The Predicament of the First-Time Manager

The research

People moving into management for the first time should be the rarest breed of people ever. If the stats are to be believed and there are multiple pieces of research to show this, 50% to 60% of first-time managers fail. How and why would you ever want to take on the role as a first-time manager if you knew that 50% to 60% of those people failed in their new roles. This is especially troubling when most likely, as an individual contributor, you are already a Rockstar. You are an expert in your role, you drive for big results and you've been rewarded for it within your role. So I ask again, "Why would you ever want to get promoted to be a first-time manager?"

Why manage people?

Well the answer lies in the ability to contribute. A number of us look for opportunities to help and lead others. So it's a natural progression for us to want to move from Rockstar individual contributor to manager. We're able to build a team, work with more people, take on more responsibility and be accountable for the results of that team, that group of aligned people.

The challenge

The challenge only starts when we take that step up and look around, just like in The Hunger Games, as the participants platforms rise into the game. You take a look around and you wonder “What have I gotten myself into?”.  O.K., so being a first time manager isn’t life or death.  However, it can feel that way when overwhelm sets in. It's at this moment, as a first-time manager, that you wish (you may have been here already?) that you had the support, the direction, the coach, to help you overcome that feeling of being overwhelmed on the very first day!

So this is the predicament of a first-time manager. You might think on the face of it all that this research is lopsided it couldn't possibly be right and so you might doubt it. There is another set of research done on the other side of this same coin, research that looks at the number of people who have what Gallop believes are the innate skills required to manage others. In this research Gallup shows that maybe 10% of us innately have all of what it takes to be a manager. Another 20% or so have some but, not all of those innate skills that Gallup lists as required to manage others. So you stretch that Gallup research a bit and say that maybe it's more than 30% of us who have some or all of the innate skills to be a manager. And say you stretch it to 40%. So, a number of different research papers have shown that on one side of the coin 50% to 60% of first-time managers fail. On the other side of that same coin 30% to 40% of first-time managers succeed by having the necessary skills. You can see then that adding both sides of the coin together covers the complete population of first-time manager.  Unfortunately the odds are not in favour of first-time managers.

Reality check

This is not news. This has been going on for decades, first time manager success rates have not just plummeted in the last year or 5 or 10 years. This predicament can be overcome if you are a first-time managers through training, support and implementation into the new organization. If you're a first-time manager, get the support you need to figure out what it is you need to do to be successful - there are a number of paths available and they are dependent on your context, organization, skills, courage and persistence. And, often as a first time manager, you need to figure out what to stop doing.  You are no longer an individual contributor and some of what you did as an individual contributor could sink you as a manager.

As I work with my first time manager clients these things come as surprises to them, more often than not. And, these things are but a small part of the puzzle that will lead to the success of more first-time managers. Let's work to end this predicament for first-time managers, support them and set them up for success to the betterment of themselves, their teams, and their organizations. At the very least, let's work to make “the odds be ever in your favour”!