From Coworker to Boss: Helping Newly Promoted Employees Transition to Management

December 1, 2021
From Coworker to Boss: Helping Newly Promoted Employees Transition to Management
Promoting from within is an excellent tool for business. Moving existing employees up the chain of command starts them off with a solid footing. They know the people, organization, culture, and the work they’re going to supervise. They understand how long it takes to get the job done; what resources are necessary to perform well; and what distractions and disruptions can do to slow down productivity and engagement. Whenever possible, smart employers look to promote talent as a first choice, before looking externally for supervisory candidates. Good managers are always on the lookout for top talent that’s ready for promotion. They understand the importance of career progression for the individual employee as well as the organization. A path to advancement rewards good employees and motivates their peers to do their best and move up the ladder. The challenge for business goes beyond looking for who to promote — it requires they make sure to help smooth the transition from peer to manager with tools and training that helps them thrive in their new role.

The potential is there

New supervisors can become top performers that get the most from their team as a group and from workers as individuals. They also have the potential to destroy teams and drive up attrition. It’s estimated nearly 60% of workers resign their position because of a bad boss. The newest members of management can either build or break a team. They need the coaching and tools necessary to make the transition. All new managers require training — whether they’re external candidates who need to understand company processes and policies, or those moving up the ranks. For internal promotions, focus on some general areas to support and watch for specifics that require upskilling.

When they beat out friends for the job

One of the first challenges a new manager may face is the fact that they got the job rather than friends and colleagues from their team. This can be a sticky situation if not handled properly and can affect their ability to lead. Management and the new supervisor will need to take steps to assure the promotion is accepted by the group, even if there are some initial hard feelings. Before announcing the promotion publicly, bring in all the hopefuls and explain why their colleague was chosen over their own application. It may be seniority or education level, or it may have been a really close decision. Outline why you made the selection and let those who didn’t get the promotion know they’re valued members of the team — ones who you’re counting on to support and help their new manager. If there are specifics that held them back, such as lack of training, offer them the opportunity to take classes or leverage online learning to help ready them for the next available promotion. Supporting those who didn’t make it this time can build a pipeline for promotions in the future. Of course the new manager will need to be gracious in their victory, but it will be important for them to rally the troops on their team. When you speak to them about the promotion, remind them to let their colleagues know they’re the same person, still available to support them, and ready to help whenever needed. They’ll just be adding more to their list of responsibilities.

Training is key

For new managers, training is critical. Being the best performer on the line doesn’t necessarily translate into being the best head of the team. For some, leadership comes naturally: for the majority, they need to training and nurturing. You’ll need an internal manager to train company procedures and practices — plan on spending at least a month (several if the role is complex) to guide them through all the new responsibilities and duties they’ll be taking on. For necessary (if not company-specific) manager training skills, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of online, free classes that new leaders can take. Curating and even requiring completion of online classes could be a probationary term for the newest members of the management crew. New managers are often wary of asking for help in areas where they feel insecure. If training is a requirement, they’ll boost their skill sets without having to admit they need or want the help. Talk to the employee about where they think they will benefit from training. Will it be delegating, coaching, communicating, or another area they might have questions about or feel they could use new ideas or suggestions? Your job is to support, not critique. If they want training in all these areas — even better. It doesn’t show weakness to look for a new angle on things or a new way to do them more productively. Let the employee know training shows maturity and commitment to growth: for themselves and their team.

It doesn’t show weakness to look for a new angle on things or a new way to do them more productively. Let the employee know training shows maturity and commitment to growth: for themselves and their team.

Coaching the coaches

Even if classes are available and your new manager signs up for all of them, coaching and mentoring is also necessary. Just as team members turn to the manager for help and support, so does the new manager. They will need someone to guide them through policies and procedures, as well as the tough issues. Sometimes just a sounding board that helps you verify you’ve made the right decision is all that’s needed to boost confidence. Everyone needs a cheerleader to encourage them on and praise their successes. If you can, assign your best managers to help — at least through the first few months of the transition. Have them meet informally or connect by phone or text routinely just to check in, or when it’s necessary. Just knowing there’s access to help when you need it can build skills for new managers.

Why new managers need support

Data shows more than half of new mangers who supervise 1 or 2 employees had zero training: for those who oversee up to 5, more than 40% have had none. In the restaurant industry alone, more than 1/3 of new managers quit their job in the first year. These are costly risks that business can’t afford. Not only are they losing a new manager, they may have also lost an employee who was outstanding in their role before getting a promotion. Attrition rates for managers are a problem, but new managers who are untrained can also affect their teams and cause employees to quit. A promotion is an investment in an existing employee. Making sure they have the tools and resources to be successful in their role is critical for them, the people they oversee and the business itself.

From friend to boss

The hardest part of transition may be moving from friend to manager. Hanging out with the gang after work invitations may wane — especially if the hot topic was typically complaining about the boss or the company. Few can make the transition and keep relationships with former coworkers completely intact; it takes effort from all sides that may not be easy to get. For business leaders, supporting that transition may mean opening doors for new relationships. Lunches with other leaders, particularly those newly promoted, provide a support structure as well as an outlet for discussion. You may find some of your managers are able to make the transition to boss and keep old and new relationships flourishing; for those who can’t, encourage new connections to fill the void.

Specialized training

There may be compliance training necessary as they step up to supervision. Food safety, Occupational Safety and Health Administration training, or other industry-specific training should be a priority. Whatever else needs support, safety and compliance training for managers must be first on the list when it comes to upskilling. In California, New York, and other states, newly promoted managers are required to undergo sexual harassment and discrimination recognition and prevention training. If your state doesn’t mandate these courses (and often refreshers), they should be priority training classes for new supervisors. These classes (or even sessions with HR professionals) help mitigate risk to employees and businesses when team leaders are able to quickly intervene if there’s a problem with their group. The path from worker to manager is exciting for the employee and for the business that nurtured and developed growth. It doesn’t stop with a title change; it’s a collaboration between the worker and the company. It continues as the newest supervisor grows into their current role, prepares one of their own to take it on in the future, and readies for the next step in their career with the organization.

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