Updated August 2023
Vanilla Ice’s hit from the early ‘90’s, Ice Ice Baby, streamed through my All About the 90's Spotify channel while I was running last week. The first line? Stop, collaborate, and listen. These words brought retention to mind (wouldn't it for you?) – a tough challenge for most companies as they focus on managing costs and sustaining growth through building stable high performing teams – not to mention the turbulent labor market. Successfully transforming top performing team members and individual contributors into successful first time managers, and leaders, is a constant challenge. One of the biggest obstacles facing first-time leaders is successfully transitioning from working in their functional area to achieving results through others. Our own muscle and heart can't get us there alone. It requires an ability to move towards areas that are unfamiliar (and sometimes scary): devising strategies, coaching, and reaching business goals.
How can you best support employees as they transition to their first management role? My former 90's adolescent self is elated to share the Vanilla Ice framework for transforming high potential individual contributors into leaders.
Stop managers before they begin their new roles to communicate expectations and candidly share challenges new leaders will face. Even better, provide a framework to help them understand their responsibilities and how to thrive in their new roles. By developing and consistently communicating a model for leadership across your organization, you are setting clear expectations and providing a path to growth for all employees. We use a core model of leadership that applies across organizations and positions. The model starts with Self-Leadership – which includes expectations such as self-discipline and dependability – and extends through Culture Leadership – how well leaders live and teach your unique culture and values. Whichever model you use, make sure it clearly defines the competencies and minimum requirements necessary for success at each level. This highlights the key differences in expectations for new leaders. Your leadership model can form the basis for training curricula and development for all current, and future, managers.
By stopping to teach and coach how your culture influences your expectations for leadership and the tasks and competencies necessary to successfully execute the role; new managers will be supported for the transition ahead.
Collaboration builds an environment for your managers to thrive. The success of your managers, and your organization, depends on their ability to build productive relationships with not only their teams but upward through the organization. One crucial element of collaboration is when new managers can receive accurate, behavior-based perceptions from others across the team: supervisors, peers, and direct reports. However, it’s easy to miss opportunities to share information and build mutual understanding without structured tools and processes. Build a plan and timeline for new leaders to gather and act on information – and stick to the plan. For example, personal insight surveys, succession planning, and performance feedback ensure the right information (tied to performance and your culture) is consistently shared with your managers and their supervisors.
Personal Insight. Before they start their new role, provide new managers with insight about how their values, and beliefs, personality, and leadership style shapes their performance. The best tools will not only provide information, but also specific action items for leveraging their strengths and managing their opportunities. New leaders may not have considered their leadership style and how it may lead to potential pitfalls with their new team and your culture.
Succession Planning. Scheduled points for reviewing performance throughout the year allows your organization to accurately measure your talent pool, or the number of people that are (or will be) ready to advance to the next level. Further, online succession planning tools, ensure you collect the same information on each manager – and standardize the process by which each manager is evaluated. This also allows you to look at new managers ratings at the group level and quickly act to address low performance by adjusting how you train, develop, and even hire.
Performance Feedback. Especially for new managers, feedback from direct reports, supervisors, and peers can direct attention to gaps in perceptions. Sometimes we see ourselves as being skilled in a competency, like project management, while leaders, peers, and direct reports may have different, and often unique, perceptions. 360-degree feedback surveys, or shorter feedback methods given more frequently throughout the year, illuminate opportunities for managers, as well as concerns before they become problems and help managers recognize and celebrate their strengths and accomplishments. Nothing can take the place, however, of new leaders encouraging feedback from their teams and aggressively seeking the input of their teams. Coach new leaders in making this happen – and support them in moving through any defensiveness and fear to act on what they learn.
Listen (to the data).
The last component of the Vanilla Ice framework for new manager retention may be the most frequently overlooked: gathering and acting on data. To effectively build retention, and track your progress, you should both formally and informally seek to understand performance and critical employee attitudes like satisfaction, trust, and engagement. Performance metrics, including turnover, should be collected before and after any change in your leadership development program – and before and after leadership transition. When evaluating turnover, you will want to measure retention by key demographics as well (e.g., education, experience, gender) to determine if you are losing significantly more managers of a certain group.
Importantly, retention comes from your employees’ attitudes – feeling satisfied, trusted, and engaged. You can accelerate the results of your retention initiatives by both measuring these key attitudes and beliefs and also actively seeking the attitudes and feedback of new leaders and their teams. Do managers feel they have the support they require to meet their goals? Do they perceive their teams as competent? By monitoring these attitudes over time, you can get ahead of problems before they affect retention and business results.
New manager turnover is a huge hit to your culture and bottom line, while retaining employees is a key point of leverage for accelerating growth and results. We partner with organizations across industries to provide unique–to-you solutions to improve retention and build bench strength.