One of the signs of a great manager is that her people move on to bigger and better things – because great managers hire strong people and develop them well. Too often, though, when employees get promoted, they don’t get much training for the next step – which can make for rocky transitions.
Here’s what you can do as a manager to set your high performers up for promotions where they’ll thrive.
1. Stop solving problems for the staff member. Instead, actively coach them to solve their own problems, by asking questions like, “What do you think we should do?” and “What advantages and disadvantages do you see to that approach?” (Of course, this is good to do with all employees because it will develop people’s skills and judgment, but it’s especially important with people who you’re considering moving up.)
2. Invite the staff member to shadow you. Invite the person to sit in on calls and meetings with you where you think they’ll benefit from observing. Then, talk with them afterwards and point out why you did particular things – what was in your head about a tricky situation or why you redirected the conversation when you did. Give them a chance to see higher-level conversations and decision-making that they might not normally be involved with, so that they’re not starting fresh when they do move up.
3. Delegate more to the person. Think about what areas of work this person will be handling on the next rung, and find ways to start giving them experience in those areas now, by delegating additional projects and responsibilities. Encourage them to stretch themselves, and be available as a resource as they take on new challenges. (In many cases, it will make sense to be transparent about what you’re doing and why, so the person understands why their workload is shifting.)
4. Give lots of feedback. It’s always important to give lots of feedback, but when you’re grooming someone to take on new responsibilities, feedback is particularly essential. You should do this both broadly, by talking to the person about what you see as their strengths and areas to work on developing in, and more narrowly, by checking in on projects as they unfold and debriefing afterwards.
5. If the next rung up involves managing people, work on management skills in particular. The transition from doing the work to managing others who do the work can be an incredibly difficult one for new managers and trips up even highly talented people. So if the staff member doesn’t have much management experience, you might have her begin to manage the department’s interns or lead an important project or otherwise get her feet wet in relatively low-stakes ways. To provide support along the way, regularly talk through the challenges that arise and how to handle them – everything from feeling comfortable being in a position of authority to addressing missed deadlines. Because managing people is an area where there aren’t necessarily built-in checks and balances until something goes terribly wrong, getting coaching along the way can make a huge difference in building good habits. (For that reason, you also might want to consider sending aspiring managers to formal management training to develop their skills.)
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