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4 mistakes new managers make + how HR can help

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In any role, the first few weeks are a virtual minefield of awkward experiences and newbie mistakes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; most of us learn best from making a mistake (or ideally, from the mistakes others made before us). With patience and appropriate coaching, however, this initial period should eventually give way to successful job performance.

Once an employee has mastered the skills necessary to perform their job well, it may be time to start talking about the next steps in their career and their future in your organization. In many companies, this means a promotion is in order. While it’s important to recognize strong performance, a promotion is not always the best idea; management is a unique skill set unto itself, and strong job performance is not a reliable indicator of future success as a leader.

Still, there are some instances when a promotion is the logical next step for a high-performing employee’s career. If an employee has shown an aptitude for effective and timely communication, motivating their coworkers, and handling multiple ongoing projects at once, a management position may be a natural fit.

But the move up the corporate ladder into a management position for the first time offers the same potential for errors and uncomfortable interactions as the first few weeks in any role. Even if they’re temperamentally suited to a leadership role, newly-minted managers need every bit as much support as brand new employees— if not more.

That’s because the stakes for errors made by new managers are higher than those made by new individual contributors. Failure by HR managers and corporate leaders to train and support managers in their first few months in the role can result in lowered productivity and morale, and can expose the company to increased liability.

Here are some common mistakes to look out for in new managers, and some pointers on how HR managers or company leadership can help prevent them:

Being too focused on details instead of big goals

For individual contributors to succeed at their jobs, it’s crucial for them to have a granular understanding of all the numerous tasks that help them deliver a strong performance. While it’s important to have a decent idea of what their reports are responsible for, managers don’t necessarily have to maintain the same level of detail. A manager’s job, in fact, should be to communicate the big picture to the people they manage, and remove any obstacles to getting there. They need to be able to motivate and empower employees to do their jobs without getting bogged down in the details.

It can be challenging for a new manager to pull back from handling detailed work and move into managing people. Whether it stems from old work habits or a desire to prove their value in their new role, the temptation to micromanage employee performance may be especially strong in the first few months. That’s why it’s so important for new managers to have support and access to training from other supervisors and HR.

As an HR manager, consider facilitating a mentorship opportunity for new managers so they can learn from the management styles of more seasoned leaders. Make sure to check in on them in their first few months on the job, and offer your support as they work through the frustration and awkwardness that come with learning an entirely new job skill.

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Being too afraid to give feedback

Giving accurate and useful feedback is among the most important responsibilities of a manager. Like almost every other part of managing people, it’s a learned skill. As an individual contributor, an employee needs to be able to absorb and integrate managerial feedback to improve their job performance. Becoming the person responsible for observing employee performance and generating useful feedback is a tough transition for many people.

Each manager has to develop their own way of providing constructive feedback. Finding a way to deliver this information in a way that motivates instead of demoralizes can be a tricky balancing act. But as an HR manager, you interact with employee performance data regularly, and are uniquely suited to offer support in this regard.

If possible, give new managers access to training materials and resources that can help them find their own personal style of offering constructive feedback. A few coaching conversations with fellow supervisors may also be useful; hearing about how other leaders learned to offer constructive feedback can be inspiring, and may help them navigate this change more gracefully.

Saying “yes” to too much

When an employee is entrusted with the responsibility of managing a team, it’s understandable that they’d want to prove themselves as early as possible. But taking on too many tasks almost guarantees that a new manager won’t do well with any of them, and this tendency may damage their confidence in a vulnerable moment.

It’s especially important for new managers to have a good idea of what’s realistic when making promises to their reports. Not following through on commitments is a surefire way to damage morale and trust in this new relationship.

As an HR manager or fellow company leader, this is another area where your experience may be useful to new managers. Try to avoid placing additional requirements on new leaders for the first few weeks while they get a handle on how to motivate and direct their teams. If you see them overextending themselves by volunteering to take on extra tasks, try to rein them in so they don’t burn themselves out immediately.

What they don’t know can hurt you

In an ideal world, your company culture is understanding of new managers as they learn to navigate a leadership position and experiment with management styles. These are certainly tough lessons to master, and there is bound to be some awkwardness. When it comes to compliance with laws and regulations, however, there is very little room for a misstep.

That’s why it’s imperative that from day one, new managers know how to comply with all local, state, and federal employment laws. As an HR leader, your biggest responsibility—to the company and to your new managers—is ensuring they don’t make any errors that put the company in a risky position. The courts will not give your organization a pass when mistakes are made by an inexperienced manager.

Assemble resources about every applicable regulation and have a serious training conversation with your newly-promoted manager on or before their first day in their new role. Go through all the ins and outs of the ACA, FLSA, FMLA, and other relevant employment laws, along with a refresher course on your company’s sexual harassment policies. Include examples of what does and does not constitute full compliance. Quiz them (verbally or on paper) to ensure they understand the requirements and the gravity of their new responsibilities. When it comes to protecting your company from liability and scandal, there’s no such thing as being too careful.

Support beyond the early stages

While the first few months on the job are certainly bound to be the most fraught with error and fumbling, a new manager will likely still feel uncertain of their performance for a long time. As new challenges arise, it’s important for them to feel supported by HR staff and more experienced managers.

This will take different forms depending on the culture of the company. It may look like targeted leadership trainings or occasional informal lunches between managers so they can share their challenges. HR managers may also consider deploying a mentorship program to help new managers navigate the first year or so in their new roles. However it works best in your company, it’s important for HR to keep the door open for all employees—especially those in a period of uncertainty—to come access resources that will help them succeed.  

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