Creating a High Impact Onboarding Program for New Managers

Based on a recent Forbes article, the level of employee engagement correlates closely with the perception of whether the employee can approach their managers with any types of questions. The higher the comfort level, the higher the engagement level and vice versa. In addition, the article also shared that 50% of the employees cited that their main reason for leaving was because of bad managers.

Isn’t it clear? Even though we cannot say that managers alone determine if talents leave, but it is safe to confirm that they do play an integral role in ensuring the best talents remain engaged and committed to the organization. That’s why, onboarding new managers is key.

Why do new managers falter?

One common mistake that organizations or managers make when promoting an individual contributor to a team manager is this; they tend to mix up performance with potential and assume that a high performing individual will naturally continue to excel regardless of the situation. That is what they call high potential. But is that really the case?

Potential vs Performance.jpg

In my opinion, consistent performance forms the foundation and potential has to be assessed separately. 4 areas that I feel are key include:

  1. Leadership DNA: The key traits that leaders should have in your organization.
  2. Ability to take on a bigger role: Performing at the next level.
  3. Values alignment: Having values that are in sync with what is important to the organization.
  4. Aspirations: Whether or not the high performing individual wants to become a people manager eventually or is he better of doing what he does best.

HR is often accused of purely doing transactional work which is of little value. For this case, it is where HR can actually play a strategic role to help bridge the gap for an individual contributor who’s on his way to becoming a people manager.

Onboarding starts from Day 0


In fact, the pre-promotion selection is critical even before talking about the actual onboarding program itself. Some ways to help re-affirm your high potentials while helping them get through this phase more confidently before promotion could include:

  • Exposing them in leadership symposiums: Often, high potentials fumble because they are not acquainted with the “big stage” and senior leaders. Getting them to attend such events will provide the necessary exposure to improve their level of comfort.
  • Involving them in high impact projects: This is a good way to stretch them and hone their skillsets outside of their current job scope.
  • Leadership shadowing: Assigning high potentials to shadow leaders provide them with the opportunity to sit in high level meetings. During which, they can learn the ropes on how things are done and certain thought process which will be useful for their future participation in such meetings.
  • Testing them at the next level: Nothing beats actual practice and observation from there. Place your talents in the desired role to test their ability to cope at the next level before promoting them.

How can we go about designing the programme?

Once you have selected the right talent, it’s now time to focus on creating the right program. There are 3 key areas to think about – the format, components and key considerations.

In terms of format, companies could organize such onboarding programs in the form of milestone programs where participants get together for 1 to 2 weeks to work on a series of activities. Of course, we need to recognize that not all companies have the luxury of time to do so and thus, breaking it up into various series might be something to think about as well. Finally, consider having it in a blended or social learning format where learning methods vary and where things are a little more bite-sized may be necessary as well.

Components wise, some of the must-have in my opinion includes management sharing, social engagement, experiential projects, skills enhancement, values reinforcement and feedback. Values reinforcement is critical because you want to ensure that your new managers are aligned with what your company stands for. In addition, feedback is also an essential because as much as the participant can learn and apply, they will not be aware if that’s the right thing to do unless a proper feedback channel is in place.

Some key things to consider when designing the program includes cultural context, resources, messaging and employee experience. You need to first know your participant profile before being able to effectively design the right program. Thereafter, resources will be key as that sets the boundaries for you to consider between having a large-scale vs small-scale program and managing it in-house vs outsourcing parts of it. Of course, all HR initiatives comes with a messaging and you want to use this opportunity to show the emphasis you place on your new managers while creating a great employee experience for them in the process.

What should be the desired outcome?


When delivering the onboarding program for new managers, I’ll also like to see it as leadership development in 3 tiers – managing self, managing individuals and finally, managing teams.

Managing Self

  • Reflect and be self-aware: New managers need to have the opportunity to reflect and be self-aware of what their behavioural preferences are and recognize that not everyone is the same. This can be done through profiling tools to help uncover their blind spots.
  • Strategic thinking: Help them slowly ease into the strategic thinking frame of mind because that’s what they need moving forward as a leader of the organization.
  • Self-trust and confidence: Everyone will face some degree of uncertainty and self-doubt when entering unchartered territory. This is where the program can help reinforce the qualities of the individuals and help them build the required self-trust and confidence.
  • Connecting with other leaders: As a leader, they are now expected to work more closely with other leaders and thus, being acquainted right from the start as well as being comfortable with networking is essential.

Managing Individuals

  • Effective communication: As a new manager, communicating with team members becomes even more important. That said, it is not about just sending a message across, it also involves active listening. In addition, there is also a need to consider both their verbal and non-verbal cues which could send inconsistent messages when mismanaged.
  • Interview and selection: New managers will now have to be involved in the hiring process and this is the best time to get them equipped with the necessary skills while aligning them with the organization’s requirements.
  • Empathy: The last thing you want is for your future leaders to only care about financial results and not their people. This is where you can make a difference by emphasizing the importance of having empathy. One way is by incorporating a volunteer activity into the program itself.
  • Developing others: New managers will need to be equipped with the ability to hold career conversations, mentor and coach the team member. HR can start off by providing easy to use templates and build a question bank. However, in the longer term, honing the right skills in these areas will be key.

Managing teams

  • Manage conflicts: With different personalities and people from different backgrounds, there tend to be varying perspectives. With that, conflicts will arise and that’s where new managers need to be equipped with the ability to handle it when issues are not big to prevent it from escalating to a disruptive level.
  • Drive team results: Team managers will need to know how to rally and inspire the team to achieve team results. One effective way to get people onboard? Storytelling.
  • Leverage on workplace diversity: A good manager needs to learn how to recognize the strengths of different members and place them in roles that they can excel. Create accountability and opportunities for the team to flourish.
  • Manage change: Change is pretty much the only constant and leaders need to be ready for that. It is important for them to be abreast of the latest disruptions and be equipped with the knowledge to understand the implications and tackle them accordingly.

Closing thoughts

Onboarding for new managers is critical because of the impact they have on retaining and driving talents within the organization. To make it meaningful, organizations need to start thinking about this from Day 0.

The key is to be outcome and experience-focused where you also need to understand how to make the best use of resources on hand to contextualize a program that is suitable for your organization. With that, build a strong pipeline of future leaders and I wish you success!

One thought on “Creating a High Impact Onboarding Program for New Managers

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