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Advice Leadership development

Making managers

Paul Matthews on getting new managers up to speed



The first time I baked bread, I didn’t wait for it to rise properly. Baking bread, I learned, requires close attention to time: too fast or too

slow and you don’t get the desired result. Like bread, a new manager needs time to ‘bake’. Getting a manager started is a process, not an event. They won’t be proficient immediately, and even if they’re sent on a comprehensive management course, they still won’t come back completely ready.

Why is that? New managers need time to absorb knowledge and pick up experience from their activities. It takes them time to observe and learn from others. It takes time to be gradually exposed to different scenarios and apply the relevant skills. You could wait until happenstance

provided all of these opportunities to learn, or you could expose him or her to them in a structured and purposeful way. I recommend setting up a structured experiential pathway for a new manager, perhaps combined with some additional training and mentoring from their line manager. This will optimise the time

it takes to get to a proficient level – not too fast, but much quicker than the common hands-off approach.

What is a structured experiential pathway? Imagine that this week, the shiny new manager is tasked – alongside their normal work – with finding out what reports they need to prepare, for whom, and how often. They need to talk to these people and ask what the reports are for and how they could be made more useful. Their line manager is there to answer questions, check that they have collected the information should have, and confirm that the task is completed. Next week, they are tasked with finding out who their HR business partner is, how they need to interact with HR, what happens when there are HR problems in their team, what the various policies are and where they can be found. The following week they are tasked with creating a process flow diagram for something that their team is doing, and then discussing with their team how the process could be improved.

Think about how you could set up a sequence of experiences to push the new manager to enquire and explore, to have conversations, and to learn what really matters

for their specific role. They will learn most of the skills they need through informal learning anyway. When you use a structured experiential pathway you are accelerating that process. In effect, you are exercising some control over the content and rate of the 70 per cent and 20 per cent of the 70:20:10 model. You can throw in 10 per cent of formal training as well. There are some interesting benefits to this. One is that your new managers learn how to find things out for themselves. In order to do their assigned weekly task, they have to be self-directed in their learning. They can’t just be spoon-fed at the next training course. Another is that the involvement of their line manager as a mentor cements a relationship more quickly than usual. The line manager is also likely to learn in this role. The process is a simple and effective way to bring a new manager – or indeed any new employee – up to proficiency in a reduced time. What is that worth to your organisation? n


AUTHOR Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy

Learning Magazine

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