Consider These Initiatives When Developing First-Time Managers

Young managers face fresh challenges at work. Here’s what they should learn and what leaders should do to assist them.
millennial manager

As young workers earn promotions into management ranks, they are likely to experience challenges in leading teams for the first time. Members of the millennial generation are the current young people taking on these roles, as most first-time managers receive that promotion between ages 31 and 35, according to International Coach Federation’s 2017 report, “Building a Coaching Culture With Millennial Leaders.”

Here’s how millennial managers should develop and what business leaders should do to help them.

Prior to a promotion, a succession planning process should involve preparing talent by adding responsibilities and learning opportunities, said Adrian Ridner, CEO and co-founder of, an online education platform for traditional students and corporate learning in Mountain View, California.

The worker should have new projects slowly added to their plate, he said. Even if they are not managing people directly, they are beginning to manage everything else, such as complexities of getting the results they need. Once the transition comes, they will be more prepared.

“Once you’ve determined that employee is ready, it should be fast,” Ridner said. If they’re stuck in limbo between individual contributor and manager, they won’t do either well. Leaders should move them into the role they’ve prepared for quickly.

Still, they will need additional training and development on skills needed to manage people.

Skills for Success

First, they must build their institutional knowledge and business acumen, Ridner said. They need to make data-driven decisions, so understanding business strategy, finance and data are top skills needed for success in management.

They’ll also need to learn how to motivate others and to delegate responsibilities, Ridner said. Delegating successfully requires understanding the skill level and the will individuals have to complete projects. Workers with low skill levels and a desire to get the work done can use assignments as a learning process to improve capabilities. This requires effective communication around expectations and accountability, he said.

Managing goes beyond getting the work done; young managers must also navigate complexities of transitioning from being friends with peers to leading them, said Cyndi Sax, senior vice president of professional services at Caliper, an employee assessment and talent development provider in Princeton, New Jersey. “They don’t necessarily have to give up the friendship, but it definitely changes the nature of the friendship.”

When speaking with their former peers, the new manager will have to keep quiet about management decisions, salary information and the personal lives of others. As the nature of that relationship changes, the parties involved should discuss boundaries up front before problems arise, Sax said.

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Building up those skills around communication, delegation and business acumen requires efforts from multiple people at the organization. Simply promoting an individual without preparing them for the role sets them up for failure, Sax said.

“I think that really speaks to the responsibility that the organization has to those employees to prepare them, as well as it does for the employee, him or herself, to assume responsibility for that learning,” she said. And while it is up to them to develop, their direct supervisor and a learning development professional should guide the process, she said.

Those supervisors should do the following to support who they’re promoting:

  1. Help the person understand and process challenges that will arise with relationship and technical aspects of the job.
  2. Coach and mentor them through the process.
  3. Set clear expectations.
  4. Model the required behaviors themselves.

Modeling the behaviors is especially important in demonstrating how new managers should act, said Jenna Filipkowski, head of research at Human Capital Institute, a Cincinnati -headquartered membership organization for strategy talent management and HR leaders. If leaders say to act a certain way but don’t display the behavior, it can be confusing to the new manager.

The Case for Coaching

This transition process takes a lot of effort, but the business case for focusing on it is simple: retaining talent. “It’s a candidate’s market right now,” Filipkowski said. When investing in personal and professional development,  talent is more likely to stay with the organization, saving money in the long run.

Young workers are also the future leaders of organizations, Sax said. Developing that pipeline could make or break future success, no matter their age or generational divide. “Anyone who is a new manager, regardless of whether they’re a member of the millennial generation or not, is going to have to focus on developing,” she said.

Lauren Dixon is a senior editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email