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Helping managers transition into next levels of management


Puling together some ideas re what other organisations do to help support managers transitioning from one level to another - programmes / tools / mentors etc. Particularly interested in the transition from first line to middle management
Michelle Rafferty

8 Responses

  1. Transitioning ideas

    There are lots of ways to help:

    1, A leaning styles preference (or better still, a learning styles preference!) for individuals to see how they best learn so that your development activity programme meets their preferences.

    2. A diagnostic – learning needs analysis – 360 based on your middle-management competence requirements so you can target their individual need(s)

    3. An appropriate range of development actions to meet their needs (coaching, courses, reading, shadowing, etc.)

    4. A well-thought through induction programme to prepare them for the change. This should include 1-2-1 meetings with other managers with whom they will be working (internal customers, internal suppliers), and a broad understanding of the organisation and its customers (first line supervision can often have a very blinkered appreciation). Should also cover policies and procedures and authority levels.

    5. Clear objectives for the individual so they have absolute clarity of what is expected of them.

    6. Discussion with the new appointee’s boss so they are absolutely clear about their responsibilities to contribute to a successful transition (“sink or swim” is not an acceptable option). To include regular reviews during the early days and use of the situational leadership model by the boss.

    7. A post induction 360 – 6 to 9 months down the road – to assess progress and identify any further development. This would not be a substitute for formal performance appraisal.


  2. Action Learning
    Hi Michelle. Can I add two points to Harvey’s ideas?

    Well one is a jokey comment – re a typo where Harvey suggests “leaning” styles rather than “learning”. Easily done! We had “leaning climate” in our Learning Company book for several years and it was only when someone sent us a spoof letter requesting “consultancy to improve our leaning” that we spotted it!

    My serious suggestion is to add action learning to the range of activities provided for the promoted managers.

  3. Stuck in the middle!
    If we look at what middle management is all about we can see what they need to be trained on or coached on to make successful transitions.

    But before we look into what middle management is, let’s see what it is not. Middle management is not about passing the buck. It is also not about shifting emails or papers or becoming an assistant to whoever their boss is.

    Being a middle manager can be risky since you are higher up so you wont end up doing the task, and not high enough to actually be in control. So you kind of hang in there until either someone from below replaces you or your boss is changed or doesn’t like you any more. Either way stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    So back to the question, I think solutions can be derived from understanding the true role of the manager. Leading a team is a good role. So they need to be trained on team leadership. This is not project management as some think. This is about vision, motivation, team building and so on.

    Another topic to notice of course is a full 360 analysis as mentioned by other users. The middle managers need to understand that they should serve upwards, downwards and sideways if they want to be successful. So again training in communication at all levels, body language, influence, negotiation, client management and so on are all critical skills.

    I think this is good challenge and a great opportunity to put together some really interesting material for training. Best of luck.

    More info in training in business

  4. a framework that may help
    It seems you have some helpful comments already, but I would be happy to send you a copy of a framework we produced to help steer a clients thoughts in this area – I don’t think I can attach it to my response. Let me have your e-mail address and I’ll send it over (

  5. Understanding is the key
    I think Eshan makes a most valid point.

    My belief is that the most important thing about successful transition between (any) management roles is developing a clear emotional understanding of the shift in roles and what that means in terms of the responsibilities, accountabilities, tasks and objectives – rather than what skills you teach (which will vary individual to individual).

    Just as the biggest struggle in the step into first line management is the transition from superdoer to supervisor – the step into middle managment is generally the step from “how to do something” into “what to do”.

    I spend most of my time when coaching new managers on this area – understanding the differences in their role now (from their previous role)and how this changes expectations, relationships and leadership requirements.

    It also helps drive the discussion about what tasks are different – eg what you now don’t do (because it is for your successor in the lower role to do) and what you now do do – as you step up.

    I often have to deal with frustrations in teams which have developed because the new middle manager “won’t let go of things”. Often this is because they don’t really know what it is they should actually be doing in their new role and feel a bit of a spare part! It is not (only) about the actual day to day tasks they should be doing – but their ‘place’ / ‘purpose’ in the bigger scheme of things.

    “Stuck in the middle” is an unfortunate but real feeling for a lot of new middle managers. I try to shift this rather negative ‘squashed from both ends’ focus into one more focused on being a conduite relationship between the “why we do things” at the top and the “how to do things” at the front line.

    Hope this helps

  6. Leadership?
    A middle manager must thoroughly understand leadership since the new responsibilities will include helping lower level supervisors and managers to unleash their emmployees’ full potential of creativity, innovation, productivity, motivation and commitment.

    To better understand this issue, please read the article at,%20Good%20or%20Bad.htm

    Best regards, Ben
    Author “Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed”

  7. Mange up and down
    Thanks Hilary for your comment. I quite like your conclusion.

    “I try to shift this rather negative ‘squashed from both ends’ focus into one more focused on being a conduite relationship between the ‘why we do things’ at the top and the ‘how to do things’ at the front line.”

    It sums it up pretty well.

    More info in training in business

  8. Ask the stakeholders?
    Hi, I had a similar problem (admittedly over a decade ago !) when I took up a new group HRD post, long before the days of business partnering I got my 5,000 odd HR and Training people around the world to go into the various businesses and ask the middle managers what learning & development interventions they thought would be helpful to junior managers to develop teh knowledge, skills, behaviours and beliefs that would prepare them for middle management positions – this stakeholder approach provided a rich vein for developmental ideas (as amongst the population as a whole the managers had attended probably every course that was available at the time in the world!), but they also suggested really practical and simple business focussed ideas by specialism and business area, and in the end it was from those ideas (generally) that my team devised a fantastic series of programs for the group.

    As a ‘for example’ of this what I call ‘stakeholdering’ approach, one of the key finding was that many of the middle managers who were allegedly ‘challenging to work with’ (according to my predecessor!) actually volunteered to take part as mentors to young high flyers, offered to act as coaches, offered to provide ‘challenging projects’ in their own areas so that teams of young managers could be given ownership for the success (and yes, in some instances failures), of capital implementation projects. So in summary, ask the stakeholders first – and that would include the junior manager preparing for transition as their needs are very different to the middle managers.


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