5 Steps to Create an Onboarding Program for Managers

By Roy Maurer Jul 5, 2016
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Setting up new managers for success positively impacts engagement, turnover and the bottom line.

This was the message delivered by Sharlyn Lauby, prolific blogger and speaker and the author of a new book, Manager Onboarding: 5 Steps for Setting New Leaders Up for Success (SHRM, 2016), to an overflow audience June 20 at the Society for Human Resource Management 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition in Washington, D.C.

"The worst thing you can do is hire or promote somebody into a managerial position and not give them the tools to be successful," Lauby said. "Often, organizations take an uber-smart, technically competent person and promote him to being a manager and assume he knows what he needs to know about managing a department."

Lauby said that smart companies recognize that new managers need training upfront to help them be as effective as possible. Proper onboarding will help managers focus on their job, hire the best talent, train for success, coach for high performance and retain employees, she said.

"We also need to make sure that managers know how to manage their own careers," she added. "We put them in charge of employees and processes but need to make sure they know how to take care of themselves. I've never met a stressed-out manager who had a calm team."

Lauby stressed that she was not talking about a management development program, which gives employees the skills needed to become a manager in the future. A manager onboarding program includes skills that an employee needs the minute he or she becomes a manager—such as workforce management and employment law.

A manager onboarding program is not meant to replace development programs or succession planning efforts. And creating a manager onboarding program doesn't need to be expensive or time-consuming, she said.

Five-Step Process to Manager Onboarding

Lauby outlined a five-step process to design an onboarding program for managers using the ADDIE model: assessment, design, development, implementation and evaluation.

Don't skip the assessment. "Even if you already know you need a manager onboarding program, that doesn't mean you shouldn't do an assessment," she said.

The assessment will tell you what you need to put in the program. Lauby suggested employers conduct a gap analysis for the organization, industry and profession, identifying "where the company is now and where you want it to be in the next three to five years." Identify all the tasks that must be completed to close this gap, then start small, get everybody to buy in and add pieces along the way.

Armed with information provided by the assessment, HR can then determine the structure of the onboarding program. "You must clearly understand what your goals are. You want them to be relevant and realistic," she said. Lauby said HR should plan to train managers with a mix of delivery styles, such as classroom teaching, online material and social media tools.

"People learn in different ways," she said. She urged attendees to consider microlearning, in which content is delivered in small, specific bursts. "Managers come to me and say 'We don't have time to spend a day in training, or even two hours in training,' so the concept of microlearning is taking off. It gives us the ability to offer more consistent messaging on a regular basis."

New managers can take 5-10 minutes and learn something vital, like how to have a coaching conversation, while waiting at the airport, she said. The training will likely be on a mix of technical, or hard skills, and management, or soft skills. "Managers would be well-served to learn the competencies we have to know as HR professionals, specifically, the skills of relationship management, consulting and communication. Being able to work with colleagues, as well as manage others, is very important," she said.

After assessment and deciding on design, you need to organize your content. "Organization will set you free," Lauby said. "If you organize your content, you can train anybody to do anything." Typical content organization includes an introduction, gauging the audience level of understanding of the topic, knowledge transfer by discussing a concept or demonstrating a skill, providing an opportunity for testing or practice, debriefing and finally wrapping up. "Debriefs are the most underutilized tool we have as managers and team leaders," Lauby said. "Groups that debrief on a regular basis perform up to 20 percent higher than groups who do not."

Finally, you're ready to implement the program and evaluate the results.

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