How to develop managers for your solar business (and why)

employee development

Managing people is a difficult but rewarding job. At our own company, EnerBank, we like to develop and promote people from within whenever possible. We spend a great deal of time developing employees at all levels, in fact, because we view them through the lens of their potential, knowing they could possibly be the future leaders of the bank. Developing managers helps ensure our future success and could ensure the future of your business as well.

We’ve had several entry-level employees work their way to become vice presidents of entire divisions. During my 15 years at the Bank, many employees have progressed through their careers similarly, including myself.

From my experience of becoming a manager and senior executive and training many others to follow my path, I’ve learned that developing managers can be hard. You need consistent focus. As difficult as it is to set aside the day-to-day demands of your role, you must take the time to find, evaluate, prepare and develop the future managers in your business.

Here are some things you may want to think about when you’re developing the people in your organization:

Team leadership is the proving ground for future executive roles

We create a career path for our people by guiding them through a carefully planned promotion sequence. For those who don’t have experience managing, we promote them to the role of team lead as a way to teach and burnish their skills. In our case, the lead does not have reports. However, they’re the first to respond to customer problems that front-line representatives can’t resolve.

The team lead role serves as a proving ground for up and coming performers who we’re grooming for future manager roles. Their supervisor uses this time to train them as leaders and managers of people. With their front-line experience, team leads help conduct the annual performance reviews of others. They’re also responsible for helping improve the performance of others. By training team leads to become managers, we reduce the risk of putting a new and inexperienced manager in a position to potentially misrepresent the bank or mistreat customers or other employees. We can watch and nurture our team leads carefully rather than taking the risk of making them a manager first.

A key moment during transition

The hard part about transitioning to a first-time manager is that the day before, you were a member of the team. But upon the promotion, you are now responsible for the performance of others. Watch for the reactions of direct reports after a new manager is selected, because once a negative perception develops, it’s hard to overcome. New managers may fall into bad habits or micromanage, press employees for greater output too quickly, or view certain people as favorites. You’ll need to observe and address these dynamics frequently with both the manager and the team.

Training doesn’t stop after you promote managers. You have to nurture all managers, from the newest supervisor to the executive team. You can’t just throw them in the job and expect them to thrive, because each position requires different (or additional) skills. But you can clearly establish the expectations for roles, so everyone is on the same page and understands the targets.

We use both day-to-day feedback and more formal strategies to align that understanding. You can use the annual performance review, but it shouldn’t be the only time you discuss how your managers can improve. For example, we use employee engagement surveys to learn how direct reports perceive their managers. We ask questions like, “Do you feel like you can go to your manager to discuss concerns?” or “When you go to your manager, do you feel you are heard?”

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Stick to a regular development schedule

You have to be disciplined to stay with your manager development schedule. Customer service and day-to-day operations, which are essential, will perpetually tend to get in the way. Make sure you plan specifically for development of your staff and succession planning, and stick to your plan.

In all areas of the company, we have someone in mind as the next in line for every role, from the CEO to team leads. First, identify who may want to be in the role and figure out if they’re a good fit. Then ascertain what experience that new job will require and create a development plan specifically for them and for the position.

While it’s easy to identify and plan for a retirement, it’s not as easy to prepare for turnover that comes sooner than you expected. This happened in my own case. I was promoted to the senior team in 2012. Louise Kelly, the CEO at the time, stopped by my office soon after the promotion. She thanked me for taking on the additional responsibility. She then mentioned the promotion had already been in the company’s plans but came sooner than expected because of the unanticipated turnover. The news was somewhat daunting, but also allowed me to step forward with the right mindset to hone the skills quickly to fulfill my new role.

In all cases, be sure to carve out the time and budget for personal development. Identify the skills each of your team members should acquire. Then budget for travel and conference attendance. Even though we allocate a significant budget for development, in my mind, it’s a greater risk to not develop our people. Furthermore, we have numerous examples of people we’ve promoted at all levels of the company who are succeeding because we’ve developed them well.

I’m confident that if you follow these steps, you’ll become better at identifying and nurturing managers well. By putting focused time and effort into your managers, you’ll have a smoother organization today and a more successful company in the future, as well.

Blaine Bagley, Senior Vice President, Operations, EnerBank USA.

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