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Blog - Didier Elzinga, author profile

Didier Elzinga

Founder & CEO, Culture Amp


At Culture Amp, we talk to everyone about how they can get to their next role. For a lot of people, leading a team or looking after other people is important.

But being a manager isn’t for everyone. Before we put anyone in a management role at Culture Amp, we take them through a process to help them understand what is required. This also helps us understand if they’re ready to be a manager.

What to consider when picking a first-time manager

Here are the three things to focus on when deciding if someone will be a good first-time manager:

  1. Are they actually going to enjoy being a manager?
  2. Do they have the communication tools and skills necessary to succeed?  
  3. How do they currently cope with discomfort?

Understanding that management is about someone else’s success

Managers need to be invested in and accountable for the success of their people. That’s because managers aren’t creating things directly; rather, they help other people achieve their goals. We know that great managers are managers that actively show their direct reports that they are valued within the company.

A manager is only successful if their people are successful. Not everybody enjoys helping others grow and develop. The biggest challenge for a first-time manager is often accepting that they will be measured based on somebody else's results. First-time managers must understand that their job is to make other people successful. For example, in a high-growth company, managers need to be able to get good people to come and join the organization. Many first-time managers struggle to understand that hiring all of these people is a critical part of their job.

Understanding and accepting this shift doesn't happen overnight, so we must teach people to change their lenses. To start, we directly ask potential first-time managers to think about how they would feel if their entire performance assessment was based only on the success of their people. Often, this is a fascinating conversation. People are going from being masters of their own domain to dealing with the intricacies of working with others.

When picking a potential new manager, looking at what makes the candidate satisfied or fulfilled at work is essential. Most people can be expected to enjoy a sense of achievement, but a manager needs to enjoy something slightly different. Managers, in particular, should have a sense of satisfaction from seeing the achievements of others. Behavioral interviewing helps us identify this quality by examining what motivates a person.

When it comes to being an effective manager, I believe one of the most important skills is communication. Managers are responsible for people, so they must be able to communicate their ideas and that of the organization. Many new managers may be flexing those muscles for the first time. That’s why I always consider whether they have the tools and ability to communicate well with others.

Feedback is an important part of being a manager

As a manager, you need to be able to give feedback that people don’t always want to hear. Talking to somebody about their career journey and giving difficult feedback is hard. To do this well, managers need to be able to cope with discomfort.

At Culture Amp, we run a feedback training program with Refound. This program enables first-time managers to reflect on this part of their role and gives them the language and framework they need to provide effective feedback. While first-time managers may initially be less willing to have hard conversations, everybody needs to understand how critical it is to give honest, constructive feedback.

We also give our first-time managers some very specific technical and tactical training. This includes training on how to have a one-on-one meeting, how to build a more diverse team, and more. There’s a lot of value in bringing people together in cohorts to share some potential discomforts.

Not everyone's meant to be a (first-time) manager

I spoke with the person responsible for training Facebook's managers a few years ago. When he joined, they had 700 employees – a year later, the company had 700 managers. They established an explicit understanding with their new managers – if being a manager isn't working out or the manager isn’t enjoying their role after three or six months, they can return to their previous role, no harm, no foul.

This approach is an excellent way of thinking about first-time manager roles. This is because people don't know whether they will enjoy being a manager until they've tried the role.

By understanding what motivates someone and whether they can deal with discomfort, we assess if someone will enjoy being a manager. We can then use this information to decide whether to give someone a chance as a first-time manager or if there’s another, more meaningful way to help them grow.

What’s next

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