5-step manager onboarding program from the 'bartender' (wine not included)

As you know, one of the worst mistakes a company can make when promoting someone is getting a technically savvy person in a management position who has absolutely no leadership skills … or training to support them. 
This type of mistake can be costly, although it may initially make some sense. After all, you’ve promoted the most qualified person on paper to the position.
At the SHRM 2016 Annual Conference and Exposition, Sharlyn Lauby, author of the online blog HR Bartender (we’re a fan) and president of ITM group, a training company, recently shared her professional tips on the vital process of onboarding managers.

When trust is missing: A tragic example

Lauby started by sharing a grim example of when the right man, technically-speaking, is made the leader of a team that hasn’t yet established trust in him: the Mann Gulch tragedy. A team of 16 men were deployed to fight a wildfire in Montana in 1949. Tragically, all but three of the men perished in the fire because they didn’t trust their leader, Wayne Dodge, who was older than the rest of the team by a good 10 years at age 33. He’d been fighting fires for years and naturally took the leadership position.
Shortly after they were deployed, the fire became volatile and swept through the gulch, trapping the team. Dodge instructed his men to get low and join him in his escape fire patch (a fire you light and control that burns out the fuel around you, so the surrounding fire bypasses your location).
The men refused and continued running up the slope where the fire caught up to them.
Dodge laid in his burned out circle, the fire moving past him, leaving him unscathed.
An investigation after the tragedy revealed that Dodge had been away performing maintenance tasks during the team’s orientation period when the rest of the men got acquainted. The second in command was more respected, and defied Dodge’s order. The rest of the team followed.

Setting them up for success

While it’s unlikely you’ll ever need to fight literal fires, metaphorical ones can still start in the office setting. It’s not uncommon that a leader on paper is mistrusted by the rest of his team. And the results can be disastrous.
If the person you’re promoting doesn’t come in with leadership qualities, you need to be able to teach him or her what they’ll need to prevent disaster. With an aging workforce and quits at an eight-year high, it’s critically important to set your managers up for success.
During her SHRM presentation Lauby outlined a five-step onboarding program she uses to set managers up for success:

  1. Assessment

This first step is vital. You never want to solve a problem you only have a surface understanding of. You have to know what you want and what’s feasible for your situation. Lauby says to start by asking yourself two questions:

  • Where is your industry going to be in three to five years?
  • Where is your company going to be in that same time?

Use your answers to solidify what you want your managers to keep in mind. You’ll also want your answers to be brief. Don’t toss a whole analytical kitchen sink into this process. Just learn enough to get your bearings, so you’re less likely to solve for problems that aren’t there while missing crucial problems that might be developing.

  1. Design

During this step, you’ll set your goals based on what you learned in the assessment phase. Keep them concrete and attainable.
You will then lay out how to achieve these goals and how this information will be delivered. You don’t want a one-size-fits-all teaching style. Go for a mixed learning style, using classroom-style learning, as well as mobile and social engagement techniques.
Managers are often on the go, so find a way to get practical information to them where they are, rather than calling them back to sit in a meeting room for an hour.

  1. Development

Once you’ve chosen what format the information is going to be presented in, you get to deliver the message to the target audience — your managers. And this is where Lauby got fun, demonstrating to the crowd how to open a wine bottle using a simple process:

  • Introduce the topic. For this, she held up the wine bottle and told a brief story about the importance of knowing how to properly open the bottle (don’t worry, it was empty).
  • Discuss the topic and demonstrate. Lauby laid out the process verbally, then demonstrated her technique.
  • Testing and then practice. While the whole audience couldn’t follow-up and practice Lauby’s technique, she explained that practice is a crucial step. To make sure your manager’s understand a concept, get them to try it out themselves.
  • Get feedback, and then debrief. How confident do your managers feel on the subject matter discussed? Is there anything else you should cover next time?
  • Wrap-up and close. Send them on their way, making sure to address future goals and how what they’ve learned fits into the broader scale of the organization. Set dates for later training sessions if necessary.

Have several sessions made up and ready to go before you launch the training itself. That way you won’t be scrambling for content while trying to get the ball rolling on the program.

  1. Implementation

You’ll want to have a way to actually make use of that earlier wine-bottle-type demonstration.
You don’t want to make the onboarding program department-specific, since it probably has to be used company-wide. But before it gets to that scale, make a pilot program to test out on a small group of managers. Fix any issues small-scale before the training goes large.

  1. Evaluate

Several months later, when everything is rolling, make sure to take a period to pause, reflect and evaluate how effective your onboarding program is. Much like the feedback and debriefing process, this time should be used to make sure everyone is on the same page and you’re achieving your goals.
Get feedback from both sides of metrics: quantitative and qualitative. On the numbers side of things, look at your Return on Investment (ROI) for the program, taking special note if your turnover numbers are down. Then send out surveys to cover the qualitative analysis part, gathering stories from managers and employees.
No matter how your program ends up looking, you always want to be thinking about the next promotion and working with future managers today, in order to set them up to be the most successful they can be within your company.