Are First Time Manager Programs a priority for companies?

First Time Manager (FTM) Programs - The missing piece in the people management puzzle

The composition of the Indian workforce has changed dramatically post COVID 19. In 2021, the percentage of men in the Indian workforce fell to 64% from 77% in 2020. The Indian workforce after the epidemic consists of an increasingly wide variety of diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, age, physical ability, religion, education, and lifestyle. Hiring of gig workers for white collar jobs is on the rise, remote working is now commonplace. Mental health concerns in the workforce are growing. Employees are increasingly emphasising elements such as flexibility, work life balance, healthy work culture etc as much as salary and professional progress. All this is placing ever increasing demands on organisations.  On the front lines of facing these challenges are first time managers {FTM}s. 

While stepping into a managerial role for the first time has always been demanding. First time managers, today, are not just managing people for the first time but also handling never seen before challenges for the first time. 

The largest employee population in most organisations is that of front-line workers. As a result, front-line managers play a critical role in building a healthy relationship between the workers and the organization. Because the workforce regards these front-line managers as the organization’s face, support from the front-line managers is seen as organisational support. In most organisations the first managerial role is this crucial role of a front-line manager. 

Many first-time managers (FTMs) feel underprepared for their role. As per a study the percentage of FTMs could be as high as 56%. Another study shows that 60% of new managers fail within their first 2 years on the job. Yet only 34% of FTMs say that they received any training at all before taking up their roles. There’s clearly a mismatch in the expectations being placed on new leaders and the help that they are being provided with to deliver on those expectations.

New leaders don’t just need any generic training program, they need a leadership development tailored to their needs. One-time sessions have been proven to be unhelpful in developing stronger leaders since behavioural transformation is a long-term process that needs ongoing input and feedback.  Most programs primarily focus on skill training in improving capability in communication, teamwork etc. However, first time managers need more input than skill training.

The Challenges of First Time Leadership

Rising to the position of people manager is regarded as a sign of professional development and may be regarded as a desirable job without employees having an adequate understanding of the extra responsibilities and strains that may be placed on them. A study showed that a lot of first-time managers struggle with issues like delegation, communication, time management and motivating others. The urge to prove oneself as “being worthy” of the position by simply “trying harder” may lead new leaders away from finding actual solutions to the obstacles they face.

The prospect of managing employees who were once peers is, yet another challenge faced by managers. Asserting authority and demanding accountability while still maintaining a trust-based relationship and positive work culture is a fine balancing act that even experienced managers struggle to pull off.

FTMs are often faced with the common phenomenon known as “Imposter Syndrome”. It is used to define a sense of feeling undeserving of one’s success or position in their personal and professional life. What sports teams have known for a long time is that
Great players don’t always make great coaches. This is one of the most well-established facts in the world of sports. The skills that determine individual brilliance are not the same as those that ensure collective achievement. The same can also be said for people finding themselves in leadership roles for the first time.

The first step to creating an effective leader is to help people see themselves as leaders. This however is easier said than done. In the modern workplace where the traditional top-down management is being replaced by a more agile, collaborative and inclusive work culture, they may lack the necessary role models at senior levels of management to help them transition into their leadership role since senior managers themselves are inexperienced with handling such monumental changes as FTMs. Recent employment data in India also shows that tier2 and tier3 cities are experiencing a higher rate of growth in terms of employment. Managers in these locations may be more removed from the right individuals and resources that are crucial for their leadership development.

Whether it’s skillset, expectation setting, or adjusting to a new dynamic within the organisation. New leaders are fighting battles on multiple fronts. There are two critical actions that you can take to make your first time managers grow to be successful leaders.

Building a network

Empowering new leaders to develop a better professional network can help them build a stronger support structure that will aid them during their transition time. Building a professional network is vital for first-time managers as it provides access to knowledge, mentorship, collaboration, career opportunities, support, and credibility. It enables them to grow both personally and professionally, enhancing their effectiveness as managers and setting the stage for long-term success.

Ability to deal with Failure

No learning is complete without a certain amount of trial and error. First-time managers often miss their own personal success and have to watch their direct reports receive attention for their contributions in a workplace where rewards and bonuses are more closely tied to individual performance than team accomplishments. This may leave them lacking motivation to take on their new responsibilities, which will negatively impact both their own performance and the performance of their team. Every FTM programme should include lessons on how to deal with failure. Learning from failure is essential for building resilience and flexibility as well as for translating information gained into useful expertise.

First-time managers become a tremendous asset for organisations when they receive the proper training and support. Afterall, they are the first point of contact and represent the face of the organisation to the thousands of employees who may not have access to senior management.


To curb burn out, help managers focus on their health and wellness first

India is home to more than a sixth of the world’s population, our country has received world acclaim for being the fastest growing economy. As the economy expands, India’s requirement for a strong, healthy, and productive workforce that can withstand the pressures of a sedentary lifestyle is  increasing. However at this pivotal moment of socio-economic development, India is lagging when it comes the health and wellness of the manager and employees, we’re seeing a rapid shift towards burnouts and chronic non-communicable diseases. Here are some statistics that may surprise you. 

  1. In India, chronic or non-communicable diseases account for  53% of all deaths and 44 % of disability-adjusted life-years lost. 
  2. India has the highest number of people with Diabetes in the world with around 77 million living with diabetes and a projection of 134 million by 2045 (International Diabetes Federation). 
  3. India’s loss in terms of losing potentially productive years due to deaths from cardiovascular diseases in people aged between 35-64 years is one of the highest in the world. By 2030, the loss is expected to rise to 17.9 million years which is 940% more than the loss estimated in the USA.
  4. India is recording a steep increase in hypertension both in rural and urban populations.
  5. 4 out of 10 in India reported elevated rates of burnout and depression. 
Manager health and wellness

Driven by the urgency of the situation, greater employee awareness, and digitally accessible means to healthcare and wellness, corporate wellness has taken centre stage. This is reflected in the projected growth of the corporate wellness market. A recent report projects that the Indian Corporate wellness market will grow at an annual rate of 5.75% for the period 2020-25 from its current value of INR 14.95 BN to INR 21.53 BN. Corporate wellness market includes services around smoking cessation, health screening, health risk assessment, nutrition & weight management, stress management, psychological care, and others. Yet the path to success for a lot of  organisations is a rocky one. 

Manager health and wellness must be viewed as an inherent element of the entire corporate philosophy, and one of the most important aspects to consider when it comes to properly implementing philosophy is leadership. In a recent study in the UK, respondents said that managers have as much of an impact on their mental health as their spouse and way more than their doctor or therapist. The instinctive reaction of most organisations to this piece of data is – let’s make managers responsible for the team’s wellness, some even go a step further and make it a part of Managers KRA. And while these are helpful tools, it only works if the manager is himself or herself operating from a place of wellness. 

“Please put on your own mask before assisting others”. Every airline safety video will gently remind you of this. However, this simple reminder is just as applicable in the workplace as well. Here are 5 reasons why helping the manager prioritise their health and wellness can be a rewarding experience for your organisation –

  1. Leaders navigating the challenges of the modern workplace can become easily overwhelmed with all the various roles and responsibilities that their position entails. A manager who struggles to manage their own work life balance, fitness and workload will be in no position to help others do the same.
  2. Managers have a huge influence on the day to day experiences of your employees and a manager’s conduct usually sets the standard for others to follow. They can demonstrate through their own example what employees can do to navigate personal wellness roadblocks such as lack of time, family obligations, lack of interest in what is offered, and erratic work schedules.
  3. Managers who prioritise their own well being and practice wellness on a regular basis and begin to see its benefits. They are more likely to be wellness ambassadors who can encourage employees to take their wellness seriously. By sharing their own knowledge and helping their team members identify strategies suited to their individual needs, managers can help employees make sense of all the information they’re surrounded by regarding wellness to see what works best for them. 
  4. They can also be great evangelists for workplace wellness programs and prove helpful in improving the “stickiness” of the wellness efforts your organisation is making. 
  5. Managers can also support healthy ways of working through personal policy measures like no work after 7 or no work calls on the weekend for themselves and their team. This can help the much requested work life balance needs of employees.

Building a culture that focuses on health and  wellness is a practice in building positive habits and relationships. Making managers central to this ensures their well-being as well as everyone in the organisation. 

A good place to start is to ask managers “What gives you validation as a person other than work?”.  Managers can benefit from a self-assessment system designed to help them build healthy habits at work and find purpose not just as professionals but as people.. These micro habits, when practiced on a daily basis, empower managers to regulate their emotions, insecurities and frustrations during team interactions. 

A simple checklist, like the one below can significantly improve the ROI of your current wellness programs and improve the mental health of a manager in your organisation. Encourage your managers to periodically assess themselves on this checklist. 

Healthy workplace habits.

  • I take short hourly breaks
  • I stretch throughout the day
  • I practise 10 mins of silence every 2 hours
  • I practise giving up social media for a day every fortnight
  • My personal goals include a self-care plan
  • I take short floor walks with team members 
  • I start the day with gratitude
  • I have dialogue on wellbeing with my team members once a month
  • I make sure to make the best use of workplace wellness facilities of my organisation

In summary, while there is no consensus around a single definition of well-being, but there is general agreement that at minimum, well-being includes the presence of positive emotions and moods (e.g., contentment, happiness), the absence of negative emotions (e.g., depression, anxiety), satisfaction with life, fulfilment and positive functioning. These are the exact 3 components of being your BEST SELF. By encouraging healthy workplace habits you can enable everyone in your organisation to be their Best Self every single day.


Building a High-Trust High-Performance Culture

As a kid I used to spend a lot of time trying to put together 1000-piece puzzles. And a lot of those times I felt frustrated and stuck. In an attempt to move along I would often progress in a racing hurry only to suffer the same feeling again. Seems obvious right? Building a High-Trust High-Performance culture, can feel the same it is  time consuming and frustrating. Yet the process is the same – look at the big picture, get all the right pieces, build sections, and bring it all together. Always start with building sections, pick up one promising piece, and then place the remaining pieces around it. Do it over and over, and the puzzle is complete in no time. When building culture – that one promising piece is people managers!

There is an obvious reason for this. Managers have direct contact with the vast majority of your workforce and therefore have the biggest influence on your employees’ day to day experiences at the workplace. And, just as cramming the incorrect piece would almost always result in feeling trapped, not having managers who properly represent the organisation’s culture and principles might result in culture dilution – a state where “How we do things around here” (everyday was of working) does not live up to “How we want to do things” (our stated vision and values). It can even lead to culture clash, where “How we do things around here” contradicts “How we want to do things”. This is especially true when there are a high number of lateral hires, typically in crucial senior and middle management positions. 

Luckily, managers, unlike jigsaw puzzle parts, can be coached to fit in.

So, what can you do to ensure that managers are active participants in your company’s cultural strategy? Investing in leadership development programs is definitely a time tested option. However, these programs yield results in the long term and may not be available to managers at all levels of the organisation. Experts also believe that often these programs are no more effective in producing great managers, than short term programs or one-off training seminars are.

And hence at the Great Manager Institute we focus on everyday behaviours. Having worked with thousands of leaders and managers in some of the best organisations across industries we know that consciously curating everyday behaviours or “How we do things around here” is what builds culture. While anyone can be trained to use specific tools {systems}, achieving the desired behaviour needs to be a conscious and continuous effort that is imprinted at every level of the company. Designing powerful manager-led people practises hold the key to shaping behaviour.

 Our research shows that strong leadership is built on three pillars – Connect, Develop, Inspire. When leaders and managers who build strong interpersonal connections with their team, take interest in the team’s personal and professional growth, and help team members connect with the big picture of the organisation, are more effective at fostering a high-trust high-performance culture in the organisation. 

Here are some examples of powerful manager-led people practises that create high-trust high-performance culture. 


Focussing on connect, Managers can build strong interpersonal connections and foster a sense of psychological safety within their team. 

Consider a practice like Toss the Ball. Every two weeks, a manager has a 30-minute “All videos on” meeting. In a meet, two team members are chosen to start the session. The nominated members toss and catch a paper ball (virtual actions). The individual who lands the ball must provide a one-line feedback to the opponent before tossing the ball to someone else. And the process repeats till 30 mins are up. This simple manager-led practice encourages openness, transparency, and psychological safety in the team. 

How are you doing? Is a practice to demonstrate empathy and douse crises arising due to poor planning. This is a fortnightly call with all team members, to give them progress and key updates on the project. In addition, ask them whether they are favourably inspired by their job and if they have any recommendations for improving it.


Helping team members identify growth opportunities within the organization reinforces the feeling of being a valued member and cared for. Employees who see the possibility of growth at an organisation tend to stay longer.

FutureSync is a conversation between managers and their team members to set realistic expectations of career paths within the organisation. Two goals are set for the year, at least one of which has to be worked on with the manager and the other with the manager’s peers. This enables team members to get external perspectives in identifying strengths and blind spots in an unbiased manner. Additionally, the manager also provides guidance for learning support towards these objectives, ensuring a forward movement for every team member.

This simple practice, The Flying Book finds its roots in the philosophy of the art of giving. A manager at one of India’s largest pharmaceutical companies has initiated it with his team. He introduces a book (related to personal or professional growth) and every person who reads it must pass it on to the next person. This has led to a boost in knowledge sharing within the team and a focus on personal growth.


There may have been a time when inspiring team members was seen as something only leaders would do, but that time is over. Today, best performing have identified ‘Inspiration and Appreciation’ as one of the biggest differentiators between them and their peers.

Letters of Mission. The manager encourages team members to develop their own “mission statement” that expresses who they are and how they want to contribute to the success of the firm. The letters are further posted on the company’s intranet. A salesperson from this FMCG organisation mentioned his mission as “to indelibly mark our confectionary brand on the heart of every child” and the logistics executive mentioned about “reliably providing our product to every customer, as and when they need it”. Colleagues are often inspired by personal mission statements. In fact, it changes the quality of conversations between peers and enables faster action.

Happy Lottery is a practice of expressing unconditional gratitude to everyone, by everyone. A box is placed on the floor which holds the name of each team member (including the manager). Every week at the end of the team catch-up, the manager picks a team member’s name through the Lottery system. Then the manager, followed by the other team members, shares a few words of gratitude and praise for the one whose name is pulled out. Simple yet profound way of focussing on the positive.

Perhaps your company already has a great work culture, and your managers are constantly reinforcing its values. So, what happens during a period of growth when there is a need to get more people onboard? Effective manager-led practices that are carefully curated may be great custodians of your company’s culture. They can serve as a beacon of light in times of change to every people manager in your organisation, including lateral hires and first-time managers.

Multi-sensory approach to Managing information overload at work.

In today’s day and age, one finds it hard to not be “always-on”. We live in a hyper-connected world both in our personal lives and professional avatars. The development of technology has allowed everything in our lives to take a multi-sensory approach, including people management.  There is an unsaid, yet underlined expectation to respond to texts, emails, calls, social media pings, etc. Failure to do so only sends more text, email, calls our way! Constant connection and information about everything, anything, everywhere has become a way of life for most working professionals. And yet how much information can our brain really process and retain? According to neuroscience, our brains are hardwired to forget, not to remember. In 2015, one statistic went viral: “humans have an 8-second attention span. Less than that of a goldfish! And it’s getting shorter!” While the statistic itself was false, it went viral but the message felt relatable – the losing battle with information overload, constant struggle of processing the endless stream of emotions not just information, frequently experiencing anxiety triggered by decreased working memory. 

Brand marketers and advertisers have recognised this very real crisis of human attention and interconnected action. Therefore, successful brands engage us through many of our senses, they use a multi-sensory approach. Have you noticed that commercials tend to be louder than the show you’re watching? Competing brands often use colour tones on the opposite ends of the spectrum when trying to stand out and almost the same in a mass market product line. Smooth flawless packaging of Apple products, screams “premium”. 

So if marketers can use a multi-sensory approach to land their message, why can’t managers? Adopting a Multi sensory approach can help slow down the forgetting curve. It helps increase understanding and retention of information. Managers can use the same multi sensory approach in people management to enhance team engagement by incorporating different sensory inputs into their communication style. A multi-sensory approach can accelerate team innovation by boosting creativity, improving cooperation, and encouraging varied viewpoints.

Fun at work is one of the key drivers of a great workplace. Eighty-one percent of employees at companies ranked as “great” described their office environments as fun. For most organisations the percentage is much lower. What most organisations fail to understand is that ‘fun’ is not about doing things outside of work to have fun, but about changing ways of working to make work more engaging and thereby fun. A multi sensory approach can achieve just that. Since taking this approach means once in a while moving away from routine business review and using a mix of Auditory, Visual, Kinaesthetic or Experiential modes to enhance the quality of communication and interaction. Here are some examples. 

Sensory Brainstorming Sessions

Traditional brainstorming sessions can be enhanced by incorporating multi-sensory elements. Consider offline tools such as chart papers, post its, colourful sketch pens and stickers. Managers can change the office dynamic to create an environment that stimulates the senses, such as playing inspiring music, displaying visually stimulating images or objects, or even introducing unconventional scents. This sensory stimulation can help team members think outside the box and generate innovative ideas.

Behaviour Spotlight Sessions

Drama, role play, storyboarding can be great tools to create a supportive and empathetic work environment that acknowledges the emotional aspect of teamwork. Helping team members express, recognize and validate each other’s emotions, both positive and negative, can foster better team dynamics and enhance communication. Organizations with great work cultures leverage role play to build awareness and skill on sensitive topics such as performance feedback, speak up culture and diversity.

Operating from a different working space

Change of work space can be a refreshing experience for the entire team. This could include working from a different branch office, accompanying a team member for a field trip, informal visits to museums or exhibitions, visit to a team member’s home or virtual reality experiences that expose team members to different environments and perspectives. Change in the working environment can break the monotony of everyday work, encourage new connections and spark fresh ideas. In the Indian context for a vast majority of employees, a manager’s attempt to build a connection with the team member’s family demonstrates respect and care for the team member.

Visual Communication

Managers often use visual aids such as charts, graphs, and diagrams to convey information and objectives effectively. Visuals help team members grasp complex concepts, see the big picture, and understand data more easily. However, a new language for communication is emerging – Memes! Memes are a powerful way for team members to candidly express themselves. Memes forge a sense of belonging by helping team members to have a directory of inside jokes. They can also lighten the mood and add humour to an otherwise mundane conversation. But memes can do more than add humour. They are effective tools for boosting morale and creating a psychologically safe environment.

Design Thinking Workshops

Design thinking workshops often utilize multi-sensory techniques to foster innovation. Managers can guide their teams through activities that involve sketching, prototyping, role-playing, and physical interactions. These hands-on experiences help team members approach problems from different angles and uncover unique solutions.

Visualization and Storytelling

Visual and auditory storytelling techniques can be employed to inspire innovation. Managers can encourage team members to create visual representations of ideas or concepts using mind maps, sketches, diagrams, or storyboards. Additionally, storytelling can be used to communicate the vision, purpose, and potential impact of innovative ideas, making them more tangible and relatable to the team.

Doodling during meetings

According to research, when we doodle, the brain is actually paying more attention and remembers more information. By providing a creative release it helps with mental health. One study showed that doodling activates the brain’s reward pathways.

Floor Walks

And if all of the above seem out of reach, take to the simple, time tested and well researched ‘floor walk’. It has proven to be a powerful tool to build engagement, finding better ways of working, facilitating bottom up communication, enhancing leadership visibility and brand to name a few benefits.

Remember, the key is to create an inclusive and supportive environment where team members feel comfortable engaging their senses and sharing their ideas. By leveraging a multi-sensory approach in people management, managers can stimulate innovation, break through traditional thinking patterns, cultivate a culture of creativity and exploration and infuse fun at work.


Help Managers create a culture of listening

Tim Cook, the chief executive officer of Apple Inc., is one of the most influential CEOs of all time. Recently, he was ranked No. 4 in a list of the world’s best CEOs for 2023 in the CEOWORLD magazine. One attribute he possesses that distinguishes him from other leaders is his listening skills. Most people who have been in a meeting room with Tim recount him maintaining deliberate periods of silence in meetings where he listens without interrupting or reacting whatsoever.  However, he is the exception, not the rule. 

Two out of every three (63%) workers, globally, feel that their managers or employers fail to just listen.  In India 17 out of every 20 employees (86%) hold this view. Amongst the younger workers a whooping 93% hold this view – the highest of any country surveyed. This perhaps begs the question – is listening a skill that can be developed? And if it is – is there enough opportunity to do so?

While there is a lot of research on developing the skill to listen, but the opportunity to  practice listening is less. In 2015, a study of business schools found that while 78% of schools list “Presenting” as a learning goal, only 11% listed “Listening” as one. Even with ample opportunity to practice, managers may be faced with the challenge of deciphering the most effective way to listen across multicultural and multi-generational workplaces. 

Helping managers understand and appreciate the nuances of effective listening can help them build more successful relationships at work. The 3 nuances that managers can pay more attention to, to become better listeners are.

  1. What are you listening to? What is being said or the manner in which it is said. Managers will concur that younger employees or those working in particular sectors tend to “say what they mean” more frequently. Whereas in certain teams, context and body language, rather than words, might be significantly more useful in comprehending what an employee is saying.
  2. How much to pause while responding? Some workplace cultures accept interrupting someone mid-sentence to make a point, common and normal. It is not taken as a sign of the other person not listening to what is being said. Whereas letting the other person finish before you respond is seen as a marker for active listening. 
  3. What purpose should listening serve? This is a tricky one – for managers the purpose of listening is usually to build consensus or agreement. Whereas most employees report that if they feel heard and understood, they feel comfortable committing to a decision that they may have originally disagreed with. 

An effective way to check active listening in the organisation, is to check if senior management is taken by surprise by the nature of feedback received from employees. Leaders in great workplaces are usually aware of challenges and issues faced by their employees. In these organisations, feedback surveys serve the purpose of validating issues leaders have been hearing in their rather than a tool of discovering employee challenges. When leaders are surprised by survey feedback it is an indicator of gaps in the listening at the senior most level of the organisation. And since culture flows from the top, this could be an indicator of an organisation wide problem. 

Below are 5 tried and tested practices that can make your leaders and managers better listeners. 

Listening Tours

Listening tours are a valuable tool for leaders to gather feedback, understand employee perspectives, and build stronger relationships with their teams. Making listening tours part of leadership itinerary every quarter will not only improve their listening but will also help them build a stronger leadership brand.  Listening tours can be powerful tools for managers too, to gather valuable insights, improve employee engagement, and drive positive change. By actively listening and taking meaningful actions based on the feedback received, managers can enhance team dynamics, boost morale, and foster a culture of trust and collaboration.

Dreamcatchers practice

Through the Dreamcatchers practice, managers at a leading tech company gather workplace dreams of team members through personal talks, or emails or suggestion boxes. In addition to their dreams, the team member can suggest ideas on how their dream can be turned into reality. Managers in this organization have fostered the culture of innovative entrepreneurship simply by listening and responding to the dreams of their team members. This is a great example of Organizational citizenship behavior in action.

Informal Catch ups

It is a common practice in manufacturing companies to organize dinner after all reviews. This helps the senior management employees to meet informally and interact with employees to capture their feedback and understand any issues they face. Managers can also use informal settings like these to gather suggestions and feedback not only on the reviews, performance appraisal etc. but on generic issues troubling employees.

Birthday Chats

In a leading MNC, Birthday Chats feature as one of the most effective listening tools. These take place every two months and are hosted by the CEO. There is no agenda other than giving employees the opportunity to ask questions directly to the CEO in an unguarded environment. Conversations normally cover a wide range of topics such as recent successes, business direction, stock price, economic environment to name but a few, employee benefits to name a few

Role Confrontation Sessions

The HR associates at a leading engineering multinational with Indian roots conduct Role Confrontation Sessions for various teams as per their need. The whole session is about members and managers confronting the truth about their role, handling the feedback with utmost maturity and then together as a team coming to a solution for the betterment of the entire team. This intervention truly binds the team together and reduces ambiguity related to each member’s role. Managers can use this practice to build trust and transparency in their department where people ask questions and get answers in a direct manner.

In summary, while listening is a learnable skill, organizations with great listening cultures don’t leave listening to the manager’s skill level. Instead, they use deliberate, meticulous practices to make listening possible at the highest levels of the organization.


How can you help First Time Managers Embrace Growth Mindset

Success stories that highlight an employee’s growth from a frontline worker to senior leadership in an organisation, stories that highlight the overall growth mindset are ones that inspire people the most. Building talent is great for employee morale, it  inspires loyalty and keeps a check on talent costs. Ensuring successful transition of front-line employees to First time managers is a strategic priority for organisations looking to grow talent from within. 

Promoting a high performing employee rarely raises any eyebrows. It seems like an easy transition since the employee is familiar with the company, the people, the culture, the business, the product, process or services and most importantly internal expectations. And yet “Manager isn’t stepping up to the new role” is one of the most common issues in an organisation. This is because , First Time Managers (FTMs) need more than just skill training.

Renowned Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck in her book, “Mindset,” says that it’s not intelligence, talent or education that sets successful people apart. It’s their mindset, or the way that they approach life’s challenges. Carol Dweck talks about “Growth Mindset” as a guiding principle for people looking to grow beyond the scope of their natural abilities, in other words break the metaphorical glass ceiling. Helping FTMs consciously develop and nurture a growth mindset can ease their leadership journey and break their glass ceiling.  

The concept of the growth mindset is based on the outlook that a person’s intelligence and abilities are not set in stone and with consistent effort and the right strategies they can improve their existing skill set and develop new habits and traits that will give them a greater chance at achieving their goals. 

In simple terms, on the numerous occasions when FTMs are left second guessing their abilities, having a growth mindset can help create an emotional shift in their response “I can’t do that” to “I can’t do that…yet”.  This simple change in perspective can greatly improve our ability and willingness to learn new things that we might otherwise believe we are not naturally equipped to learn. 

Most organisations today conduct First Time Manager training or boot camps ranging anywhere between one day to 40 weeks. Including a conversation on Growth mindset during these training programs can help FTMs develop resilience and objectively assess their own strengths and development needs. When it comes to mindset, stories work better than instruction, even if it is a simple revisiting of fables from childhood. Revisiting these brings back the valuable life lessons into our adult lives. Revisiting also allows for a deeper appreciation and re-application of lessons we may have forgotten. Here are 3 fables to include in your first-time manager training to highlight the principles of a growth mindset. 

The Hare and the Tortoise

This story is famous in management circles and has a lot of versions. However, let’s start with the most popular one. Once upon a time a tortoise decided to race a hare to settle the argument about who was faster? They started the race on an agreed route and time. Without any surprise hare ran ahead and stopped some distance away. Feeling confident that that tortoise was far behind and that even if the tortoise caught up, he would quickly establish his lead. Since all odds were in his favour and success was guaranteed, he sat under a tree, almost tasting his victory and soon fell asleep. The tortoise plodding on slowly and steadily crossed the sleeping hare and soon finished the race. The hare woke up and realised that it had lost the race and that the tortoise was declared as the undisputed winner. This simple, timeless story is great for starting a conversation on the battle of fixed vs growth mindset. Instead of doubting its capabilities or fearing the odds stacked against it, the tortoise accepts the challenge and enters the race.  Developing the ability to not give into labels about one’s capability and to take required action is one of the stepping stones towards developing a growth mindset. On the other hand, the hare’s surety of the tortoise’s inabilities and defeat cost him the race. This story is a great example of how a growth mindset can produce unexpected results. 

Crow and the Pitcher

On an abnormally hot summer day, when all the animals around it were bemoaning their fate, a crow is flying around looking for water. He comes across a long slender pitcher filled with just a little bit of water. The crow can’t reach the water with his beak. His thirst increased by the sight of water the crow tries and tries again, slowly getting fatigued and wanting to give up. Yet he cannot take his mind off the water in the pitcher and suddenly an idea strikes him. He is already tired, and this idea will mean a lot of effort. But the crow persists. He picks up a pebble and drops it in the pitcher. And he does this over and over, feeling the fatigue in his wings, until the water level rises to the point where he can reach it. Remember we spoke about the emotional shift in response to a difficult situation from “I can’t do that” to “I can’t do that…yet”. “I can do something” is a good mid-point in this mindset shift. 

Don’t make virtual all about work

When in the office, we all take time to connect about our families, what we did on our vacation, our favorite sports teams, etc. One of the challenges with online work is that interactions are generally scheduled around a meeting and its agenda.  Schedule daily or weekly huddles and leave some time for people to connect more personally, or schedule virtual lunches where team members can eat and share more about themselves; food is a great ice breaker. It is alright to let the first five to ten minutes of a meeting be a little less productive if it gives people a chance to catch up, celebrate a birthday, or talk about their plans for the weekend.

The Lion and the Mouse

While this is not strictly about growth mindset. It does facilitate the mindset shift of spotting collaborators. In the story, a mouse ventures too close to a sleeping lion and jumps on his chest. The lion wakes up and captures the little creature. He then releases the mouse on the mouse’s promise that someday the mouse will prove helpful to the lion. A few days later, a hunter reaches the jungle. As luck would have it, the lion gets stuck in a hunter’s net. The little friend keeps his promise and frees the lion by chewing the hunter’s net. It is helpful to realise that even the powerful cannot do everything alone. Building functional and positive interpersonal relationships at all levels of the organisation is unavoidable.

In summary, these stories can be powerful tools to bring a mindset shift. Storytelling can be made far more effective and fun when played out as role plays highlighting the lesson from the fable in the context of the business.


Managing Remote Teams: Tips for Keeping Your Employees Engaged and Productive

The pandemic brought about a remote and hybrid workforce and several challenges with it. The greatest being that of managing remote teams. What many of us have learned is that workers enjoy the freedom and flexibility that comes with remote work yet as leaders we aren’t certain about  the actual impact it has on employee engagement and productivity. Engagement  can be measured with survey instruments that are well-suited to gather employee sentiment about their role, the company, the work they do, and the culture that surrounds them. When it comes to productivity, we may need to think about those measures differently as they might not be relevant.

Despite our measures, it is fair to say that remote work is not going away, so how do managers make sure that employees are engaged in the mission of the organisation, productive in the assignments they have been given, and still feel a sense of belonging to a cause and a team? Managers are in the best position to lead this effort and there are some tips you can give them to operate in this new world.

Create an online culture by establishing norms.

For example, when meeting virtually it might help to establish the norm of being on camera with some reasonable exceptions that accommodate for eating a meal or calling-in while picking the kids up from school. Whatever the rules, it is better to be clear about the “why” to avoid appearing random. The more face-to-face the interactions the less non-verbal cues are missed. Have some fun with it and encourage people to use creative backgrounds that reflect their interests and family culture. Framed photos on desks used to serve as conversation starters; now we need to think about how to do the same in the virtual world.

Jump start relationships with in-person time

It isn’t always possible because of geographical limitations, but virtual relationships tend to be more genuine and productive when people have had a chance to spend time together in-person. When possible, invite the remote team to meet in person and do some team building. You’ll notice a difference in online interactions after the team knows one another on a more personal level.

Don’t make virtual all about work

When in the office, we all take time to connect about our families, what we did on our vacation, our favorite sports teams, etc. One of the challenges with online work is that interactions are generally scheduled around a meeting and its agenda.  Schedule daily or weekly huddles and leave some time for people to connect more personally, or schedule virtual lunches where team members can eat and share more about themselves; food is a great ice breaker. It is alright to let the first five to ten minutes of a meeting be a little less productive if it gives people a chance to catch up, celebrate a birthday, or talk about their plans for the weekend.

Create some socializing opportunities

During the pandemic and lock downs, people got creative with virtual happy hours or holiday celebrations… so do the same. Hold an event virtually, inviting family to join along. Let colleagues meet each other’s families, a best friend, or dog. In many ways, virtual socializing frees us of limitations or social concerns we were plagued with before. We no longer need to worry as much about how we are dressed, and we can include anyone meaningful in our life without worrying about an expensive event. There is a real opportunity to improve employee engagement and a sense of belonging in the remote and hybrid world, we just need to be creative and throw out some of the old rules.

Remember it is about flexibility

So when working in a hybrid setting, avoid too many rules mandating what days of the week are in-person and find ways to optimize individual flexibility. There is nothing wrong with three people working together in a room while talking with three others who are home working remotely. The workforce of today values flexibility perhaps more than any other benefit so have rules when they are needed, but not for the sake of having rules. You’ll reap the rewards as you recruit and retain the best talent.

Make use of your digital tools

By making sure robust messaging, audio, and video conferencing are not only available, but that everyone is well trained in how to use them effectively. Collaboration tools should be available so team members can share information easily and in real time. Don’t forget to consider how time zone differences affect the remote and hybrid worker so set preferences and boundaries around meetings that may be scheduled in off hours for certain team members. Have an IT support infrastructure that is responsive and able to scale with the rest of the organization.

Today, much of our personal and professional lives take place online, be it through email, messaging platforms, or social media. There is no reason to believe our virtual existence will decrease in coming years and for managers it is important to reflect on how this has, and will continue to, change how we communicate. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic many of us learned to get comfortable with conducting meetings on Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meets, Skype, etc., and organizations developed different norms on how to interact. Some organizations frowned on team members who turned off their video and joined by audio only, and there were companies that didn’t care. Some organizations insisted on standard backgrounds that included logos or company branding, while others were fine with the family kitchen and fish tank on display. Technology helped us through a challenging time and will continue to be a much-used platform for how we operate. Help your managers be deliberate about how they keep employees engaged and productive in the new world of remote and hybrid work.

Exploring Attrition: Possible Reasons

In today’s dynamic and competitive job market, employee attrition has become a pressing concern for organisations. Companies invest considerable time, effort, and resources in hiring and training their employees, making employee turnover a significant challenge. To better understand this issue, it is essential to examine the underlying reasons why employees change jobs. This article explores several key factors contributing to attrition, providing insights into the decision-making process of employees in search of new opportunities.

Career Development and Growth Opportunities

Career advancement and growth opportunities play a crucial role in employee job satisfaction and retention. According to a study conducted by Management Research Group (2018), employees who feel their careers are progressing tend to be more engaged and motivated. Organizations that offer clear career paths, training programs, and opportunities for skill development are more likely to retain their top talent (Benson, 2019).

To cite an example, Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook, also known for her successful career in technology and leadership, shared her experience of leaving Google to join Facebook in her book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” She explained that one of the main reasons for her decision was the opportunity for professional growth and advancement that Facebook provided. At Google, despite her achievements and contributions, Sandberg felt that her career had hit a plateau and there were limited opportunities for her to take on more significant responsibilities. Joining Facebook allowed her to have a more impactful role and contribute to the rapid growth and development of the company (Sandberg, 2013).

Compensation and Benefits

Competitive compensation and benefits packages are powerful incentives for employees to remain with an organization. Research conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) (2019) found that employees consistently rank compensation and benefits as significant factors in their job satisfaction and decision to stay or leave. Organizations that fail to offer competitive salaries, bonuses, and comprehensive benefit plans risk losing talented employees to other companies that provide better compensation packages (Oreopoulos, 2011).

Marissa Mayer made headlines when she decided to leave her high-ranking position at Google to become the CEO of Yahoo in 2012. In interviews and discussions, she cited the competitive compensation package offered by Yahoo as a significant factor in her decision. Despite her success at Google, Mayer saw the opportunity to take on a leadership role at Yahoo as a chance to enhance her career and financial prospects (Hempel, 2013).

Work-Life Balance

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is increasingly valued by employees and can significantly impact their decision to change jobs. Studies have shown that a poor work-life balance can lead to increased stress, burnout, and decreased job satisfaction (Allen, Golden, & Shockley, 2015). Organizations that prioritize work-life balance by implementing flexible work arrangements, telecommuting options, and supportive policies can create an environment where employees are more likely to remain loyal and committed.

In her book “Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder,” Arianna Huffington shared her personal journey and the reasons behind her decision to leave her high-powered role as editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post to prioritize her well-being and work-life balance. She experienced firsthand the detrimental effects of burnout and sleep deprivation, which led her to reassess her priorities and redefine success beyond the traditional metrics of power and money (Huffington, 2014).

Organizational Culture and Leadership

A positive organizational culture and effective leadership are vital factors in employee job satisfaction and retention. Research by Gallup (2017) revealed that employees who feel engaged and connected to their organization’s mission and values are more likely to stay. Conversely, toxic work environments, lack of trust, and ineffective leadership can drive employees to seek new opportunities elsewhere (Ng & Feldman, 2014).

One notable example is Tony Hsieh, the former CEO of Zappos. Hsieh, known for his emphasis on company culture and customer service, shared his story of leaving a lucrative job at a tech startup to join Zappos in his book “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.” Hsieh was motivated by his belief that organizational culture and leadership are paramount to a company’s success. He wanted to build a company culture that fostered employee happiness and satisfaction, which, in turn, would result in superior customer service and profitability. Hsieh’s decision to leave a job focused solely on financial gain exemplifies the importance of a positive organizational culture and effective leadership (Hsieh, 2010).

Lack of Recognition and Appreciation

Employee recognition and appreciation are critical for fostering a sense of belonging and motivation. Research conducted by Bersin & Associates (2012) found that employees who feel valued and recognized for their contributions are more engaged and less likely to leave their current positions. Companies that invest in employee recognition programs, regular feedback, and open communication channels can foster a culture of appreciation that increases employee loyalty (Biswas-Diener, 2019).

One prominent example is Oprah Winfrey, media mogul and former talk show host. In interviews and speeches, Winfrey has spoken about her early career experiences where she felt undervalued and unappreciated. She recounts how she decided to leave a local news station where she was told she was not fit for television. Winfrey believed in her potential and sought an opportunity where her talents would be recognized. This led her to host her own talk show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which became a massive success and catapulted her to international fame (Winfrey, 2019).

Toxic managers

The relationship between employees and their managers plays a significant role in job satisfaction and overall employee experience (Management Research Group, 2018). Poor management practices can have a detrimental impact on employee engagement, motivation, and retention (Bersin & Associates, 2012). When managers fail to provide adequate support, feedback, or mentorship, employees may feel unsupported and undervalued (Ng & Feldman, 2014). Secondly, Employees thrive when they have autonomy and trust in their abilities. However, managers who excessively micromanage or fail to delegate responsibilities can stifle employee growth and engagement (Oreopoulos, 2011).

An example to cite here would be Bob Sutton, a professor of management science at Stanford University and the author of “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.” In his book, Sutton explores the negative impact of toxic individuals, including managers, in the workplace and provides strategies for creating healthier work environments (Sutton, 2007). While Sutton does not explicitly discuss changing jobs due to a toxic manager, his work emphasizes the detrimental effects of toxic behavior on employees and the importance of fostering a positive and respectful work culture.

To conclude, employee turnover can be a costly and disruptive issue for organizations, necessitating a deeper understanding of the factors driving employees to change jobs. This article has highlighted several key reasons why employees are most likely to seek new opportunities, including career development and growth opportunities, compensation and benefits, work-life balance, organizational culture and leadership, lack of recognition and appreciation, and toxic managers. By addressing these factors and creating an environment that prioritizes employee well-being, organizations can reduce turnover rates and retain their valuable talent in an increasingly competitive job market.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Successful People Management

A company’s culture can be defined through its fundamental set of values, ethics, and beliefs. It can be represented in a variety of ways, ranging from how business is conducted and executed to how individual employees interact with one another around the workplace. The physical work environment, as well as leadership approaches, all reflect a company’s culture. There are more complex aspects of culture as well like how people feel about their job, the values they hold, where they see the firm headed and what they are doing to get there. These characteristics also contribute to an organization’s personality — or culture.  

Develop self-awareness through introspection

This requires time. People leaders may want to keep a journal to write down daily interactions with colleagues and record how they felt, and how they believe their colleague felt about it. The best way to build self-awareness is to connect work to larger team goals and maintain an understanding of why you are doing what you are doing.

Practice empathy

Empathy is your ability to understand the needs of others by being aware of their thoughts and feelings, not by trying to impose yours or offering judgements. Demonstrating empathy can help improve your interactions with colleagues and lead to more effective communication and collaboration.

Use active listening to understand

Take time to get clarity around someone else’s point of view, repeat what you think you are hearing them say to validate or invalidate your understanding; do this until you gain a fuller insight into their perspective. Give them your undivided attention, make eye contact, offer affirmation when you understand, do not interrupt, and be respectful. And when you don’t understand, say so. Be relentless about clarity.

Display self-regulation

By reacting appropriately to change and adverse circumstances. Embrace change, focus on problem-solving, keep an open mind, avoid absolute positions that limit your options and focus on the present when you need to. Leaders who lash out, panic, complain, or are perceived as unhinged do not possess high emotional intelligence.

Practice your social skills

Practice your social skills by observing group dynamics, interactions, and attitudes of others. Don’t be afraid to help guide conversations assertively without sounding aggressive or passive aggressive. Lean heavily on collaborative decision-making when practical.

Openly welcome feedback

Openly welcome feedback constructively delivered, or not. Recognize the value of learning about how you are perceived as a way to continually improve your self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Solicit feedback and thank those willing to share it with you. Avoid defensive language and posture.

Reflect regularly

Reflect regularly on past experiences as it will help you break past habits, more clearly assess what has worked and what has not, and how you influenced, or failed to influence others. Emotionally intelligent leaders rely heavily on reflection and do so intentionally and unintentionally.

Clearly, emotional intelligence is important for people leaders, and we should all continue to learn how to recognize it as well as when it is absent. While academia and other experts work on better measures and learning techniques, we (leaders) have to remain self-aware and become lifelong students of emotions in ourselves and in others. The more we perceive and understand emotions, the better we will get at reasoning with them and managing them.

Performance Management: Setting Goals and Providing Feedback

At the core of any manager’s skill set is an ability to optimize team and individual performance by helping to set goals and provide feedback. While the task itself is foundational, it requires a host of other skills in order to do so effectively. We need look no further than our own motivation to perform to understand what works and what doesn’t. Performance can be a triggering word for many of us, just like productivity, or efficiency. These words can illicit an immediate defensive posture, or a fight or flight response, that makes all other words that follow unheard. When thinking about performance management, start with an appreciation for what certain words have come to mean for workers and employ your emotional intelligence to understand the response to a conversation that begins with, “Let’s schedule your ‘performance’ review”.  Instead, think about performance management in perhaps less structured and hierarchical ways and think of it more through a metaphorical lens such as being the director of a group of actors rehearsing for an on-stage performance.

The actor — off-stage — rehearses and gets real-time feedback from their director. This is normally a welcome place to get constructive feedback; “you aren’t projecting enough”, “in the scene you should seem angry, not melancholy”, or “the audience needs to feel your passion and you seem disinterested”. The actors may not love the criticism, but they know the director wants to help them improve their craft and it is much better to learn this during rehearsal than in front of a live audience.

The actor — on-stage – relies on the coaching they have received and what has been learned during rehearsal to deliver a great performance. The audience will grade them with their applause or laughter, and they will see for themselves how well they have delivered their craft.

Metaphors are great at simplifying concepts but eventually they need to translate to the world we live in. In this case, consider the manager responsible for a team of software engineers. What does the off-stage look like? How is it kept safe? Does it include team members where everyone is being coached collectively? How often are rehearsals? What does on-stage mean for this software team? Will they know how well they delivered their craft?

Managers should have a regular cadence of interactions (rehearsals) with their team members where each individual safely welcomes ideas, coaching, and constructive criticism. This is where SMART goals are set (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) and performance expectations are set, reiterated, and reinforced; what needs to be done, when should it be completed, and how will we know if it was successful? Coaching of this kind is not micro-managing; in our metaphor micromanaging would be reading the actor’s lines for them.

Managers should also keep a clear eye on results and outcomes. This is where the work of “performance management” is validated; did the audience applaud? Was the product built by the software engineers adopted by the target consumer and were they pleased with its features and functionality? Managers need to follow through on those final results and avoid simply moving on to the next project… remember, the actor needs an audience’s response in real time, so minimize the delay on outcomes feedback. Thinking of performance management as a once, or twice, a year event with sporadic check-ins or designing performance improvement plans for poor performers is no longer how managers should think about managing performance.

Performance management also requires attention to measurable progress and results. Many organizations design sophisticated (or not so much) productivity reporting, again the word “productivity” invokes a defensive posture even with the best of intentions. Having one’s “productivity” scrutinized can make an employee feel that they are not trusted to be working hard or efficiently. Instead, it is best to manage performance by building capacity to produce, this approach measures productivity from a more constructive perspective. Which do you think is more likely to result in engagement and collaboration with a team member, “I would like to talk to you about your productivity”, or “I would like to talk to you about how we can free up more capacity for you to do the work you do.”? Words matter, and managers who understand how to approach these topics are more likely to level-up their team’s performance.

Finally, one outcome of performance management is to breakdown the barriers to constructive feedback by making the process a cultural norm and this requires feedback be a two-way street. Leaders who seek feedback from their team members because they genuinely see it as an improvement opportunity for themselves, are going to find their employees become more receptive, as well. Creating a culture that is safe, open, and trusting improves everyone’s “performance”, or better said, it improves the quantity and quality of work. Front-line managers can have the greatest impact because they are positioned to provide feedback to the greatest numbers of people who do the work, but culturally this norm can, and should, exist at all levels. Contrast the CEO, who when getting a backlash of critical feedback about rolling out a new policy says, “we’ve made a decision, if you don’t like it, this may not be the right place for you” with the CEO that says, “clearly we need to do a reset on this and learn more about your concerns before moving forward”.  The second response doesn’t mean the policy won’t go forward; it may, or it may not, but either way, team members get to see a senior leader openly take feedback and consider a change in course.

Performance management, or capacity optimization, is a set of skills that when trained and practiced by managers will bring most any organization into a state of high-performance. Give managers time and training to practice their craft.