January 11, 2013 | By Jim Miller, Drs. John Foltz and Christine Wilson
print-button

Training New Managers

Keep employees enthusiastic today, grow tomorrow's management team

So you have done all the right things and hired a couple superstars in your organization. They are young, getting good experience, the “up and comers” of your company. Now what?? You don’t have a management spot yet but you don’t want to lose them or stifle their enthusiasm. How to do you keep them engaged? And then once you do have a management spot open, how do you coach them to be successful? These are a couple topics we will explore in this month’s article.

Keep them engaged

A fully engaged employee is not only more productive, but also more likely to stay employed with you, allowing you to invest in training and keep them around for future opportunities. So, here are several methods for keeping them engaged and maintaining their interests. 

Offer new challenges: New, challenging projects are a prime way to keep up-and-coming employees engaged.  Don’t let them get bored. As a new project comes up, give it to them. Help coach them through the project management stages to make them successful. Share your successes and failures on similar projects so they can learn from you. Of course, be open to their ideas. These may be projects such as planning your annual grower meeting, developing a new social media marketing plan, presenting a topic in front of a group of growers or other employees, or presenting a project to your board. It is important for your employee to be well known by your customers and other company employees -- getting them in front of groups for presentations is a good way to accomplish this. It also provides them good experience they will need throughout their careers.

Practice Participatory Management: Get them involved in the daily challenges you face. Get their opinions. Delegate a few things to them. This is good for all of your staff, and will keep everyone engaged and feel like their contributions are important to the company and they are “in the loop”. You probably already have effective, productive and efficient staff meetings on a regular basis. If not, it is a good thing to start, especially with your key management team (Department Managers, supervisors, foremen, etc). Include the “up and comers” in these meetings whenever possible. Use these meetings as a place to get feedback, share ideas and concerns and build a team. Be warned, it does take more time to manage this way, but the end result is a more unified, stronger team that will rally around you and the company and move it forward.

A great activity for a staff meeting or retreat is the “Twenty Answer Activity.” Ask your team a question facing your company such as “How do we increase sales?” or “How do we improve our operations?” The requirement is to have each member answer with twenty different answers.  Anyone can come up with three or four, but when forced to come with twenty answers, you will be surprised at how deep and creative the ideas will become. And the team will feel like they fully participated in reaching a solution or taking steps in the improvement of the topic.

Communicate events: This is important for all of your staff, but especially those you what to keep around for future management positions. Everyone wants to know what is going on and be part of company events. Consider a weekly email update from you as manager.

Keep pay up to par: Superstars are noticed by your competitors as well. The risk of them getting snatched up by “Brand X” is high. So keep your pay and benefit package up to par. Check with colleagues in the industry, salary surveys, or job announcements from competitors. It is shown that for an employee to be enticed into changing employers, the new company has to pay about 10% more than then current one. Thus, if you keep your salaries as high as possible, there will be less chance of your key employee “jumping ship.”

Get them recognition: There are a number of industry awards that your employee might be eligible for. Look for these opportunities and nominate them. Also look for community or regional business award programs. A nomination letter gives you a chance to let them know how much you value their contribution to your feed or grain business. And if they win, promote their award as much as you can. Issue press releases to the local media, put it in your company newsletter, and send out an e-mail congratulating your employee.

Continuing Education: Give your employee a chance to develop their skills through continuing education. There are a number of grain industry related webinars they can attend very inexpensively. In additional, there are thousands of business, management, sales and customer service webinars or live seminars that are available. Keep your eyes open for these and send employees whenever possible. Many states have an Agriculture Leadership development program, which is a perfect training ground for your up and coming employees. 

Don’t promise them the moon:  It is tempting to keep you superstar employee around by promising them a promotion in six months or a management job in a year, but be realistic about what you promise. If you can’t deliver, the employee will start looking elsewhere.

Invest in fertile ground: As a busy manager, it is easy to fall into the trap of just putting out fires. As such, a lot of your employee interaction defaults to the “problem children”. You get in the mode of disciplinarian and spend lots of your time with the employees who aren’t performing.  “How can I make them perform better?” “How can I get them to stop this negative behavior?’ are questions you ask. To use the agronomy analogy of Variable Rate Technology, where more inputs are applied to the more productive ground, try to do the same with your employee base. More time spent coaching productive employees will result in more benefit and more profit for your organization.

Now They Have Been Promoted

Finally a spot has opened up for a promotion. You have been training and coaching and now can move your superstar into this new position. Surely your job is done?? Not quite. You have a lot to do to set the foundation for a successful management career for your new manager. (These same principles of coaching a new manager can also apply if you have just hired someone who has not been with your company before.)

Micromanage for the first few months: When you first start an employee in a new management position you should tend to micromanage (this is the only time you should do this). Tell them you will be doing this and that you will not be doing it forever. But you want to get the person trained and up to speed with the “flavor” of your management style. Check in with them often on their “to do list.” Give them lots of coaching on how to handle situations that arise. As they become more and more competent, give them more freedom.

Keep them very busy: During their first few months in the new position, keep them very busy.  Load up their schedule and task list. This provides you with lots of opportunity for interaction, affords you many chances for observation, and gives time and opportunity for feedback. A busy schedule also gives them purpose. You really do need them in this position to help you, so make them feel like it.

Provide a detailed job description: This should be a given, but during the initial promotion (or new hire) process, don’t forget to provide, and discuss, a detailed job description. You should do this with each position in your company, but it is probably more important with new management positions. List all the tasks you can think of and outline them in the description. Have another member or two of your current management team review (participatory management as we mentioned above) and provide feedback. Take as much time as needed to go over each item in the description with your new manager -- you are building communication bridges here and telegraphing your intent and desires.

Make a big announcement: Promotions or new hires are a big deal. Make sure you make a big announcement to your company and other employees. Contact local media and put the information on your web-site. A good head shot from a local photographer with publication rights will only cost about $50 and is a good investment, not only for your new hires, but for all your management team. They sure look better than the snapshot of them against the break room wall.  In the announcement to your employees, spend time telling them the benefits of this position and why this person is a good match for the job.

There is no “I” in Team:  Remind your new manager that they are making a transition from being an individual contributor to leading a team. And there is no “I” in Team. As an individual contributor, the employee was judged on what they did individually. But now as a manager, they are judged on what their team does. If you hear reports back from your new manager on how “I” did this or “I” got that process going, coach them to the team aspect for their job.  While the manager is an important part of the team, they can’t individually make everything happen.

Promote communication: Make sure your new manager is an effective communicator with their staff.  Encourage them to have regular meetings (efficient, schedule respective… no just a meeting for the sake of a meeting). Suggest they sit down individually with each member of their team in the first 30 days to get to know them, almost a short, very casual interview. And also make sure they are communicating with you on their activities, schedule, challenges, etc.

“Don’t rock the Boat”:  During their initial meeting with their new team, have them basically say these exact words: “I am not here to rock the boat and make huge changes. I want to learn what you folks are doing, how the department runs, etc and join together with you to move forward.” All employees are apprehensive about a new manager and they don’t want someone stepping in and messing up everything they have worked on for so long. Even if you and the new manager know down deep, that changes need to be made, the new manager will have more support and respect if they don’t come in “guns blazing” but spend some time in the trenches learning how things currently operate. Often, the current employees know how to best change things anyway, so a new manager should ask them for ideas (back to participatory management again).

Instill in them that the “Bottom Line is the Bottom Line”: New managers say they know this, but help instill in them a sense of fiscal responsibility. Their ultimate goal should be building the company and increasing profits. They do this through building an effective team, managing expenses, increasing margins, providing excellent customer service and working efficiently. Spend some time pouring over the financials with the new manager. Help them understand how the money flows in and out of your company and their department.

Don’t forget to have fun along the way. Work is hard sometimes, and actually should be. That means you and your team are putting in some required energy to be successful. But smile along the way! We hope these ideas help you engage and retain key employees and successfully start them in a management position once one is available. Good luck!

More Articles

Beyond OSHA Combustible Dust Compliance
Star Milling uses a VAC-U-MAX breakaway central vacuum system, that meets OSHA's requirements for a combustible dust vacuum, to keep its facility clean and compliant. Photo by Air Cleaning Technology

Beyond OSHA Combustible Dust Compliance

November 24, 2014 | Online Exclusive |

Feed mill employs portable combustible dust central vacuum to remove fugitive grain dust and eliminates the need to enter confined spaces for cleaning.

[Read More]
Feed Industry Invests in Education
The Northern Crops Institute, located on the campus of North Dakota State University in Fargo, ND, has educated visitors from more than 130 countries.

Feed Industry Invests in Education

November 11, 2014 | Cover Story | Elise Schafer

The Northern Crops Institute renovates its feed mill on North Dakota State University’s Fargo campus with state-of-the-art equipment donated by feed industry suppliers.

[Read More]
Feeding Signals: The 
Cows Say it All

Feeding Signals: The 
Cows Say it All

October 28, 2014 | Online Exclusive |

Feeding perfect rations is only possible when you understand feed analysis, the properties of the feed, the way a cow functions and her milk production. The concept 'Feeding signals' looks at all these aspects: from mouth to rumen and intestines. In this article we touch on a few things to consider when using this concept.

[Read More]