Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

From peer to supervisor – Part 1: moving into management

Posted in HR and personnel, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on September 25, 2010

I recently posted a first installment in a new series in the Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development on working with a new boss and towards the end of that I said that I would be posting on this topic from the perspective of the new boss as well. I thought in more detail about what I should do on that and decided to post two short series on this from the manager’s perspective. The first which I start with this is going to look into the issues that arise for first time managers, and the next will focus on issues that arise when even experienced managers find themselves working with new teams. Granted, there is a lot of overlap and certainly for issues such as where a manager suddenly finds themselves supervising a close friend but there are enough issues involved in simply becoming a manager and making that career transition to qualify for separate coverage.

I want to start this posting by making note of a simple observation that I suspect most readers would find consistent with their own experience. People are not generally promoted to manager positions because their supervisor sees real potential for leading groups and teams in them. They are promoted for their hands-on skills and expertise at what they do. Then they find themselves in a situation where they are responsible for a group effort and its productivity, and they primarily need, at least as managers, the skills and experience necessary to bring others to their productive potential in getting team responsibilities and priorities completed. So managing per se is not as much about what they can do themselves but in how effectively they can organize others to collectively solve larger tasks and problems.

And to state the obvious, and as a continuation of a theme repeatedly raised in my job search-oriented postings, more senior managers promote members of their team to management positions to help themselves better accomplish their assigned tasks and meet the priority goals that they are responsible for as senior managers. This is all goals and performance oriented and the new more junior manager will be judged in performance review on their accomplishments in bringing their team they are responsible for, to performance success on the tasks assigned to them – those tasks and priorities coming from that more senior manager who supervises them as a new-to-management colleague.

I belabor this point because the first major learning curve issue that most new managers face is coming to terms with this transition, shifting from a focus on your own hands-on skills and working more independently in using them, to managing others and bringing them to work together coordinately and cooperatively. In this, as a manager, you have to know when to step back and let others do tasks and even when you know that you could do them faster and more effectively – simply because these are tasks you have assigned. The alternative is the dual trap of micromanagement, and undercutting the members of your team in their ability to perform and to learn. This is not always an easy transition but it is the vital first step towards becoming an effective manager.

Role models are very important here, and for this and a lot of other issues and challenges.

• Effective managers are neither aloof nor overly chummy with the people they supervise. Management is a business relationship and network of business relationships and not a social club, and a manager has to be able to say “this is what you are going to do now” and be listened to and followed.
• Effective managers do not play favorites. They treat everyone on their team courteously and fairly – and consistently.
• Effective managers do not play one team member off against another. I have seen managers separately assign the same task to more than one team member because it was given to them as a priority they have to get accomplished, and then loose both respect and trust from their team as they follow through on the consequences of this – and sometimes going for the faster resolution to that problem developed simply because it was completed first and even if the next to finish was much better and more scalable and sustainable. This type of behavior creates problems in all directions and destroys team cohesion and effectiveness.

Role models are important in learning where problems can develop in management approach and style. And both positive and negative role models can help you learn how to manage and lead more effectively. Personally, as much as I have learned from the positive role models, I have learned more from seeing and working with bad and ineffective managers, and managers who follow toxic policies and approaches. With this later group of teachers in mind I offer more bullets point here:

• Effective management is not about ego – yours or those of the people you manage. You need to think in terms of the team and not just yourself as a manager on your side of this relationship.
• You have to be courteous and respectful of the people who work for you on your team. But you should also insist that the job be done and according to priorities that you set and that you have articulated and reached agreement on, with your various team members.
• I just sneaked in a very important concept there that I will state more explicitly now. Effective management is about communicating and here that means reaching agreed upon goals with the members of your team that are contractual in nature. Think about your own career experience here with your own performance reviews and the list of goals and priorities that have been assigned to you, and with that starting with your initial goals from when you were first onboarded. As a manager you performance review, and on the basis of lists of goals and priorities that you have contractually agreed to with the people you supervise, outlining and assigning, and reaching agreed understanding with them on what they are to work on and accomplish.

I am going to follow through on this posting with a next in series on management skills learning curves and tapping into learning opportunities. I will also post on finding and working with mentors and on working more effectively with your own manager as a manager with your own team responsibilities.

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