Managing growth: how tech companies position millennial managers for success

The next generation of business leader

In the Bay Area and other tech hubs around the world, successful tech companies have grown from small, tight-knit startups with a handful of employees crammed into an office or shared space into companies with hundreds of employees distributed around the globe. Whereas a startup with eight employees might have had almost everyone sitting in the same room, when companies grow larger, it almost always means multiple offices, remote workers and a much more diverse set of employees.

With such a cycle of rapid growth and change now the norm, how do companies ensure that they maintain the level of quality and innovation that first fueled their growth? As companies scale their teams to keep up with aggressive growth goals, a new challenge arises: companies are increasingly forced to promote technical developers, engineers and other specialist individual contributors into managerial roles in order to manage the influx of additional team members. Someone has to be the manager, right? And you can’t have dozens of developers or specialists all reporting to one person, let alone even ten.

This presents what may be the single biggest employee management challenge facing growth companies today, as specialists with zero management experience or training are now foisted into leadership roles - but without the skills. And usually, with no structured training or guidance provided to them, and no concern for the importance of “soft skills” or best practices to help them quickly become effective in such new manager roles. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Particularly at technology-fueled growth companies, it’s the technical or specialist teams that are impacted the most by lack of manager training and soft skills. And, increasingly, the most vital technical individual contributors are also Millennials just getting their feet wet in the working world. The transition into management is almost always tricky, especially when Millennials find themselves managing former colleagues who are older or more experienced. The importance of focused training, best practices and soft skills is suddenly no longer a nice-to-have; it becomes vital to the bottom line.

So how can companies set their new, more junior managers up for success? Here are five ways to shape a successful millennial manager:

1. Set clear expectations

Different companies stress different types of management duties. A new manager can be responsible for setting priorities that drive toward company goals, giving feedback, helping employees stay motivated, knowing company policy, addressing performance issues, reporting results, and much more. Make it clear what they are responsible for so they can prioritize their time.

2. Train right away, and check in regularly

Make sure to establish a consistent training program right away so that it is an expected part of the role. It may seem like training takes too much time away from other important tasks, but a great training program will save time in the long run. Training courses or workshops should be offered to all new managers, and regular check-ins should happen to ensure managers are getting what they need to grow and improve. It also helps to schedule recurring one month, three month and six month check-ins. New managers don’t know what they don’t know, so they need the ongoing dialogue.

3. Pair new managers with seasoned managers

Training only goes so far and the value of mentors cannot be understated. New questions arise constantly for new managers. Make sure your new manager has a dedicated mentor, who can help them navigate the ins and outs of their role. Learning from example is a tried and true practice and even if the mentor is someone from a different department, having that resource is crucial.

4. Know their limits

Great managers know their product and operations, but they aren’t a “know-it-all.” Setting up new managers for success requires knowing their strengths and pain points. Educate your managers on the resources available to them. This will enable new managers to flex the muscle of their good judgment but also know when it may be time to bring someone else into the fold.

5. Culture of management

As we’ve seen in recent headlines, corporate culture can make or break a company. Emphasizing the corporate culture as a guidepost for management style will keep problems at bay. Managers should embody a consistent set of values that extend right up the chain of command.

Companies need to put both the processes and technology in place to make it possible for people to become great managers. Startups move incredibly quickly and managers need to do their own work on top of managing others. If building good management skills isn't a priority, and tools for building skills aren’t accessible, people won’t do it. Investing in new manager training is even more important in fast-moving growth companies. Management training may seem like a nice to have, but strong management is one of the essential ingredients for scaling quickly and staying competitive.

  • Paul Sebastien is VP and GM at Udemy