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DC and Virginia HR Consulting and Executive Coaching Newsletter - Issue #9

Management 101

If you think about it, almost every position that one might apply for falls into one of 2 categories.  The first type of job requires experience or credentials to get in the door.  The job requires a degree, or a license, or at least a number of years experience doing the job.  The second type of position has no experience required, but most likely has an on-the-job training program.  Whether formal or informal, there is usually a senior person assigned to help with training, correcting mistakes along the way.  Once the person shows that they have grasped the job, they are allowed to work on their own.  Many jobs have both requirements and a training program.

There's one notable exception to this model - manager.

Most new managers get promoted because they have done something to distinguish themselves as an individual contributor.  They have usually had great results, have gained visibility with those making hiring decisions, and are thought to have "leadership potential".  When an opening comes along, someone deems them ready, and they are offered the promotion.  They move to the bigger office, and off they go.  They have no real experience.

When I ask new managers about their training, the most common response is laughter.  Some have been lucky enough to have a mentor that they can go to with problems.  Some have been sent to management training where they might learn some fundamental tools.   But rarely have I spoken to a manager who said that the training and support structure was sufficient to prepare them to do the job effectively.

In my first manager training many years ago, the class learned how to approve expense statements and vacation, and was lectured on why it was inappropriate to date people who worked for you.  It's a good point, but certainly not on the top of my critical issues list!

Almost every manager that I meet has a story of how they struggled in their first management role.  The skills that made them a great individual contributor are no longer that relevant when they are promoted to manager.  Good individual contributors are rewarded for things like technical skills, quality work, or independence.  Now all of a sudden their success is derived from an ability to motivate people, communicate, use sound judgment, set strategy, etc.  Their accomplishments come from the group results rather than their own work.  Interestingly enough, as managers progress in their careers, they don't seem to change the system, but continue to promote people under them and allow them to sink or swim.

This situation, of course, creates a perfect storm for mistakes of every size. And because they involve people's careers and livelihoods, they can also be very damaging.

For you sports fans, think of college football quarterbacks who are immediately put into starting roles in the NFL.  They learn on the job.  Mistakes are expected, but hopefully they will learn quickly along the way and bring great results.  However, they also have a support structure of coaches working with them daily to help them recognize mistakes and improve.  Think how tough it would be if they were just on their own!

As a coach, I often get called to help new managers.  Mostly it's after a new manager has had some time to struggle, and now there's a "problem".  I work with the new manager to help them assess what they have done well, and what they might be struggling with.  Then we work on damage control of the current situation, and building skills to avoid repeating the problem.  On occasion, I've seen the problem become so bad that there is really no hope to continue, and it's time to make a change.

Wouldn't it be nice to give new managers some help so they could get instant feedback and guidance, and avoid the problems before it's too late? Especially when you consider the high cost of getting off on the wrong foot, organizational investment (internally or externally) is a very solid investment for the organization.

Here are a few common mistakes that I've seen.  Most of these are easily correctible if caught early.

  1. I haven't found a replacement yet.

    I see many newly promoted managers who have not filled their previous positions.  They are delaying, or have put themselves in an acting role.  When I ask about time, I find out that they are spending a large amount of time still doing their old job.

    This typically comes from a need to maintain a comfort level.  They are good at their old job, so it feels good to continue to do it.  They can continue to be praised for doing their old job well.  Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of learning the new skills required to do their new job well.

    I advise clients to make it a priority to put someone in place to do the old job ASAP.  Give them the support and guidance they deserve, but step away as quickly as possible and focus on success in your new job.

  2. Not articulating what you stand for.

    People look to a new manager to determine what they are going to do the same, and what they are going to change.  I have had many new managers who believe that it's most important to tell people over and over about their credentials, but have not taken the time to tell people what they care about.  When people know what a new manager values, they can start to get a feel for what they are going to change.  New managers don't need to have all of the answers, but they should know what they hold most important.

    I coached a manager recently who immediately got into a hot debate about whether or not to reengineer a work process.  The manager wanted the change, and then employee wanted things to stay the same.  When I asked the manager why he cared, he told me that the new process would make it easier to meet customer deadlines.  The previous manager didn't put a priority on this, and some customer relations had been damaged.  The new manager believed that rebuilding customer confidence was critical to long term success.  When he explained this to the employee, the employee actually came up with a new solution that was better than the manager's idea.

    If employees know what the manager believes is important, and the manager stays consistent, employees will many times change without being asked.

  3. Fixing all those internal problems

    The first focus for many managers is to reorganize, change roles, and change structure of the team.  They want to get to know their people, have offsites, have strategy meetings, etc.  They attend all of the internal meetings of their team, and try to get involved and up to date on every project.

    What they have failed to realize is that focusing internally is only half of the job.  Some new managers fail to realize that much of what needs to get done is external - across departments, with suppliers, with customers, etc.  Much of the job is networking and leveraging outside resources.  The manager needs to think about all of the people that interact with their team, and spend time developing those relationships.

This is by no means a complete list, but it gives you a feel for what I often see.  If you have some examples/thoughts you'd like to share, email me and I'll include it in a future newsletter.

If you are a new manager, or know of one, please feel free forward.  A little coaching up front and some help along the way can have a huge impact on the start of a management career.

Jim Bowles
James Bowles and Associate