Nobody Told Me I Was Going To Be A Manager
The vast majority of people in management, bar military people that sign up to it, land in management roles because of their expertise in the area they work in. There is no evidence that they are predisposed to becoming an effective manager. For example, a finance person may become a financial director because they have a background in finance, they have their accountancy qualification, they’re good with numbers but there’s no evidence that they can manage a team of people.
So why do they get the promotions?
It’s based on their technical competence and they are good hard workers. They understand their brief so they seem like a safe pair of hands. Most people are not hired for management roles; most people acquire management responsibilities the more they prove themselves in their particular area of expertise. Because they are good foot soldiers, they are then given management responsibilities on the back of that. There is often little or no evaluation done by the company or the individual regarding their suitability to manage. They are getting managerial responsibility because of their ability to manage their own area of expertise.
What is meant by management capability?
It means having the skill set, the confidence and the awareness to be able to manage yourself, and manage the team you work with to ensure the company achieves the right outcomes. For example, the good salesperson who ends up becoming a sales manager. They are naturally good at hunting down potential customers and opportunities, and going down every avenue to make that sale. But when they become managers their natural hunting abilities are not required. They are now required to help people on the team who may have less experience and less ability than themselves. They must support them and coach them, but they are naturally more inclined to think in terms of sales and ‘going in for the kill.’ That hunting mind-set is poorly suited to the mind-set of supporting, mentoring and coaching teams who are not at the same level as you are.
So they are out of sync with the capability level of the team, but the company who chose them are basing their decision on the last five years of sales which were good so we’re making you sales manager. There is no thought given to the question of what skill set is needed to effectively manage a team. The person may have the mind-set of a sales ‘warrior’ but is that the correct mind-set for helping individual team members to become effective in their roles, and supporting them throughout their development? People can flounder and get very frustrated, and the company can get very frustrated with their lack of performance but that’s because they are a square peg in a round hole. People must take responsibility. The buck stops with the person who appoints people to management roles without proper evaluation of their management capabilities.
What should happen before someone is appointed to a management position?
The first thing is to clearly define the objectives of the role. Then decide how you are going to measure if someone is doing a good job or not. Identify what behaviours come naturally to them, then outline the key behaviours that you need to see someone demonstrate in the role. Are they good at dealing with people on a one-to-one basis? Are they good at confronting them when they are performing poorly, or their behaviour becomes unacceptable?
So it’s about people management skills and the behaviour of managers in keeping with the values that are critical to the organisation. Has the potential candidate demonstrated the wherewithal to support those values through their behaviour? Have they got the flexibility, the adaptability and the decision-making capability to align with company values and fit the managerial role? Their values and behaviours as managers will in turn effect the organisation as a whole.
What happens when business owners or senior managers choose the wrong person for a managerial role?
Well it’s very stressful for all concerned. It’s stressful for the individual who has been dumped into a management position. They are trying to prove themselves to the company and they sometimes behave in a reactionary way towards team members who are not performing well. They don’t respond in a healthy way; they don’t give people the space or time or proper support they need to improve. As manager you need to find ways to effectively engage your team members, and not just keep banging on the table because you feel under pressure to prove yourself. Becoming a manager is often an ‘accident’ imposed on an individual who is ill prepared for the role, selected by senior staff who have not gone through a proper evaluation process. So it ends up becoming a very stressful situation all round.
But if someone is already in the role and they are clearly not a good fit, what should happen then?
Well usually it’s a case of the manager not fitting well as opposed to being the wrong fit entirely. The person has an understanding of what needs to be delivered in terms of the business; the challenge is how to get the team to do it as opposed to doing it themselves. Nobody told me I was going to be a manager but you are a manager now, and you have to step up to the plate. First you must increase your self-awareness and how you communicate with the people around you. In the past you focused on being right, but now as manager you have to focus on getting the right outcome for the company. You can no longer be happy to be right all the time; you must now focus on getting a team of people to achieve consistently good results. The emphasis is now on the team’s performance not on you as an individual.
So the new manager needs to develop a new mind-set.
Absolutely, and of course you can acquire new skills and knowledge. You can work on communication skills or time management or conflict management, but it’s crucial to adapt the new mind-set first. You have to be clear that you are no longer here to show how good you are at sales but to lead a team. You have to think, I am here to get the most from my team and get the best outcome for the company.
The more effectively you can change your mind-set and adapt to a new way of doing things in your work environment, the better chance you have at being successful as a manager. And it’s ok to make mistakes and get some things wrong if it’s within the context of your new role as manager. You test objectives and find that some worked and others didn’t, and you take time to reflect on those outcomes and understand why they did or didn’t work. Through that process you are acquiring the new skills necessary to be an effective manager.
Mike Gaffney is managing director at LEAP.