How to Onboard New Managers

Be fruitful and multiply

Be fruitful and multiply

At some point in your career, you’ll be asked not only to manage your own staff—but also to manage staff that will be managers in their own right. If you’re anything like me, reaching this career milestone is both exciting and terrifying. It’s exciting because you’re taking on new responsibilities in your career, and growth is nothing if not invigorating. While exhilarating, your increasing impact on a whole new cadre of project managers can also give pause. You’ll have a lot less insight into the careers of these new employees. How do you ensure that you set up your new managers to shepherd these staff successfully? Here are some things to consider when onboarding new project managers:

  • Assess readiness for management. Before you decide to nominate someone as a manager, make sure that you are comfortable with them assuming this role. Management is never easy, and new managers will almost certainly experience some growing pains as they adjust to their new role. Make sure you establish some criteria that you use to determine whether someone is ready to take on this responsibility. Subjectivity can come into play here, so make sure you don’t overlook someone who could be ready but whose “style” doesn’t appear to lend itself to management. A few criteria that I like to consider are expressed interest, past experience and comfort leading smaller projects or tasks, input from peers, and ability to communicate company messages in a professional manner. If they roll their eyes in every meeting, catch an attitude every time something doesn’t go their way, fall apart in difficult situations, or are unable to explain why decisions are made, it’s usually a sign that they’re not yet ready to lead. By the way, if someone is quiet, it doesn’t mean that they can’t lead.

  • Clearly communicate expectations. Leadership is, by definition, an amorphous role. It would be impossible to predict every scenario the new manager may be asked to address. Yet, it is possible to set some basic ground rules. For instance, how often do you want the new manager to communicate with you about their staff? I typically like to be more hands on in the beginning and then gradually reduce my involvement over time. If you don’t communicate that this is what you’re doing, it creates confusion for both parties.

  • Document administrative processes as well as personal best practices. As I was onboarding a few new managers last month, I realized I was giving the same set of instructions over and over, and I was struggling to remember some of the finer points that lived only in my head in some cases. Faithful readers of this blog should recognize that this scenario is ripe for documentation. I asked the prospective managers to cull company resources and the experiences of more seasoned managers to put together an onboarding guide for new managers. The guide includes a list of required training, instructions for hiring new staff, and best practices for how often to engage with staff and what to talk about. The document will be a living guide, and each new manager will review and update it over time to ensure it stays current.

  • Check in periodically. Once you hand over the reins to your new managers, it doesn’t mean that you’re done. Make sure to check in with the staff every so often to get feedback on how the new managers are performing. It benefits you, the managers, and the staff to make sure the new arrangement is functioning well.