Too often individuals who are excellent at being individual contributors are moved to management roles within the organization without the person promoting them really knowing if they have the skills to be a manager. Additionally, the individual being promoted is not always given access to training, coaching or a mentor to help them prepare for the new role and the additional responsibilities they must carry as a manager. Some individuals will be high performers in a management role – they just need the support to succeed. Others make it in spite of a lack of support from the company. And, others just aren’t management material or, frankly, have no interest in such a role.
Let’s look at three case studies.
Case Study 1
Sam, a business unit manager of a telecommunications company mentioned to me that he had this really great technical person, Ted, who was doing a phenomenal job. Sam felt he was ready for a promotion and moved him to a supervisor role with the support of his boss, the VP of the business unit and with the support of HR. Ted’s new role would be overseeing the technical group in that particular business unit. However, Ted seemed to be having difficulty adjusting to his new role. He was not able to get the group working together as a team, couldn’t manage the conflict that arose and the employees were beginning to complain that he just didn’t know what he was doing. In analyzing the situation further, a few things were apparent:
- Ted had never been in a supervisory role before – either at this company or at any other; he had always been an individual contributor. He never even led a component of a project.
- The team Ted was now supervising were his peers previously; many of them saw him as a “friend,” not a “manager.” He was having difficulty trying to oversee a group of individuals who were friends.
- Ted had exceptionally strong technical skills, but had no management skills – for example, he had never delivered a presentation, negotiated for something, managed a conflict, or been involved in a performance review or set goals/objectives. These are all skills he would need to be effective in his new role.
When I suggested that Sam talk to Ted and find out what he wanted, Sam was surprised by what he learned. Ted was happy in his role as an individual contributor – he loved what he was doing. He didn’t want to be in a supervisory role. He wasn’t comfortable managing others. It didn’t matter if the company provided him a mentor or sent him to training; he just wasn’t interested in a promotion. He was concerned about telling Sam that he wasn’t interested in moving up because he figured he might lose his job and doesn’t everyone want to move up in a company anyway? Wouldn’t it be odd if he didn’t want to?
We can’t say with certainty that training or a mentor would not have helped Ted. Maybe he would shine as a supervisor. However, it wouldn’t matter how much training the company provided Ted; this isn’t the role he wanted. He wanted to remain in his current role – where he did quite well and was an asset to the company. Possibly, had he been pushed into a supervisory role, he would have left the organization to go to another company and do the job he loved.
Outcome: Ted was moved back to his previous role and was quite happy. He continued to be very productive and an asset to the company. Someone they could rely on to get the job done without supervision.
Case Study 2
Anna, a VP of human resources for a manufacturing company noted that Joshua was an excellent employee. He had very strong technical skills and the few times he had led a major component of a project as a team lead he had done an excellent job – the individuals who were reporting to him for that part of the project seemed to like him and respected him, and the job got done on time and within budget. The same couldn’t be said for all the project teams. However, since he has been moved to a supervisory role, he seemed to be having difficulty managing his team of 5 people. Anna had been sure that Joshua was perfect for this role but she now doubted her decision to push to get him promoted. Was her judgment of Joshua that off? Anna believed that she was usually a great judge of individuals and their potential within the company. In looking further at the situation, here is what I learned:
- Joshua had done a great job managing a few small project teams because his technical skills were quite strong and the team relied on his expertise.
- Joshua was extremely interested in the supervisory role, but didn’t really have an idea of what was expected of him.
- Joshua had not been provided any coaching on what is expected of him as a supervisor. On Friday he was promoted and on Monday he was a supervisor.
- Joshua has never had any training in critical management-type skills
In talking with Joshua, he was pleased with his promotion. He always wanted to be in a leadership role and this supervisory position was a step in that direction. He just needed more support from the company to ensure he was ready for the role and could be effective as a supervisor within the company. He needed to know what was expected of him in such a role.
Outcome: Joshua was provided a mentor who had 5 years of experience within the company in a management role. He was also sent to a 5 day basic management skills training course that covered “Management 101”-type topics. The 5 day course was supported by access to a portal where Joshua was able to get guidance from other supervisors and from the instructor and also share his stories with the others. He took advantage of the portal for 6 months after the training ended. After one year in his new role, Joshua was settling in quite well and was effective as a supervisor.
Case Study 3
Beth has been working with a marketing firm for over 3 years since she graduated college with a BA in Marketing. She has been a team lead on a few projects that required support from her department and has taken the initiative on a couple of in-house projects that were unrelated to her role. She is definitely a team player and has done a great job on the projects she has worked on. Jim, the VP of customer experience (her boss), has recognized her hard work. He wants to promote her because he believes she can manage the customer experience group (3 individuals) quite effectively. When Jim spoke with HR, they were supportive of the promotion to a management role, but felt it was important to first provide Beth training to build her management skills.
The firm had an in-house management development program for new managers. It included training in the following skills:
- Coaching others
- Performance reviews and goal setting
- Team leadership skills
- Communication and presentation skills
- General supervisory skills (mainly focused on understanding the policies and procedures at the firm)
- Interviewing and selection skills
The program ran over a two week time period and participants were expected to do role playing and develop an action plan on how they will apply their skills after the program ended and they were in their new role. They were taken off the job for the entire two weeks to attend the program.
Jim caught up with the instructor after the first week of the program to see how it was going. He heard some interesting information:
- Beth was definitely putting herself into the training and really trying, but she just couldn’t seem to grasp the content
- Her role playing was not improving; again, not for lack of trying – her skills just didn’t seem to get any better no matter how hard she tried
Jim decided to get her a coach, someone in a management role (similar to the position she would be going into) within the firm who can help her build her skills. He approached his peer, Andrea, in the finance department and asked for help. Andrea was happy to help and suggested that Anna, a 3 year manager who went through the program and has had quite a few challenges to address would be a great fit. In short, Anna became Beth’s coach – someone Beth could brainstorm with, practice role playing, and answer any questions Beth had.
Toward the end of the second week of the program, Jim again asked the instructor for a progress report on Beth. There was not much improvement – again, she was working hard and really trying but was having quite a bit of difficulty. She certainly was capable, but was hesitant to take the lead and was easily pushed around by others. She seemed to be concerned about how to keep everyone happy and ensure that everyone liked her and felt her to be their friend. Jim decided to talk to Anna, Beth’s coach. Anna agreed with the instructor’s perception of Beth. She was a terrific person, but frankly probably was not yet ready to take on a management role where she may have to make some tough decisions.
Outcome: Jim talked to Beth. He praised her work ethic and her efforts for the firm. However, he felt that at this point she probably wasn’t quite ready for a management role within the firm and would work with her so that in a year or two she was prepared. Beth agreed. While she felt the 2 week training session was a great experience, she realized she really wasn’t ready to take on that kind of responsibility right now. It was definitely a role and responsibility she wanted at some point, but she realized she wasn’t ready for it yet. Anna was going to continue to be Beth’s coach and mentor to help Beth achieve her goals.
So where am I going with this? It is important for organizations to have a plan in place to move employees up through the ranks when they show promise. However, it is OK if employees do not want to move up. If these employees continue to contribute to the organization and are valuable, do they really need to move into a management role? I don’t think so. For those employees who do want to move up but who are not ready, that’s OK too. These individuals have promise – you saw something in them that made you want to promote them. Give them the support and encouragement they need to stay with the organization until they are ready. These are not employees you want to lose to another organization. The challenge is with those employees who are interested in a management role but do not have the skills to be in one. You will need to evaluate these employees further to determine the following:
- Can they obtain those skills through training and coaching? If so – and you have a position for them – help them out! Provide them what they need and a mentor to help guide them.
- Are they just not suited for such a role? And if not, why not? Are they not a fit culturally? Do they not have the capacity to manage others? What path should they take? Can and should they stay in the organization if they are not a fit culturally? Why don’t they have the capacity to be a manager – is it a matter of “will” or “skill?” “Skill” can be addressed; “will” is much more difficult.
The age old question has always been – are leaders born or made? Maybe it is a little of both? They can be made, but they have to have some inherent skills to start with? Maybe every leader needs support – whether through training, coaching or via a mentor. Your thoughts? (I know this is a loaded question – have at it folks!)
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