How to prepare your staff with the right skills to become supervisors

The most successful companies employ a blend of internal development and strategic external hiring. But when you promote from within, you must be sure those front-line employees are ready to take on their new roles.

It’s common for rock star individual contributors who exceed in their current job to be promoted as a result of successful performance. But when they move up the ranks to manager, they often haven’t had the opportunity to develop the skills and behaviors needed to be successful — and as a result the transition from peer to supervisor can be very difficult.

Employees should be given opportunities — preferably in advance — to learn how to coach, manage performance and hold others accountable, says Jody M. Wheaton, M.S., SPHR, executive director of Client Solutions and Programs at Corporate College, a division of Cuyahoga Community College.

“Research tells us that the No. 1 reason supervisors fail is lack of interpersonal skills,” Wheaton says. “And when you break down lack of interpersonal skills, that’s soft side leadership behaviors like how do we handle conflict, how do we communicate, how do we interact with others.”

Smart Business spoke with Wheaton about formal learning and supervisory development programs that can provide your staff with the foundational skills supervisors need.

What are the advantages of promoting from within?

Not only does it benefit employees, it also helps your customers and company.

Establishing and developing internal staff helps attract, retain and engage top talent, because really bright people want to work for a company where they have clear growth opportunities through development and promotions. In addition, studies have found that younger generations today expect to advance more rapidly.

A culture of development and advancement encourages employees to not only work hard, but also be engaged because they are working toward something.

At the same time, by hiring external employees who bring something new to the table, you add new thoughts, outside experiences and diversity. And you motivate current team members to work hard and earn the advancements in the organization.

How should organizations set up a development program?

Begin with defining what the organization needs leaders to do in order to achieve business goals, and then develop a clearly defined talent strategy. Assess your talent and develop programming focused on high potential and high performing talent. Ensure your managers and leadership team are equipped to coach employees and have frequent conversations about career advancement, including a developmental action plan to address goals.

When high potential employees have frequent informal (mentoring, coaching, etc.) and formal (supervisory training) opportunities to learn the ropes, they’re better prepared when the right opportunity arises. When they aren’t fully prepared, the experience can be frustrating for both the team and new supervisor.

Also, remember that learning and development take a shared approach. The employees who want to develop their skills should be held accountable, while the company provides support.

But it doesn’t stop there — on-boarding a new supervisor is something many companies overlook. Give a new manager a mentor or network of professionals for guidance. It’s a continuous process of coaching and providing support to help him or her learn and grow in that new role.

What do you tell employers who feel they don’t have the time and resources for this?

Successful companies put their talent first, and make the investment in ongoing development because they do see the returns. Proper allocation of training budgets and resources requires understanding the needs of the business. Resources need to focus on those initiatives that are most critical and can maximize the training investment. Training providers that are agile and can customize delivery methods and content, tailored to your audience, help focus the efforts and add depth of expertise to your internal training or HR bench.

Insights Education is brought to you by Cuyahoga Community College