The transition from an individual contributor to a manager is one of the biggest challenges most leaders will face in their career... It's a challenge that will result in a 30 - 50 per cent drop in performance by 50 - 70 per cent of new managers. Why does this happen and what can organisations do about it?
In order for us to understand why this happens, it's important that we recognise the difference between an individual contributor and a manager.
As you can see from The Leadership Challenge, the relationship, focus and competencies required to succeed as an individual contributor are quite different from that of an emerging leader. It's not just a step up the corporate ladder, its a different ladder all together, and requires a completely different mindset!
Given the fact that Individual contributors are often promoted because of their outstanding individual performance and technical abilities, it's no wonder they find it such a challenge.
Change of Focus
There is a fundamental change of focus that occurs when an individual contributor transitions into a management role; that being a shift from focusing on self to focusing on others, and from taking instructions to giving instructions.
- As an individual contributor the focus is on your development. As a manager, the focus is on developing those around you.
- As an individual contributor the focus is on your performance. As a manager, the focus is on the performance of those around you.
- As an individual contributor the focus is on the quality of your work. As a manager, the focus is on the quality of work by those around you.
- As an individual contributor the focus is on your success. As a manager, the focus is on the success of those around you.
- As an individual contributor the focus is on completing the tasks that are assigned to you. As a manager the focus is on assigning tasks to those around you.
Change in Relationships
There is a fundamental change in relationships that occurs when an individual contributor transitions into a management role; that being a move from peer and peer, to manager and subordinate.
Can I remain friends with the people who report to me? What's the right balance? How do I get them to take me seriously? How do I tell my reports that they are not working up to standard? These are some of the most common questions I get asked by new managers as they struggle to come to grips with the realisation that the relationship with their peers changed the minute they got promoted into a management role.
Setting New Managers up for Success
What can organisations do to improve the chances of success for new managers? A whole lot of things, but here are some good places to start:
1. Selection Criteria & Assessment Methodology
The selection criteria and assessment methodology used for identifying and promoting individual contributors to managers needs to be more rigorous. Here are the key questions you need to answer:
- Are they an excellent individual contributor? If they can't manage themselves, then there is a good change they will struggle to manage others.
- Have they demonstrated leadership potential? Do they lead without authority, are they influential, do they constantly step up and take charge?
- Do they put the needs of others above the needs of self? Are they focussed on other people succeeding or just themselves?
- Do they want to progress? Leadership cannot be forced. I've lost count of the number of times excellent individual contributors have left after being forced into a manager role.
2. Ease the Transition
No one should be promoted from an individual contributor directly to a manager. Individual contributors need to learn how to manage others, and there's no better way to do this than having them support another manager in the process.
Individual contributors should be given incremental additional management responsibilities under the supervision of an experienced manager. During this stage they should receive continual feedback and coaching around where they are doing well and what they could do better.
3. Leadership Development
I wanted to be a manager. Now I am one. What do I do next? This sort of sink or swim approach to developing new leaders has to change. No new manager should be given the responsibility for others over night without some formal development.
70% of this development should come from on-the-job experiences, 20% should come from feedback and reflection, and 10% should come from formal training and self-directed learning.
A simple place to start would be by curating a collection of leadership videos for all people leaders to access. Ideally the organisation would have designed a specific leadership development program for every level of leadership. There should be regular assessments of leaders at every level.
4. Engage a Coach
Leadership is lonely, and nothing is more lonely that that feeling of being lost without having anyone to confide in. This is where a coach comes in, as they listen without judgement and help the leader to think through the issues they face.
The coach and coachee relationship is very intimate, and as such, the personal connection and rapport will vary from person to person. With this in mind a diverse coaching bench should be made available to new managers, and they should be given the opportunity to select their own coach.
As you can see, the transition from individual contributor to manager is very daunting, but with a little help, can be much smoother.
Can you suggest any other ways to set new managers up for success?