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Being a manager can be like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. 

On one hand, you (the manager) have your boss/employer instructing you to “achieve X KPI, lower Y cost, and increase productivity by Z from your team.”

On the other, you have your direct reports complaining about employment conditions, not performing as required, and just generally blaming you for all that is wrong in the world.

Managers are expected to motivate their teams to perform and achieve their KPIs, but when dealing with people it’s never as straightforward as it seems.

Having spent the last 10+ years in Human Resources Management and supervising people myself, I’ve worked with managers of all experience levels. Each and every one of them had difficulties when dealing with at least one aspect of management.

It’s no easy feat to inspire and motivate your staff 260 days of the year. Managers tend to be promoted on their operational or business excellence and thrust into a position of people management that most are not formally prepared for.

This is where you can see the “Peter Principle” in action—a person is promoted until they are no longer competent. Being promoted to a manager is a “reward” for excelling in other areas of your role.

Today, however, it’s widely recognized that people managers need to be properly readied for success using a variety of resources. This is where this article comes in.

With the addition of a few formal structures and learning interventions, you can bring people managers up to speed on how to effectively manage their teams and deal with any challenges that arise.

Why Develop Managers?

For many, the word manager doesn’t evoke positive thoughts and I still shudder when I think of a couple I’ve had.

Some out there might say that their manager lacks specific competencies and leadership skills that set them apart from individual contributors. This is because, to some, people management = “telling people what to do”.

But this is far from the truth. Managers are expected to deal with a minefield of problems, issues, and challenges of which there is no set rulebook. 

Even if there were, it couldn’t be applied to each situation given the unique perspective each circumstance throws up.

Broadly, managers are responsible for:

  • Setting the goals and objectives for their team aligned with the organization
  • Allocate resources to effectively support plans
  • Problem-solving and addressing issues/challenges as they arise
  • Utilizing their communication skills to foster an open and transparent environment within their teams
  • Recruiting and onboarding new team members
  • Providing coaching and guidance to their teams
  • Monitoring and assessing team performance
  • Managing budgets and resources
  • Conflict resolution and effective employee engagement
  • Oversee team operations and assign tasks and responsibilities as needed
  • Set performance expectations and conduct performance reviews
  • Manage any change initiatives within the team
  • Ensure compliance with policies and ethical standards for their teams
  • Understand and meet customer needs and expectations
  • Review and analyze reports to track progress and performance
  • Engage with internal/external stakeholders as necessary
  • Planning and tracking learning and development opportunities for their teams

This is not an exhaustive list and goes to show how many hats in a day a manager has to wear. 

As you’re perhaps aware, it can be tough and stressful with a lot of managers at real risk of burnout.

The saying that people don’t leave bad jobs they leave bad managers has more than a grain of truth in it, so throwing them in at the deep end with no prior preparation is an unnecessary risk.

According to the 2023 Workplace Learning report from LinkedIn, effective management skills are one of the 10 most critical competencies needed by companies. This illustrates the importance right now of developing your managers to succeed in their roles.

Getting the development and training of managers right is not only important for the organization but it makes human resources’ lives much easier too!

Investing in your managers will show them that you are confident in their abilities and their career development, which will increase retention and engagement.

In the next sections, we’ll cover practical methods to help develop your managers.

7 Ways To Develop Managers

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Formal Training Programs

The transition from individual contributor to manager is complex as the manager will have to change their mindset from what has worked in the past to what will work now.

One of the obvious approaches to address this transition is via formal training interventions.

This can be in the guise of formal education with colleges/universities or online management programs. Depending on the size and budget there is something to cater for all.

Some examples of training programs that can help are:

  • People partner program
  • Free education programs: HBS, Google, Linked-In
  • University/college programs
  • Internal Programs: coaching, mentoring, management training programs, professional development courses, emotional intelligence workshops etc
  • Internal workshops
  • Conferences.

Informal Training Programs

Experiential learning accounts for a major part—around 70%—of the learning process. While theory and classroom training have their place, they’re less effective than the rich experience that can be gained from on-the-job training.  

By experiencing a live environment (or near-to-live environment) the requirements of the role, your managers will be able to soak in and experience what is required of a manager.  

However, you’ll never be able to recreate the exact environment they’ll work in and, as such, you can attempt to by creating scenario-based training or you allow for gradual on-the-job training.

This means that you ease new managers into taking on greater and more complex responsibilities over time. This should be done in parallel with classroom training where they can take what they learn in the classroom into the real environment.  Thus helping to develop their soft skills with trial and error.

Some of the best manager training programs have a multitude of programs in place to train managers so that they can practice and develop new skills every day.

Human Resources can play a big part in this as they will work side by side with them on the various challenges that may come up with their team. 

Some initiatives that can be put in place could be Human Resources Open Hours for managers, regular HR 1:1’s, and specific HR communications (i.e. HR newsletters, FAQs, training and development mailer, HR intranet).

One specific communication I send monthly is a “Manager Slide Deck” which includes updates on what actions and deadlines are coming up in that given month.

Although human resources issues are a small part of the “manager role”, sometimes this can result in HR programs and initiatives being put to the side or forgotten about until they snowball into a bigger issue. 

Having regular interactions with Human Resources and specific HR communications can help the manager to keep on top of these tasks.

Mentorship Scheme

A formal mentorship scheme is a great way for organizations on a limited budget to invest in their managers.

Everyone, at some stage of their career, will need a seasoned and experienced head to guide them, and having this guide and mentor available for managers can make all the difference on their journey.

They help to ensure that managers don't feel as if they have been thrown into the deep end and left to fight for themselves.

The benefits of setting up a mentoring program include increasing skill development, providing career planning, and increasing confidence.


The journey to becoming a great manager can be a lengthy and arduous one. Rather than becoming a journey of accumulating the most information and trying to put it into practice, it’s actually one of self-awareness.  

Managers need to be able to coach their teams and, in order to do that effectively, they need to be coached themselves.

Coaching provides managers with a safe environment and time to create a sense of self-awareness.  

This will allow the manager to become more aware of what kind of manager they want to be (for example being aware of the different styles of effective management) and/or the areas that they want to focus on (e.g. areas of weakness/improvement they would like to work on).

Becoming a manager requires a shift in their thought process and, in order to do this, they need to be given the space to do so.  

Organizations should enable this by having formal coaching programs in place for their managers. These can be set up internally by using employees who are trained coaches or by bringing in external coaches.

The program should be in agreement with both parties (manager and coach). It shouldn't be looked at as a “punishment” or because the employee is perceived as a potential “incompetent manager.”

Coaching should be offered as a development opportunity to the manager so that they can become an even greater manager.

Goal-setting & Career Planning

At this stage of their careers, managers will have achieved a certain level of success (after all, they were promoted/hired as a manager for a reason).

However, now they’re at a new stage in their careers where they not only have to perform their own duties but also have to lead a team.

They need to set new goals and this might be more difficult than on previous occasions.  What worked for them in the past may not work again as they are in a new role with a different set of expectations.

Managers should be tasked with planning out their personal goals over the course of a year, 2 years, 3 years, 5 years, etc. These should be discussed one-on-one with their line manager in person. A few approaches that can help them are:

  • Visualize what success looks like
  • Create goals that are SMART
  • Building flexibility into their plans
  • Breaking it down into smaller chunks
  • Being held accountable.

Feedback and self-assessment

There is a saying that “energy flows where awareness goes,” which is a simple way of saying that anything brought to your awareness you’ll spend energy on. 

For this to happen, you need to be made aware of this by others or through a self-assessment.  Both of these are important for the development of your managers and there should be formal processes in place for both.

This will allow the manager to get feedback from various stakeholders (HR, team members, senior management, etc.) and will also allow them to perform their own assessment of their performance.

As such, 360 review feedback combined with self-assessment be included as part of your manager’s performance reviews.

This can be done by ensuring that various stakeholders—peers, direct reports, and even clients—are included in the feedback review and that managers are also given the chance to self-assess their performance in terms of what is working well and what areas they need to improve or further develop. 

Mental Health and Wellness Support

Considering everything that we’ve discussed above, I thought it relevant to put this point last.  

Management is a challenging role full of potential “landmine” moments. This being the case, it’s important that managers feel they’re supported and that there is additional assistance if required.

Sometimes managers let their pride and lack of self-confidence get in the way of reaching out for help.

Managers should be reminded that they’re not alone, that their peers and Human Resources are there to support them and, if any situation arises that they cannot handle, they need to use that network for help.

Every organization should have a mental health and wellness plan in place. This policy should outline the supports that are available, good mental health habits, and what to do in certain situations should they arise (i.e. harassment, conflict, work-life balance, etc.).

This should be made available to all employees but, in the context of managers, they should be reminded that the policy also applies to them.

Sometimes, in the course of their role, they forget they themselves are also “employees” (this happens a lot in HR too!) and they too require equal if not more support.

Wrapping Up

By now I hope that you understand that equipping and setting up your managers for success is not only the smart thing to do but that it's vital! 

If not then let me ask you: Have you ever been negatively affected by a bad manager in your career? If so, how much stress and time did this cost you? 

A strange question I know, but it's important to think about how much time, effort, and costs are expended by poor managers. In one situation it cost me three months of my life. Three months in which I questioned my capability to continue in HR.

It ruined holidays, time spent with friends was overshadowed, and close relationships were not the same.  

I was not me during this time and I spent most of my time wondering how I had put myself in this situation. It wasn't until I spoke with friends, family, and a specialist that I realized it wasn't me and it was the victim of bad management practice.  

Now think of this on the scale of the teams in your organization. Do you want to have employees feel like this, questioning themselves and coming into work not bringing their full and authentic selves?  

This is the possible effect of unprepared and poor management practices. To end on a positive note, though, investing in your managers will do wonders for the overall success of your organization and help you create a great place to work.

Further Resources:

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By Cillian Dore

Cillian Dore has over 10 years experience in HR working across multiple industries and HR disciplines. Currently, he works at a Fortune 500 company as a Human Resources Business Partner. He’s passionate about everything HR and creating better workplaces for all.