The Communication Flip-Flop: A Critical Shift for Young Managers

If you’ve become a new manager this year or if you’re responsible for developing one, you’re likely checking a list of skills that need to be enhanced or expanded.  But, the communication skills actually have to flip, and that’s a concept that new people managers rarely understand.

Companies load them up with how to submit weekly reports, how to identify employee challenges and how to manage a budget.  They get a shiny new checklist for each new procedure that they may have to execute in their new role.  And, as long as it comes with “how to” instructions and a cheat sheet, young managers will implement it well.  They’re good at following steps and they’re diligent about staying on top of things.

But, the page missing from the handbook is often about how to get employees engaged and willing to follow them.  Whether they’re managing three people or thirteen, their team is a small group of people who will be asked to shift their perspective almost overnight.  They’ll leave the office on Friday with Dan as a peer and come in on Monday with Dan as their boss.

That’s not an easy transition to make, and most young managers don’t help the situation.

As we hear employees share their frustration about a new manager, we have identified two common mistakes.

Mistake #1:  Exuding Authority.

These young managers have been told that they have to command the right to lead a group, and they use something similar to a militant approach to their new group.  They “tell” people what to do, they “mandate” action steps and they ”demand” respect.

The sound bites we hear back from the employees who experience this range from:

“Who does she think she is?” to “I’m not his child.” to  “Hell will freeze over before I do anything she asks!”

All emotional responses to feeling as if someone has been bossy, demanding and ultimately demeaning to them.

It’s rarely intentional.  It’s a young manager who hasn’t been coached about how to influence people.  Employees are adults, not children.  Every interaction should make them feel valued, engaged and vested in working with you.

Mistake #2:  Putting Yourself First.

This is a hard habit to break.  And, it’s the flip that rarely happens quickly, but it needs to.  In many cases, a young manager was a high performing individual contributor.  They’re good at gaining visibility and credibility across the organization, and no one tells them that this focus should flip around and ensure their employees now take center stage.

That won’t be easy.  It’s hard to ask someone who was trying to get their idea heard on Friday to put someone else’s idea forward on Monday.

It’s why sales leaders have always said that the best salespeople rarely make great sales managers.  They’re just too independent and too individually focused to wait for others, to influence others and to think about bringing others along with them.

And, that means there may be some young managers who aren’t really prepared to be or interested in being people managers.

Why are unprepared young managers in these roles?

Companies have been planning for gaps in leadership, and L&D organizations have worked hard to get their future leaders ready.  As those managers begin to accelerate in organizations, they leave holes in first line manager roles, and employees must be ready to step into those roles as well.  These new managers haven’t had a lot of time to observe effective managers or to be groomed for the roles that they’re given.

It’s why we’re hearing many companies say that the young manager is their top priority for development, and it’s why we’re joining these curriculums to make sure that managers can change some core behaviors that may get in the way of strong management skills.

So, how do we help a new manager flip before she flops?

We’re adding five elements to programs for the young manager.

  1. Shift from WIIFM to WIIFY.

We use sample scenarios to help new managers think about how they approach visibility and opportunities that come as a result of good work from their team.  It’s a blind spot for a new manager, and we draw it out quickly by helping this group begin to think about the impact of the team rather than the impact on themselves.  The old saying still stands true:  You have to learn to share recognition and own blame.

  1. Focus on Personal Brand.

New managers don’t have a lot of feedback on how others react to them or talk about them when they’re not around.  Through a simple assessment, we capture brand impressions and share both the impact of those impressions and thoughts on how new managers begin to think about where they need to strengthen impressions and where they may need to change an impression.

  1. Build Templates for Common Situations.

It can be overwhelming to develop strong communication skills quickly.  While new managers want to lead a team well, there are a lot of new experiences ahead of them.  We use roleplays to identify the experiences and then we help a group build common templates to use until they develop their own approach to critical conversations.

  1. Develop Consistent Communication Schedules.

Employees don’t expect a new manager to get everything right.  They are willing to grow with a young manager as long as the manager is open and transparent with them.  It seems easy, but it isn’t, because so many demands tug on a manager that they run out of time and they react to the most urgent need of the week.  We help managers build a communication plan that they can execute effectively and consistently.  When employees see that a manager keeps their word and can manage both time and schedules, they begin to buy-in to his ability to lead and they settle into following his direction.

  1. And, Learn to Listen.

We all think we have this skill, and few of us really do.  We ignore people when we’re distracted and we dismiss people when we’re out of time.  Listening is the most fundamental skill to influence others.  The others…or employees…should always come first.  They have to believe that you can listen and that you take the time to make sure they feel heard.  Managers who learn to be present will quickly gain the respect and attention of a team because they’ve shown the same respect in return.

Don’t let your young managers flop.  We can help you flip them to a different way of thinking about communication and the ability to influence others.  And if you’re an “older and wiser” manager, you may find that brushing up your skills leads to a more effective team as well.

Call us when you need us.