current research suggests that having someone who is very successful in the role before is the best way to improve performance of someone new to the position. In the Education space Ellen Moir, CEO of New Teacher Center is using this model to change the course of education in urban schools.

Additionally, I would add finding that one thing that will explicitly demonstrate your value to the organization and that they made a good decision in hiring you in the first 8 weeks.

Dan McCarthy said...

Yossi -

GC -
Thanks, good tip on the importance of getting a quick win.

Leadership Traits said...

Hi,Nice and interesting post.

Dominic Rajesh said...

Thank you for sharing these interesting thoughts!

I regularly follow your blog and pick a lot of books to read based on your suggestions.

Your blog also helps me refine as to how we approach Leadership Development in our organization.

Thank you!


Dominic Rajesh said...

Hi Dan,

I regularly follow your blog and love what you write.

The books that you suggest have been greatly helpful for me while working on Leadership Development in my organization.

Thanks a lot!


Jennifer Joyce said...

Thanks for the quick hits on onboarding new managers. I especially agree with #5-Management training. Going from individual contributor to getting work accomplished through others is a big paradigm shift. We did a study of transition needs as managers go up levels and this first transition requires the biggest change in skills and values. If a manager doesn't get these skills early on, they often never develop them - thus the issue of managers not knowing how to coach a new manager. We are launching a year long virtual program just to address this level of manager and this critical need. I look forward to getting more of your blogs now that I have found you. Thanks, Jennifer Joyce, True North Programs.

Dan McCarthy said...

Traits -

Dominic -
Thanks, I'm glad you've found them to be of value.

Jennifer -
right, my own experience supports your findings. Good luck with your new program.

Anna Smith said...

After three months of training with Waffle House, *POOF* - I was anointed unit manager and all of a sudden responsible for 23 employees. I wish I had been given more training and support. The bulk of my knowledge about compliance came from google and I hardly ever spoke to my district manager or, for that matter, anyone else that was 'higher' than me. The main piece of advice I remember from my superiors was 'That'll get better with time'.
Hm. As to your question 'Any other ideas on onboarding new managers?' - Yes: Join the informal network for managers,, where managers can share knowledge, ask questions and find support. I created the site because I wasn't given much training or support and (secretly) wished for a mentor. Companies can create a private social network for their managers to 'show that they care', provide training tips, access to mentors, give feedback and foster management unity.
WDYWFT wants to change the way new managers are cultivated for growth. Thanks for your post!

Dan McCarthy said...

Anna -
Thanks, I love the Waffle House story.

Sue Edwards - Development By Design said...

Help newly hired managers realize that just because the recruitment process has emphasized how they are being brought in to be "change agents" and to bring their previous fabulous experience to bear etc. etc. ... that now that they have been selected they will need to start over again at "earning the right to be heard" within the organization. Coming in with a lens of facination and curiosity rather than "guns blazing step-aside I'm here to save the day!" attitude will serve you inordinately well.

Here's a blog post called "When You Join a New Company...Zip Up!"

I also offer a self-coaching workbook geared to new managers, "Wow Them In Your New Job" which gives additional tips and excercises.

Dan McCarthy said...

Sue -
OK, a couple free plugs for
Thanks for stopping by.