What it takes to successfully transition into management

What it takes to successfully transition into management
By Paul Clifford

What it takes to transition successfully into management is often something that many underestimate and are underprepared for.

Let's start with new managers. Countless times I've heard managers bemoan the lack of training they received as a new manager. This is an admission that they weren't ready, yet they still accepted the roles. They almost certainly accepted them because they were communicated as promotions and as rewards for hard work. The increase in status and remuneration is seductive and for many that can facilitate a certain denial about the true nature of the role. "It'll be the same but I'll just to get to make more decisions" they tell their friends.

Reality can be quite different.

Let's take Sandy in IT. She was working as part of an IT team of 12 and in 2009 she was promoted as the team's manager. Instead of immersing herself in trialling the latest software she found herself in meetings discussing budget cuts. Instead of designing new websites she was preparing a business case for management for a new IT system. Instead of spending 90% of her day in peace at her desk she was spending 70% interacting with team members and other departments and half of that was resolving conflict. Work as she knew it changed significantly. This was not what she expected. She was underprepared and didn't have the skills that others expected her to magically pull out of her back pocket.

No one taught her how to structure a business case. No one coached her in influencing skills. No one taught her the fundamentals of budgeting. No one got her ready to face conflict from former peers who were jealous that Sandy got the job over them. No one pointed out to Sandy that she might miss doing the detailed technical work she was doing.

Management new this day was coming but didn't do enough. They allowed her to attend a workshop on leadership but it didn't cover the management skills she needed.  By promoting Sally they took a big risk and assumed everything would be ok.

But it wasn't ok. Sandy struggled big time. She wasn't able to articulate the business case for a new IT system and the organisation foundered under the weight of a system that couldn't keep up with the organisation's customer processing needs. Sandy didn't understand the business' financials and wasn't able to make sensible budget cuts so they were made for her and these undermined her team's productivity. Sandy didn't know how to influence others or resolve conflict and instead got highly frustrated and lost several staff members as a result.  Sandy desperately missed the technical work and tried to micromanage some of her team members because she couldn't let go of the detail.

The reputation of the IT team suffered as the team wasn't able to deliver quality and timely outcomes for the customer service team. This in turn had a big impact on client retention and the flow on effect was a 20% drop in revenue for the business over the year that Sandy was IT manager.

The lack of development invested in Sandy came home to roost for the organisation. It didn't just make Sandy's role tougher. It had consequences that were far reaching across the organisation.

To better prepare managers at any level we need to be quite specific with them about how the nature of their role will change, what new challenges they will face and what skills they will need to develop to successfully manage those challenges.  It is then necessary to create a plan to acquire those skills and have the plan implemented well before that person is likely to seek the transition.  In some cases completely new skills are required - for instance when a new manager is required to build relationships across departments when previously the entire focus of his or her role was the application of technical skills.  In other cases it's the same skill but it takes on a new degree of complexity such as when a unit manager is promoted into a more senior management role and now requires more sophisticated influencing skills to try to steer the organisation in a new strategic direction.  Workshops are not enough.  Coaching and on-the-job learning are essential.  

It's interesting how organisations put a lot of planning into some things but not others.  Planning to help managers develop the skills for success seems to be a large gap for many organisations.  Whilst some people will naturally develop the skills needed as the challenges arise, others will be caught unprepared and incapable of getting up to speed quick enough.

Organisations don't just owe it to their managers to prepare them.  In many cases the organisation's success depends on it.      


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Guest Monday, 21 January 2019