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Hitting the Ground Running: Considering Early Management Integration

by Wayne E. Ormond, M.Sc., Senior OD Consultant, Learning & Development, Calgary Health Region.

The Management Challenge

The Calgary Health Region is the primary provider of health care services in lower Alberta and like any other large organization, the Region invests a great deal of time and effort into recruiting and selecting the best managers possible. This means, often, one of two things: First, it can mean recruiting and hiring experienced managers from outside the organization or transferring existing managers within the organization. It can also mean promoting high-performing individual contributors to the ranks of management. Regardless of the process, the transition comes with a unique set of challenges that any organization must face. The challenge, put simply, is how best to bring these "new managers" up to speed as quickly and efficiently as possible while not overwhelming them.

In an effort to better understand and support managers in their new role, we conducted a series of semi-structured interviews with managers, both new and experienced, from various sectors of a large health care provider. What we found might surprise you. Our goal in sharing our findings is to provoke consideration of (similar) new manager challenges within other organizations.

The Key Challenges

Our findings fall into five broad categories. These points highlight key areas or challenges that new managers face during their transition - typically lasting the first year.

Big Picture. Not surprisingly, one of the key challenges facing new mangers is having a clear understanding of organizational information. Nearly all of the managers interviewed expressed the need to see the overall or 'Big Picture'. This included having a clear understanding of the organization's goals, vision, and values and how" their particular unit contributes and fits within this broader framework. Moreover, questions of this type often faced by managers during their transition include "How does my unit scorecard fit with these broader goals?", and "What is meant by a 'healthy community' or 'portfolio'?

Key Players. An important element in any organization, just over half the managers highlighted the need to connect with 'key players' in the organization. This includes key union representatives, executives, information providers, and individual manager counterparts within the organization.

Creating a 'Community of Practice' with other managers in the Region could play a key role in new manager success.

Community of Practice. Again, nearly all of the managers interviewed highlighted the need to establish a community of practice (i.e., infomational or support network) within the organization. In essence, this means feeling a sense of belongingness with other units in the organization as well as the broader community. Clearly, this sentiment is closely tied with the notion of greater integration and communication, either formal or informal, among managers. Interviewees also expanded this point, however, to include the practice of mentorship within the organization. Such a practice might include establishing a network of new and experienced managers, or pairing managers with one another or Directors or both.

Skill Sets. What about the individual skills that managers see as being important during their ramp-up in the management role? Interviewees had lots of ideas on the topic and their comments fell into two broad (non-exhaustive) categories:

I. 'Soft' Skills. These include interpersonal skills such as the ability to network across units, communication skills, conflict resolution skills, the ability to manage change effectively, the ability to effectively manage staff performance, achieving a healthy work-life balance, being a good work role model, encouraging creativity in your staff, being able to make unpopular decisions, having a positive sense of humor and the ability to effectively foster teamwork and collaboration.

II. 'Hard' Skills. These include management-related job knowledge and skills such as having a clear understanding of the managerial role, knowing how to budget and finance effectively, operational HR skills such as recruiting, interviewing, conducing performance appraisals and dealing with grievances. Managers also expressed need to clearly understand union contracts, how to schedule, present effectively, manage their time effectively, as well as how to manage projects effectively, understand individual staff roles and responsibilities clearly and know how to use any relevant software systems. These so-called 'hard' skills are in addition to any profession-specific core competencies (e.g., as with doctors or nurses).

Directors are the single most identified source of organizational support for new managers.

Organizational Support. Finally, managers almost unanimously highlighted the role that Directors play in the success of their transition. That is, the need for a supportive and developmental Director emerged as the single most important organizational factor determining new manager success. Managers highlighted to need for their Director to be approachable, cognizant of their workload, and willing to jump-start the networking process for managers (as with introductions to key players and other managers/directors). Many of the managers interviewed also outlined the more specific need for Directors to sit down with managers and (together) formulate individual development or action plans to which the managers are then held accountable.

Leveraging Organizational Resources

Clearly, managers pointed to Directors as a primary source of support during their ramp-up in the new role. It was also apparent, however, that managers also leveraged a number of other organizational resources in their transition. This includes leveraging the many skills of a dedicated staff, the openness of staff to using new technology and processes, the quick and helpful response of the IT group, and taking advantage of the many workshops, programs and sources of information offered by not only Learning and Development but by HR in general.

So what does all this mean for new managers in the Region? In the end, successful managers recall taking ownership over and maintaining stewardship of their own needs during their transition. Many of the manages were proactive in jump-starting their own networking with other managers and staff, approached Directors on their own with regard to their developmental needs and enrolled in one or more of the many workshops offered to managers in the Region.

It also highlights the continued need for the Region to offer flexible and tailored programs to both new and experienced managers. Indeed, many of the experienced managers we interviewed felt it important to include the fact that they, too, could benefit from having a better understanding of the kinds of information and skills highlighted here.

Thus, it is important that, as an organization, we not underestimate the unique challenges facing new managers in the Region and, moreover, continue to work together to help ensure their success. Besides being pivotal assets to the organization, as one interviewee put it, "New managers, like staff at all levels, are among the organizations most valuable ambassadors."

Successful managers recall taking ownership over and maintaining stewardship of their own needs during their transition.

Wayne Ormond is a doctoral student in the University of Calgary Industrial-Organizational Psychology (Human Resource Management) program. He is also a Senior Organization Development Consultant with the Calgary Health Region and runs an online survey development and consulting service catering to researchers and small business ( www.ActionSurvey.com).

His primary area of expertise is change management - specifically leadership development, training/facilitation, and employee selection. Currently, he also leads a number of applied research projects including one involving the design and validation of a large-scale systems approach to leadership development and another examining the leader-manager distinction within the context of selection, executive/management development, and 360-degree feedback systems. You can visit Wayne online or e-mail him directly at weormond@ucalgary.ca.



 
 
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