Making that seamless transition into management

May 24, 2010
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As the economy stabilizes, organizations begin to expand their overworked and sometimes under-appreciated staffs by recalling workers or hiring new employees.

Often the core employees who are being relied upon to make this expansion happen are the organization’s best technicians, engineers, problem solvers and experienced “doers.” While extremely valuable to the organization’s ability to produce, these individuals frequently lead more by joining in with the “doing” than they do by training and motivating others to work. 

During the best of times, many excellent workers’ abilities are diminished or devalued when promoted into leadership. Far too often organizations move their “best technician” into supervision, take their most efficient employee at “doing” and expect them to teach, or ask their innovators to troubleshoot existing processes — usually without training or support. We expect employees that were a part of the team on Friday to become “leaders of the pack” on Monday —without doing anything to prepare them for the transition. If difficult when things are going well, think about how rebuilding an organization to meet changing business demands when major alterations are needed might compound the problem. 

When we ask new managers to prepare for an increase in volume, to undo all that has been done wrong and to improve employee morale without first setting the stage for change, we are making a huge mistake. The implementation of change without first preparing for the ramifications of change is destined to fail.

There are, however, ways we can maximize the chances of an individual’s success. Before any employee is expected to move into a leadership role, make sure they are aware of the following critical management factors (AND that they are given the opportunity to consider what it means to make such a transition rather than simply being given the promotion):

  • As a supervisor, you are no longer a friend to your past peers. You must elevate yourself to being a fair and consistent “boss” that no longer is one of the gang but is now the voice of the organization. As a leader, the weaknesses or “negative behaviors” you may have once accepted from your peers must be confronted and addressed. You may have to determine pay increases or carry out disciplinary action to make sure that each employee is treated equitably (rather than equally). Where you may have complained openly about “oppressive company policies,” you have earned the right to question privately while accepting the responsibility to support publicly. Being respected must replace being liked. Consistency must become the final consideration for every decision you make. What (and how much) you say become guiding principles as you interact with your group. 

  • Employees will usually accept change IF they are consulted first. Consulting an employee about how to best implement change DOES NOT mean that you are going to do exactly what they suggest. It DOES mean that you seek input by asking “why” questions so that support can be secured before change is imposed: Why do we do things the way we do? Why don’t we try doing things differently? Why are employees hesitant to do things differently than they’ve always done them in the past? Most individuals can accept doing things differently — even if it is not the way they may have chosen to do them — as long as they feel that their opinion was considered, that they had a chance to make a difference before change is implemented, and they understand the reason for the change (rather than just being told to act differently).

  • You are now a member of management and, as such, you must accept corporate direction, oversight, goals and visions. Your team does not have the insight you do into the discussions that took place leading to the decisions that were made when formulating organizational direction. As a leader it is your responsibility to show people not only where your organization is going but also how they can help to make change happen. You must typically “sell” others more often than you “tell” others, encouraging their “ownership” of the change and often allowing them to take credit for aspects of the transition even if credit was not due them.

  • Employees can be motivated by compensation, can be captivated by their work assignments and influenced by their surroundings, BUT if employees don’t like you, they will leave the organization. If they don’t like the way you do things they will complain to others. If they don’t like the way you talk to them, they may ignore what you say. Recognize that it is your job to accomplish the organization’s mission by working to fulfill its vision through the coordinated efforts of all those who work for you. Being popular or liked is not a primary management criterion — being fair and consistent is required.

  • If you prefer to do rather than to tell, to perform rather than to plan, to create rather than to coordinate, or to react rather than to anticipate, perhaps it would be better if you pass on the prestige of promotion. Not everyone is “built” to be a manager. One must recognize their strengths AND acknowledge their weaknesses, acting upon both, to be a valued contributor tasting a degree of success in life. 

Moving into management is a huge step for anyone. When times are tough and expectations are high (while resources are low), it is an even bigger leap. If you ask someone to move into leadership — or are asked to do so yourself — make sure the ramifications of transition are understood AND the tools necessary to make the move happen are provided. Even if TOLD transition will be tough, organizations should equip new leaders with training, mentoring, and easily accessible support so they can successfully face the challenges of change.

David J. Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association, a not-for-profit provider of human resource solutions since 1939.

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