A Focus on Activating New Managers Can Fix Your Narrow Leadership Pipeline

Recently, I had the chance to talk to an HR leader at a multinational food company about their leadership pipelines. It was an old story – they had a very weak group of rising leaders and were forced to go outside of the company to fill out their leadership ranks.

Often the reason for weak pipelines is rapid turnover or fast organizational change, and better employee engagement policies or internal mobility can fix the problem. But in this instance it was something else entirely – they had a group of new managers who simply had not activated and built the soft skills necessary to be successful at the next level.

When they root caused the problem, one thing they discovered was that their new managers were not receiving the training necessary to be successful.

More specifically, they found that their training approach was woefully inadequate for the new expectations placed on new managers.

Their new managers had to be more adept at managing change earlier in their careers. They had to learn to engage their staff with feedback on a continuous basis, not just utilize the formal performance management process. They had to understand the organizational strategy and align their team to it. A brief internal training and some online resources were just not cutting it.

The Narrow Pipeline

At CEB, one of the things my team found was that succession pipelines are often far too narrow – especially given that they get leaky and rusty over time. We focused a lot of research muscle on trying to improve identification of potential leaders in the pipeline as a way of breaking it open.

But the bigger and smarter solution to the problem is undoubtedly simply expanding the pool from which to choose. And building a pool of potential great leaders means building out the management and soft skills necessary for success.

You can make the argument that a lot of people just aren’t cut out for management – that they are not, to crib from SpongeBob, “management material”. After all, 60% of new managers underperformed or failed within their first 2 years in role, according to CEB.

But ask yourself – what are you really doing to improve the performance of new managers?

Maybe something like this?

New Manager Program at Alpha Company

HR department at Alpha Company has built a new manager training. It’s a day or two long. It’s in-person. It took a year for the team to develop the content. They are a multinational company, and have to deliver the training in 58 locations around the globe.

It’s a logistical nightmare – they struggle to figure out who actually is a new manager, lots of people seem to be missing from the room when they show up. No one really knows if it’s actually been very successful other than some nice comments on the way out the door, but people appreciate the chance to meet other managers because they don’t really get the chance to do that very often.

Sound familiar?

That’s pretty much the state of new manager development at a lot of larger companies (along with some associated online resources).

But is that level of investment right, given rising expectations for new managers and the need to create robust leadership pipelines?

At ExecOnline, we would argue no – and have built an immersive new manager program unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else to solve the problem. It’s a 3-6 month long emotional and rational journey, where new managers learn to embrace the role, build a leadership plan, and start a long journey to leadership success. The program is virtual and accountable, so you can scale the program more easily than Alpha company. You get a full suite of metrics so you know if it works.

By investing in that first rung of management, we are betting we can create different in kind leadership pipelines for our client companies and the kind of careers for our participants that many managers – who never activated – can only dream of.

Reach out and let us know if you’d like to learn more about the program.


Adam Brinegar

Senior Vice President & Head of Client Solutions at ExecOnline

Adam leads ExecOnline’s Client Solutions team where he is responsible for deepening and expanding relationships with our growing client base. Adam spent 10 years leading research and advising Fortune 500 CHROs for the Corporate Leadership Council at CEB, where he led the development of groundbreaking insights on nearly ever facet of talent management and leadership development. Connect with Adam at www.linkedin.com/in/talentinsight.

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