Thursday, February 13, 2014

Transition from Employee to Management

We often move employees into supervisory or management positions because they’re good at what they do, not because they’re good at managing people. Proper training in people and management skills can remedy this. However, there are times when the issue is that the employee never makes the transition from employee to management. They don’t understand their new role is quite a bit different from their old role. That mental shift into the role of manager or supervisor is vitally important to their success, and the success of their function within the organization. Failing to make this transition can lead to dysfunctional teams at best and legal problems at worst.

Whether we’re talking about new managers, or those who have been in that role for years, there are several "mistakes" that are common. What are they and what can be done to avoid them?

Recognizing they’re no longer one of that group, but accepting they’re part of a new team. Friends gossip, go out together, and complain about work and the boss. There is no room for their manager in these kinds of relationships. Understanding the everyday responsibilities of a new position is the easy part; the finer points of this new role are often harder to gauge. For example, is it appropriate for you to go out with the team after work? Can you joke around with co-workers like you did before? There are no easy answers, except to say one thing is clear: they’ll need to set new boundaries as a supervisor.

For instance, previously, they may have confided in co-workers when frustrated with management decisions. But now as a member of the management team, they must set the example. This means using discretion, and offering support and guidance, not complaints, however harmless they may seem.

Learning to delegate. Before becoming a manager, most people were used to just doing their own job. They could concentrate on doing it well, and were most likely good at that job. But now, a good part of the job is getting things done, not necessarily to do it themselves. Managers need to rely on, and utilize their team to get the work done. If they don't delegate, they'll have too much to do, other people won't have enough and they'll get frustrated. 

Being responsible for others’ performance. Managers are responsible for getting results by helping other people to perform as well as they can. They’re not just responsible for their own results any more, they’ll be judged by how well the team, the group, the department performs.

They now need to think about how to get the best out of others. All that "management" stuff, like delegation, giving feedback, and training, coaching, motivating and developing other people becomes important and essential to getting the job done. Correcting, redirecting and sometimes disciplining also become essential. This is probably the most difficult thing for (new) managers or supervisors to do. This is where the transition breaks down. They cannot see themselves being in a management role having to correct or discipline a "co-worker". Sometimes the light bulb goes off when they are faced with being unable to do their job, to complete a project or other task, because one of their staff has not delivered as expected.

Becoming a role model. As managers we’re seen as role models. Whether we present a positive role model or a negative one is up to us, and we have to realize that we are in fact being watched by our employees. Before becoming managers didn’t we look at the person who was our manager and make judgments about the way he or she behaved? Did you never think, "Well, if I was a manager, I wouldn't do that."? Or, "Wow, this person's great. If I ever become a manager, I want to be just like that." People will look at us now and, based on our behavior, will make adjustments to the way they behave themselves. They'll look to us to set the standard for what's acceptable and what's expected. If you set the bar low, don't expect them to raise it.

Managers have to model the work performance, attendance, and conduct they expect from others. They need to show people what it means to have integrity, a strong work ethic, and a strong commitment to the organization’s mission and values. Practice what you preach … walk the talk.

Practice discretion. Often, as a manager, you have access to all kinds of confidential information. Being discreet can be difficult, especially with people you’ve known for a while. Managers should be open and honest, but need to remember there are boundaries. You simply can’t be discussing everything with your buddies.

A different way of contributing. Before becoming a manager or supervisor, their value to the organization was measured by what they, as individuals, could contribute. That contribution came via the quality and quantity of the work they were hired to do. As managers, their value to the organization is assessed differently. It’s no longer about how successful they are in what they do alone. Now it’s about how successful their team is because of what they do. They now have a different purpose of getting results through others. That can be scary. It means you have to rely on others to contribute to your success, and figure out how to cultivate the atmosphere that will result in their employees’ success.

A need for consistency and accountability. Rules and guidelines are only meaningful when they are followed and enforced. While employees must be told (and, really, want to be told) what the expectations will be, that’s only half the battle. Managers must then actually deliver on what they tell employees. They have to hold all the people accountable for following all the rules (boundaries) all the time. It’s critically important to address each policy, procedure, or behavioral conduct violation. The resulting consequences may vary somewhat depending on the circumstances, but what cannot vary is the practice of confronting issues. Allowing some things or some employees to slide is dangerous. You risk:

  • Creating an atmosphere where employees decide which rules are important and which ones can be "stretched" or ignored;
  • Exposing yourself, and therefore your company, to charges of favoritism or discrimination;
  • Losing the respect of the members of your team;
  • Possible legal issues resulting from failing to address problems or follow the law.

Talking about the expectations and boundaries is not enough; they must be consistently enforced as well. As an HR professional, I hit hard on these issues and always will. This is the stuff of which lawsuits and other legal penalties are made.

Whether new to the management/supervision role or not, understanding their new role and aligning themselves with their new peer group (management) is critical. A common mistake is thinking the relationships they had before with their co-workers are still the same. They must now remember they are responsible for directing their work and evaluating their performance. They may still be their equal, but they are no longer peers.

A new manager or supervisor should be taught how to respond to inappropriate or awkward requests that may come from former coworkers. They need to be taught how to evaluate performance and be aware of rater errors in the performance appraisal process so they don’t get caught in making biased evaluations. In short, new managers need training, too, so they can get busy training and developing their staff to accomplish their goals.

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