At a glance:

  • Roughly one quarter of organizations say their new manager training programs are extremely or highly successful, but an equal number report their programs as only slightly successful or not successful at all.
  • Key reasons for investing in training for new managers include better individual performance (85%), continuity of organizational culture and values (69%), and better team performance (62%).
  • Top focus areas for new manager training include communication skills (93%), providing feedback (92%), and performance management (91%).
  • 91% say their new managers just don’t have enough time to invest in development programs.

Third Factor has partnered with the Association for Talent Development (ATD) on exciting new research that reveals how organizations approach training for new managers. The report draws on a sample of 287 organizations seeks to understand why organizations do or don’t invest in training for new managers, how new manager training is approached, and the common trends in the most successful new manager development programs.

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, the importance of new manager training is highlighted by a notable statistic: 70% of organizations have a development program for new managers, and among those without, 54% plan to introduce one within the next two years. This trend underscores a growing recognition of the crucial role new managers play in organizational success. However, transitioning from an individual contributor to a managerial role is a journey filled with challenges. Managers must not only manage tasks but also lead people, a shift that requires a fundamentally different skill set and mindset.

Successful new manager training programs can be hard to come by

While about a quarter of organizations consider their programs extremely or highly successful, another quarter view them as only slightly or not at all successful. This suggests a broad spectrum in the effectiveness of such programs across different organizations, highlighting the need for tailored approaches and continuous improvement in managerial training practices. It underscores the importance of not just having a training program in place, but also ensuring its relevance, effectiveness, and alignment with organizational goals.

The good news is that the report shows 78% of organizations actively measure the success of these programs. The most common method used is assessing participant satisfaction. However, high-performing organizations often go further by evaluating long-term impacts such as the retention rate of managers and their contribution to organizational performance. This approach underscores the importance of not only implementing development programs but also rigorously assessing their outcomes to ensure they meet organizational goals and contribute to long-term success.

Performance and culture are the most desired outcomes

When developing training programs for new managers, organizations are unsurprisingly focused on performance – but the question of whose performance is most important raised our eyebrows.

While 85% of organizations want their new manager development programs to enhance individual performance, only 62% include team performance in their goals. While enhancing a manager’s skills is essential, it’s crucial to recognize that a manager’s success is inherently tied to their team’s performance. Focusing solely on individual managerial skills without equally emphasizing team leadership and development can create a disconnect. This approach may lead to managers who excel individually but struggle to foster a high-performing team, ultimately impacting the broader organizational effectiveness.

Fortunately, continuity of organizational culture and values is also a top outcome for new manager development. Some 69% of organizations rely on new manager development programs to ensure that leadership is aligned with the core principles of the organization. This alignment helps in maintaining a consistent organizational ethos, which is essential for long-term success and identity.

The most important skill for new managers? Communication.

The skill new manager training programs focus on above all others is communication, with 93% of organizations prioritizing this in their development programs.

In our 3×4 Coaching program, we teach that coaches use four key communication skills to develop their people: questioning, active listening, feedback, and confronting. Feedback also made the list of skills, with 92% of new manager development programs dedicating time to giving people information about their performance.

While performance management (91%) is another top focus area, the communication skill of confronting didn’t make the list. Questioning, listening and feedback are useful and necessary skills, but aren’t always the best tools when a valued performer needs to make a non-optional change to their behaviour.

Teaching new managers skills for managing challenging conversations is a worthwhile investment. Giving younger leaders the opportunity to learn and practice the skill means they will be better prepared to confront problem behaviors when they reach a more senior position. By thinking of communication skills for new managers as an investment in the future, organizations can strengthen their entire leadership pipeline.

Finding time is a top challenge in training new managers

The primary challenge in this developmental journey, as reported by 91% of organizations, is the lack of time for new managers to participate in training programs. It’s no secret that new managers are expected to hit the ground running, often having been selected for their aptitude for the role and prior success in a non-leadership role.

The rub is that the bias toward execution, rather than leadership, is actually counterproductive. While managers at this level need to be adept at leading their people while being responsible for their own work product, putting emphasis on the former in the earliest days could set them up for a career-long belief that their individual productivity is more important than that of their team. This misprioritization can also lead to a situation where managers are underprepared for their roles. Moreover, the pressure of managing operational tasks while also trying to develop people management skills can lead to burnout and decreased effectiveness.

Just as new managers need to skillfully coach their people in the flow of getting things done, their own leadership training needs to happen in the flow of work. Training programs need to be flexible and easily integrated into the daily workflow of new managers. This might involve bite-sized learning modules, on-the-job training, and leveraging technology for accessible and engaging learning experiences. Additionally, creating a culture of continuous learning and providing ongoing support and resources can help new managers adapt to their roles more effectively and efficiently.

Equipping new managers for success

The research from Third Factor and the Association for Talent Development presents a valuable opportunity for improvement in new manager training. This study offers a roadmap for organizations to refine their leadership development strategies, emphasizing the integration of training into daily work, a comprehensive focus on communication skills, and prioritizing team success alongside individual performance. By embracing these insights, organizations can significantly enhance their outcomes, nurturing leaders who are well-equipped to meet the challenges of the modern business world.

You can download the full report from the ATD website.