Create a Safe Space for First-Time Managers to Develop Management Skills

15 april 2024 | Reskilling Your Workforce | 6 min read

Organizations are likely to look to their highest-performing employees when promoting from within, but a high-performing individual contributor doesn’t necessarily translate to a high-performing first-time manager. The skill set for the two roles is very different, as you can see from the chart below.

That’s why, without proper training — and because they are truly learning a whole new skillset — first-time managers are apt to struggle with their new responsibilities. Just look at some statistics from the Center for Creative Leadership:

  • According to their subordinates, 20% of first-time managers are doing a poor job
  • 26% of first-time managers feel they weren’t ready to lead others
  • Almost 60% say they never received any training when they transitioned into their first leadership role

It’s clear that first-time people managers are struggling. But, because management is so people-oriented, it might be difficult for new managers to find a true-to-life way to hone their new skills. After all, there isn't a great way for first-time managers to “practice” the types of conversations they might have with their direct reports before they have them.

Active Learning: Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice

Enter Skillsoft CAISYTM Conversation AI Simulator, an innovative generative AI (GenAI)-based tool for developing crucial business and leadership skills through simulated conversations. CAISY makes difficult work conversations easier by providing employees with an emotionally safe space to practice with an AI-powered trainer and learn from personalized feedback.

CAISY not only plays the role of the other person within the conversation but also provides personalized feedback and guidance on communication style to guide development. This is known as active learning – an approach to instruction that involves actively engaging learners with the topic at hand. Active learning provides the following benefits:

  • Better outcomes. Active learning through CAISY promotes knowledge acquisition and skill development. Emphasizing real-world scenarios and simulations enables managers to apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations and develop problem-solving skills.
  • More engagement. It enhances learner motivation and engagement by transforming the learning experience from passive to participatory. First-time managers can actively apply their knowledge and skills through practical experiences and challenges, making learning more relevant and stimulating.
  • More application. It gives learners more opportunities to transfer their new skills to their work. When they are compelled to actively apply theoretical concepts to concrete situations, first-time managers gain a deeper understanding of the applicability of their lessons – building the confidence and competence needed for effective decision-making and leadership.

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CAISY Scenarios for First-Time Managers

By January 2024, Skillsoft will have a total of 60 scenarios available within CAISY via Skillsoft Percipio, Skillsoft’s AI-driven online skilling platform.

Fourteen of these scenarios relate to first-time managers:

Accountability: With CAISY, first-time managers can practice taking responsibility for their actions and decisions, cultivating trust within their teams. When team members are confident that their manager will uphold commitments and address issues directly, managers are able to foster a culture of accountability across the team.

Delegation: Delegation is not simply assigning tasks; it's about entrusting responsibilities and empowering team members to make decisions. It is a skill that not only alleviates a manager’s workload but also fosters growth and development within the team. Practicing task delegation makes it easier for managers to free up more time to focus on strategic planning and decision-making.

Developing People: Developing people goes beyond simply improving their skills for the job at hand — it involves nurturing their potential, encouraging their growth, and helping them achieve their career ambitions. Managers who invest time and resources in their team members’ development foster a positive work culture where individuals feel valued and empowered.

Discussing Compensation: This sensitive topic requires delicacy, transparency, and fairness — and, therefore, some practice. Getting more comfortable with compensation discussions before they happen allows managers to effectively address any concerns their team members may have, thereby maintaining morale, productivity, and a sense of loyalty within the team. Inadequately handled, these conversations could lead to dissatisfaction, demotivation, and even attrition.

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Driving Execution: Managers who are skilled at driving execution can ensure that team members are aligned with project goals, understand their roles, and are motivated to complete their tasks on time and to the required standard. An execution-oriented manager fosters a proactive work environment where team members are empowered to take initiative and work toward a common objective.

Emotional Intelligence: Emotional intelligence enables managers to empathize with their team members, understand their motivations and concerns, and respond effectively. This fosters a positive work environment where team members feel heard, understood, and valued. Managers with high emotional intelligence are better equipped to handle stress, resolve conflicts, and navigate challenging situations.

Managing a Cross-functional Team: Managing people with different backgrounds and skill sets exposes managers to various perspectives and ways of thinking, which can aid decision-making and problem-solving. A well-managed and diverse cross-functional team can quickly adapt to changes, enhance the quality of output, and significantly contribute to achieving organizational objectives.

Managing a Hybrid Team: Hybrid teams bring together the best of both worlds, allowing organizations to tap into a wider talent pool and offering employees the flexibility they crave. However, managing such a team requires understanding the unique challenges and opportunities hybrid work presents. Effective communication, team cohesion, and a sense of inclusivity and equality, regardless of where team members are located, are important skills to hone for first-time managers.

Setting Team Goals for Productivity: Effective goal setting provides a clear direction and roadmap for the team, aligning individual efforts with the broader organizational objectives. It encourages focus, fosters commitment, and enhances motivation among team members to achieve desired outcomes.

Strategic Thinking: Strategic thinking involves seeing the big picture, anticipating future trends or challenges, and devising comprehensive plans to achieve long-term objectives. With CAISY, first-time managers can practice steering their team in the right direction, making informed decisions, and allocating resources efficiently.

Potential and Expectations: Recognizing the potential in team members allows managers to align the right set of skills with tasks, foster personal development, and capitalize on strengths. Setting clear expectations provides a roadmap for team members, enabling them to understand what is required of them and how their contributions align with larger organizational goals.

Forming a Team: Assembling a team is not just about grouping individuals together; it’s about identifying the right mix of skills, personalities, and values that can synergize effectively. Managers who successfully form a team lay the groundwork for collaboration, innovation, and higher productivity.

Performance Reviews: Performance reviews offer a structured approach for providing feedback, setting goals, and identifying areas for improvement. They serve as a two-way communication channel, allowing managers to understand their team members' concerns and aspirations while sharing their own expectations. And for many first-time managers, simulating these conversations before they happen is integral to ensuring they go smoothly.

Starting Difficult Conversations: Whether they are related to performance issues, interpersonal conflicts, or process changes, difficult conversations are often challenging but necessary for maintaining a healthy team dynamic. Being able to handle such discussions with tact and sensitivity can prevent the escalation of issues, foster open communication, and cultivate a transparent work environment.

While many people believe that power skills are inherent, we’ve seen that they are actually a combination of inherent traits and learned behaviors. While some individuals may naturally possess certain qualities that contribute to effective communication and relationship-building, others can develop and enhance these skills through conscious effort and practice. And even if someone has a natural predisposition for strong interpersonal skills, there is still room for improvement and refinement through learning and experience.

Like any skill, practice is essential for improvement. Engaging in various professional situations through CAISY provides first-time managers with significant and impactful opportunities to apply and refine their skill sets.