Onboarding is for promotions too

Desk with notes that say: today, know your role!

You’ve just promoted someone who has capability and established potential to grow to a leadership position. Everybody is excited. The new leader is looking forward to their increased impact and responsibilities. You are delighted to can delegate bigger chunks of work to the new leader. But promotion alone is not enough. The new leader needs to learn how to work at the new level. Now the real work starts: onboarding them into their new role!

Onboarding is not just for people who are new to your organisation. Onboarding is a very specific kind of training that is vital any time anyone changes their role. This orientation is also easy to overlook when someone is promoted. After all, the staff member already knows the organisational challenges. They have a deep understanding of the team they were in (and now may lead). And they know the processes and rituals the team uses to communicate and make decisions.

However, I’ve seen newly minted managers go from being excited, to feeling overwhelmed, to burned out and feeling incapable of being a leader of people, all within the span of six months. Sometimes they walk away from the organisation or the entire tech industry altogether, as they internalise their struggle as a personal failure. Not rising to the challenge.

This is such a great loss and with the right kind of onboarding, it is preventable in many cases.

Moving into management from an individual contributor role often takes a while to adjust. The new leader starts looking at matters of identity and success criteria such as:

  • How do I measure success now I don’t have tangible things to point at, such as features shipped?
  • I thought meetings were slow and annoying, and now I am the one driving those meetings.
  • I get to the end of the week and I don’t know what I did.
  • I thought I knew how to do this role well (because of previous good or bad managers, or formal training) but now I’m on the other side and I am worried I’ll let my team down.
  • My relationship with my team has changed now I am their boss and not their colleague and navigating that is taking a large emotional toll.

A strong onboarding practice for internal promotions will help new managers understand the expectations on them. It will settle into their new responsibilities. And will make it easier for them to seek (and receive) help over time. It makes it clear that they don’t have to be an expert on day one. (Overconfidence is also a trap!)

Just as importantly, preparing an induction plan means that the manager will spend some time up front thinking about what the key responsibilities are for their newly promoted staff member, and the best way for them to learn and grow into it.

Both sides can then have the permission to take their time, to have space to ask questions, seek support, and to learn the changed dynamics together.

The alternative is throwing the new manager into the deep end and hoping that they figure out how to swim before they sink. No fun for anyone!

Before you promote someone internally, take a look at your new staff onboarding guide. How can you make a version of it for your internal promotions? What milestones can you celebrate? Do they need introductions to other people or areas in the business? What new meetings do they need to know about? What higher level context do they need to learn? How will you help them untangle themselves from their IC role and make them feel good about their new definition of ‘success’?

Finally, if you are time poor (which is likely if you’re busy placing new managers into your team), and you’d like some assistance with onboarding guides, or settling new managers into their roles, we’d be delighted to help. We want you to have the highest performing team you can have, and for you to be able to focus on the work that is most strategic for you. Blackmill can help give you time back in your day. Drop us a line to start exploring together.

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