Young manager having a difficult conversation

Organizations often fill management positions with first-time managers

Ensuring a sufficient pool of frontline managers remains a persistent priority for most organizations. Promoting individual contributors internally to managerial positions has its upsides:

  • Internally promoted managers bring existing organizational knowledge, reducing the learning curve compared to external hires.
  • Internal promotions minimize costs associated with external recruitment and onboarding.
  • Demonstrating career advancement opportunities aids in retaining and attracting top talent within the organization.

However, there can be a serious downside. First-time managers often struggle to adjust and succeed in their new roles.

60% are already likely to fail, and the job isn’t getting any easier

Sources put the year-one failure rate for new managers at 50%; but by year two, the figure rises to 60%. In other words, by their second year in their new positions, managers are significantly more likely to crash than they are to succeed.   

At the same time, the job is growing more difficult. Gartner research found that “the average manager now has 51% more responsibilities than they can effectively manage” (including things like greater numbers of direct reports, and increased job complexity).

The Cost of Failure is Considerable

  • Employees whose managers are effective in their roles are 15x more likely to be high performers, and about 3x more likely to remain with their employers.
  • When managers struggle in their positions, the level of their direct reports’ performance averages about 15% lower and the likelihood that those employees will leave the organization is approximately 20% higher when compared with workers who have effective managers.

Equipping New Leaders to Handle a Top Challenge: Difficult Conversations

New managers struggle for many reasons—and often due to multiple challenges. Those might range from an unclear understanding of the manager’s role and what defines success in the job to lack of support from others, inability to delegate tasks, issues in balancing time and priorities, and more.

Among the most commonly cited stumbling blocks for new managers is the difficulty in transitioning from coworker to leader. Handling these shifts in duties and perspective demands good communication skills, an ability to maintain strong working relationships, and establishing new authority with direct reports who were former peers. Most importantly, those mandates often require managers to have difficult or sensitive conversations—with their direct reports, other employees, or company leaders.

Consider a few of the possibilities that would require new managers to have those challenging interactions:

  • A new manager walks into the company break room just as an employee on another manager’s team makes an inappropriate comment, one that violates the employer’s standards for maintaining a respectful workplace.
  • A former peer, now a direct report of the new manager, is missing deadlines, overlooking project details, and failing to meet team objectives. Overall, performance is slipping and threatening department quotas.
  • Soon after a new manager assumes the role, unexpected shortfalls in sales projections make layoffs likely, and managers must break the news to their team members.

Those scenarios highlight some of the leading reasons that half of surveyed managers say that difficult conversations present their greatest challenge on the job. (See Atana’s 5 Difficult Conversations Managers Avoid.)  

Among the reasons managers cite when asked about their hesitation to initiate potentially uncomfortable—but necessary—conversations with employees:

  1. Feeling hypocritical because the manager has committed a similar transgression in the past and must now call out an employee’s conduct.
  2. Nervousness at the thought of having a difficult interaction with a direct report.
  3. Concern that conversations might result in negative or emotional reactions by the employee or cause additional conflict.
  4. Awareness that uncomfortable conversations may be counter to a company culture of silence about difficult issues.

When factors like nervousness, apprehension, and unsupportive company cultures are heaped atop high (sometimes ambiguous) expectations, heightened job complexity, changing workplace relationships, and the need to develop new skills and mindsets, it’s no wonder so many new managers fail.

Training is the (Proven) Answer

Consistently, research finds that the crucial element in new manager success is training. Yet an astonishing number of organizations fall flat.

A survey of 500 U.S. managers found that 59% of those who supervised one or two people said they’d had zero management training; among those with three-to-five direct reports, 41% received no training. Overall, 42% of new managers said they’d had to rely on observing other managers versus receiving instruction in how to lead and motivate employees.

"When new managers take the reins fully prepared to lead, they can have [a] positive impact on engagement and retention and prepare themselves for success in roles that are increasingly challenging, leading larger, more complex teams."

Of the new managers who were fortunate enough to receive training for their roles, 85% reported a clear understanding of their job responsibilities, and 92% claimed a good work/life balance.

Forbes sums up the training win this way: “When new managers take the reins fully prepared to lead, they can have [a] positive impact on engagement and retention and prepare themselves for success in roles that are increasingly challenging, leading larger, more complex teams.”

Behavioral Training Makes the Positive Impact Even Greater

Atana helps organizations set new managers up for success with behavior-based training that:

Our eLearning courses drive measurable change in manager behaviors and attitudes through engaging content and embedded behavioral questions. You see results on your organization’s Atana Insights Dashboard.  For a demo of the dashboard, please contact us.

“The Atana analytics will help us see where the gaps are and where we might need to concentrate or further that training, especially with our managers. We [now] have a dashboard that tells us where things are.” 

Deb Washington, Managing Director, Staff Relations, Saint Louis Science Center

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