It’s a classic business error. The best sales person is promoted to management, causing revenues to suffer as they divert attention from making their own sales to performing management activities ineffectively. And it doesn’t just happen in sales. The same scenario plays out:
- In professional service organizations the most capable engineer begins to manage staff, resulting in poorly scoped projects
- In construction companies, the best electrician moves “off the tools” and quality suffers
- In tech companies, brilliant software developers move away from coding, resulting in longer development timelines
Why does this keep happening?
Lawrence J. Peter called this phenomenon “The Peter Principle” and it occurs where employees are “promoted to their highest level of incompetence.” Sometimes the talents that make someone an excellent technician do not translate well into management. Managers need some technical expertise to work with the team, but the higher a person ascends in an organization, the less valuable these skills become. Patrick Lencioni recently articulated the three most valuable talents for any manager: Hard Working, Humble, and Smart. While these talents serve technicians as well, let’s explore them in the management development context.
Hard Working: A hard worker is eager to invest in professional development. Typically, when new to a role a person will be on a steep learning curve while getting accustomed to all they must do. Over time, they develop some expertise in the basics and become ready to hone their craft more deeply. Eventually, the learning curve flattens. When moving into a new management position, this learning curve again becomes very steep, but on completely different topics: motivation, staff development, performance management, planning, and collaboration. The hard worker is eager to take on the new challenge.
Humble: The best managers give credit to the team. They know that they are nothing without the people who report to them; after all, they don’t do anything. They “just manage”. But humble doesn’t end there. The best managers work as part of a management team. They understand that the management team is, in fact, their primary team. Less humble managers treat their division or silo as the most important in the company. They protect their direct reports and budgets– even when it does not promote the greater good of the organization. The best managers are humble to the organization’s greater needs and recognize that the management team is, in fact, their primary team. It is their job to work with their peers as well as their direct reports to get the best out of the company as a whole. .
Smart: This refers to being “people smart”. The best managers have a well-developed Emotional Quotient (EQ) that allows them to adapt quickly and manage any situation that comes up – even when it’s shocking or stressful.
Commit to an action plan right now to develop your management team before they become managers.
- As you select internal candidates for a management role, rate their existing performance on a 1-5 scale for Hard Working, Humble, and Smart.
- For the top candidates, discuss these qualities in the management context. Ask them if they want to develop in a managerial direction, or if they prefer to develop their career along the technical line of work they’re currently performing. One is not better than the other, but one track is usually more suitable to a person’s innate ability and desire.
- For those that are interested in the “management track”, make space for them to try their hand at managing. Before the promotion, give them some managerial tasks to try. People need the opportunity to fail and no one is particularly good at any activity the first time they try it. Allow for error and try not to get in their way.
- Promote your top candidates. Set clear role and results expectations and help them with action plans to navigate the transition from peer to managerial role with their colleagues.
- Coach them. The weekly coaching rhythm is imperative in staff development. Have them identify what they are doing very well, where the pitfalls are, and guide them through questioning to find the answers to their top challenges on their own.
The most common failure of this program is in the coaching. Leaders often experience the catch-22 of having no time to develop their managers, while also feeling impatient for their managers to get up to speed so they can free more of their own time. If this sounds like you, Bellrock’s management training program can help. Drop us a line.