Sharlyn Lauby of HR Bartender recently wrote an article about why managers’ goal should be to find and hire their replacements. She writes,
“If a manager takes their role seriously, then they are constantly searching for talent. They are encouraging employees to learn. They are sharing knowledge by coaching and mentoring. And they are supporting employee growth and development. Isn’t that what we want from all of our managers?”
Not only are these managers contributing to the company’s pipeline of talent, but the managers also look better when their direct reports are thriving. If a manager is enabling their team to produce on its own, the manager is able to take on more responsibilities of their own and engage with the company at a higher level.
Inspired by Lauby’s article, we outlined how managers can develop their best replacements:
1. Never stop training
Most companies offer to train new employees during their first six months to arm them with the basic skills and knowledge they’ll need. But managers should never stop training their direct reports: after new employees learn the ropes, work with them to hone their skills, become experts in the industry, and nurture other soft skills that will help them professionally.
The longer the employee works at the company, the more nuanced their training can become. Teach high potential employees about management best practices, and share lessons from your own experience. Send these employees to external management training as well through organizations such as the American Management Association.
Delegating doesn’t have to mean totally relinquishing control over a task or project, but it is necessary for both the team’s growth and your own. When assigning responsibilities to direct reports, start by explaining it in detail, then walk through the employee’s planned approach. Ask what strategies they will utilize, and proactively offer advice for how to handle the tasks. Touching base before delegating a task reduces the chance employees will make errors when they take over.
For the first few weeks check employees’ work, but then let them own the responsibility. Delegating work to the team means you’ll have more time to complete other interesting or higher level work. More importantly, it gives promising employees the chance to show their work and fully own their accomplishments.
3. Encourage initiative
Push your team to seek out their own solutions before bubbling up problems. If they want to become leaders, employees need to be able to think critically about questions and brainstorm answers, and managers can foster an environment that encourages this type of initiative.
Motivate employees to learn on their own as well. Share articles and studies about the industry, and have employees do the same. Host team talks about different topics and assigns different employees to lead the discussion each week.
4. Let employees fail
It’s the only way they will truly learn. Only by learning, experimenting, and sometimes faltering do employees get better and become leaders. When people on your team do make mistakes, take time to sit with them and talk through the experience. What went wrong? What would they do differently? What do they know now that they didn’t know before?
No manager reached their position with a flawless record; a person’s stumbles along the way are what shape their character in the future. It can be tempting to try to protect employees from failing but ultimately doing so hurts their growth.
5. Offer feedback constantly
If possible, meet with each direct report every week to touch base. Talk about what they’re working on, how they’re feeling, and then offer feedback on their performance. Positive or negative, feedback is the best way to help employees grow and thrive as leaders in an organization.
If an employee is doing well, push them out of their comfort zone to do better. If they’re struggling, tell them specifically how they could improve, and then work with them on strategies for getting back on track.
Give high-potential employees specific advice about how they’re working with other members of the team, and give them advice on how to best manage their relationships with their peers. Work through hypothetical management scenarios and discuss how they would handle them.