We like to think that we know our audience pretty well. Ranging from presidents and CEOs to HR professionals to supervisors and front-line employees to consultants and academics, our readers and website users sought us out or were referred to us because they identify with progressive and innovative people practices.

So it was with some surprise that we looked at the results of one of our Web Polls for October 2006, on new manager training. Fifty-two percent of the respondents said that their employer does not offer training for new managers. In other words, more than half of the organizations represented by respondents do not have a mechanism to take advantage of a pivotal stage in an employee’s development which offers leverage to both workplace productivity and employee retention.

A first-time assignment as a manager is perhaps one of the most challenging an employee faces. Having excelled as an individual contributor, the new role often requires managing the work of peers – a shift that can be difficult and, without preparation, can result in costly mistakes for the organization as well as the individual. Jim Jenkins, head of Creative Visions, a change management firm, reported in the September 2006 issue of American Executive magazine that the U.S. devotes more than $100 billion a year to correcting poor people management practices, a good deal of which could be allayed by helping new managers develop the skills that they need to do their jobs effectively.

Organizations that are growing, or are working to develop a culture to support future growth, discover that investment in training for managerial roles pays off in other ways as well. First-line managers touch more employees than any other single role, influencing the productivity and success of individuals and teams where the work gets done. The data that Winning Workplaces has collected in workplace assessments demonstrates again and again that managers at the lowest levels have the most powerful impact on how employees perceive their jobs and the organization as a whole. Good first-line managers help retain employees.

The complexities of today’s quickly changing organizations and cross-functional work groups that are regularly in flux make managing more challenging than ever before. John Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership at the Harvard Business School, points out in What Leaders Really Do, “Managerial work is increasingly a leadership task, and because leaders operate through a complex web of dependent relationships, managerial work is increasingly becoming a game of dependence on others instead just power over others.” The skills managers need include the ability to communicate via multiple media, delegating effectively, respecting the individual and fostering team development.

Developing leadership from within an organization is a widely accepted means of developing a strong, sustainable organizational culture. Providing new managers with training and tools, giving them a bailiwick in which to test and develop their managerial and leadership style, affects the productivity of the work group, the retention of employees and the future opportunity for the organization. The case for new manager training is strong and clear.

However, training is often perceived to be costly and discretionary. Both perceptions are wrong. Small and midsize organizations are particularly sensitive to cost. Some aspects of training for new managers are functional in nature and are readily available via electronic training programs. A Google search reveals countless tools to instill basic and advanced skills in new managers.

The most important and impactful training is customized to the organization, however. Yet, this need not represent a heavy out-of-pocket investment. Some of the most valuable learning that employees do comes from modeling the behaviors of respected leaders of colleagues. Creating opportunities for employees to learn from mentors within the organization can help create a strong culture as well. Witness PrintingForLess.com, a 160-person, web-based printing firm in Livingston, MT, which has grown 57 percent in the last two years. Andrew Field, CEO, sees his role as chief culture officer. “I spend at least 50 percent of my time working with new managers, mentoring and modeling managerial tasks,” he says. “This is the highest priority use of my time, because it directly affects the growth and future of the business.”

Learning organizations are more flexible, adaptable and sustainable. Training new managers is a sound investment for the future of an organization.