Why new managers encounter trouble

May 15 2014 by Dan Bobinski Print This Article

Before placing someone in the role of a supervisor or manager, a few questions must be answered. Is the person you're promoting ready for the position? If not, are you willing to do what it takes to equip that person for the job? If you answer "no" to both questions, you're asking for trouble.

Managers wear many hats. First, they have the difficult job of being a translator. When those at the leadership level are flying at 40,000 feet, they've got the big picture in front of them. They're looking around at the forests and looking out at the horizon. After deciding the best direction for the company, they set goals and communicate those goals to the managers.

Managers must not only be able to interpret those goals accurately, they must be able to translate them and dice them up into specific action-items for the front line employees working among the trees in the forest.

That's not always an easy job. Many leaders forget what it's like to work among the trees. And, most front-line employees have not been up in the leadership airplane, looking around at 40,000 feet. For that matter, most managers don't spend much time flying at that level, either.

Still, managers must correctly interpret the vision told them by those in leadership, translate it into manageable pieces, and delegate tasks accordingly.

To make their job even more challenging, many managers remain responsible for large amounts of non-managerial work. Recent research by the Emerge Leadership Group has found that some managers spend as much as 85 percent of their time doing production work. Clearly, this does not allow them to be effective in their managerial role.

Perhaps the worst dilemma for managers is getting placed in a supervisory role without any training for how to do it well. For some reason, the idea persists that front line employees who excel can be placed in management or supervisory positions and they will do equally well.

That's rarely the case without help.

People placed in management roles must become translators, delegators, motivators, trainers, mediators, planners, listeners, organizers, problem-solvers, example-setters, cheerleaders, budgeters, ambassadors, regulators, counselors, and more, all while remaining diligent workers.

With little-to-no training for these responsibilities, it's next to impossible for new managers to succeed. This is why even after five years, fewer than a quarter of people promoted to supervisor or manager positions have successfully transitioned into the role.

What's more, the Emerge Leadership Group says in the past three years, that proportion has gotten even worse. They found that between 2005 and 2008, the percentage of people who have successfully transitioned to management positions dropped from 25 percent to just 16 percent.

So here's a suggestion: Put ongoing training in place. A one-day class will not cut it. For that matter, a one week class will not cut it. Ongoing, intermittent management training with feedback and coaching gives managers a way to learn, practice, and improve their efficiency and effectiveness as they progress.

Afraid of the cost? I've heard way too many business owners express concerns that they'll pay for someone to become a better manager and then that person will leave. But a Chief Financial Officer of a major regional bank has a great perspective to counter that concern. He once told me, "what's the cost of not investing in them - and having them stay?"

Consider what happened to Karen. She had a long history of success in her tech position at an aerospace technology firm. Shortly after her promotion to supervisor, she attended a highly-regarded two-week management training class. Just like in her technical position, she excelled in the training class and received high marks from the instructor.

Unfortunately, not long after returning to work Karen began criticizing and nitpicking her staff for minor issues. She was unable to separate real issues from trivial matters. She wrote people up for small infractions, she acted indifferently to employee concerns, and didn't spend much time in training, planning, or organizing. Much of her days were spent going over each team member's work with a fine tooth comb, sending projects back for correction.

Within seven months, five people from her team had requested transfers, and two simply found work elsewhere and quit. The staff that remained had lost all respect for her. Although complaints had been filed, neither HR nor Karen's immediate supervisor did any counseling, coaching, or mentoring with her. After a year, senior management decided Karen wasn't cutting it and fired her.

This was patently unfair to Karen, and it's certainly not the way to help your organization succeed. As I indicated up front, if you're not willing to do what it takes to equip a person for a job you promote them into, you're asking for trouble.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Daniel Bobinski teaches teams and individuals how to use emotional intelligence and how to create high impact training. Heís also a best-selling author, a popular speaker, and he loves helping teams and individuals achieve workplace excellence

Older Comments

I love this article, this is exactly what happened to me. My boss made me a Supervisor and he never game the support that I needed. He had one Supervisor that he always gave the support and I guess he wanted the rest of the Supervisors to be like her favorite Sup without any training or motivation. My boss never knew what couching, and motivation were all about. He always talked about that but never shared what he knew with everyone.

angelina Naperville IL

Sadly, it's all too true that new managers rarely get the training they need right from the start. It seems employers think management skills are in their DNA. It's also true that those one-shot, one-day 'training' programs rarely work. Managers need to learn about one aspect at a time, and have time to put that learning into practice before moving on to the next. Focusing on one subject still leaves them time and energy to do the job while learning the skills.

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