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Blog - Didier Elzinga, author profile

Didier Elzinga

Founder & CEO, Culture Amp

@didierelzinga

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, their role is to 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 need to 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. A lot of first-time managers struggle to understand that a critical part of their job is to hire all of these people.

Understanding and accepting this shift doesn't happen overnight, so we have to spend time teaching 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 on only the success of their people. Often, this is a really interesting conversation. People are going from being masters of their own domain to having to deal with the intricacies of working with other people.

When picking a potential new manager, it’s also important to look at what makes the candidate satisfied or fulfilled at work. 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 looking at what motivates a given 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 look at whether they have the tools and ability necessary 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 initially may be less willing to have hard conversations, it’s important for everybody 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 of the potential discomforts.

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

A few years ago I spoke with the person responsible for training Facebook's managers. 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 go back to their previous role, no harm no foul.

This approach is a really good way of thinking about first-time manager roles. This is because people don't really know whether they're going to enjoy being a manager until they've tried the role out.

By understanding what motivates someone and whether they can deal with discomfort, we access 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.

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