A potentially tricky situation arises when individuals whose first training or background is not administration or management, move into management positions. It’s the situation where teachers become principals; nurses become charge nurses or service managers; lecturers become heads of department; specialist practitioners become line managers, that sort of thing. For these individuals, the move to management can be like the curate’s egg – good and bad in parts – as there are some traps for the unsuspecting.A potentially tricky situation arises when individuals whose first training or background is not administration or management, move into management positions. It’s the situation where teachers become principals; nurses become charge nurses or service managers; lecturers become heads of department; specialist practitioners become line managers, that sort of thing. For these individuals, the move to management can be like the curate’s egg – good and bad in parts – as there are some traps for the unsuspecting.
A number of assumptions are often made about ‘management’ and ‘managing’. You may have already heard ‘you don’t need any particular skills or training to be a manager’; ‘anyone can manage’; ‘it’s an easy job – lots of meetings, sitting around – with the staff doing the real work’. These beliefs can create difficulties. For new-to-management-appointee, it can come as a real shock to find there is more to management than meets the eye and that particular strengths and skills are required. Individuals in transition into management roles do require particular support and assistance – even though they themselves may not recognise it at the time. So what are some of the traps?
Hook #1 – Learning by doing, takes time. The difficulty in getting up to speed over a period of time this is that generally, individuals are expected to be fully operational and ‘with it’, within a very short period of time…..if not immediately.
Have you ever heard new managers say that they were dropped into things from a great height and left to get on with it? It takes time to learn what the core management functions are and how to manage effectively within an organisations’ culture, climate and organisational norms. It takes time to learn how to manage staff, inherited situations and work in progress. It takes time to grasp the big picture role, the things that you can only get to see and experience when you have a position requiring broad oversight and control. It takes experience in the role to identify the issues that warrant a lot of attention and those that don’t.
Hook #2 – Work now, courses or coaching later. It so often happens that specific courses, seminars or one-on-one coaching that could be so useful early on in the role, may not be accessed until months or years later. Sometimes new managers are too busy to take time away from their workplace, albeit for a few hours at a time or a whole day or days. The difficulty with this approach is that some specific input, early on in the role, could be very beneficial. With the best will in the world, some mistakes can be made, or simple things made complex and time consuming, when people don’t know differently. The theory of ‘how to’ do and actually ‘doing’ it, can be different and difficult, so a timely, guiding hand can avoid a lot of work or stress.
Hook #3 – ‘On’ versus ‘in’ the business. Generally, the leap from working at one level to a higher one, is considerable. The vista changes almost immediately, requiring an individual to take a helicopter view and see all the component parts at the intervening levels and the interrelationships between the two….simultaneously. The leap requires shifting from working ‘in the business’ (hands-on doing at a practitioner level) to working ‘on the business’ – bigger picture stuff. It can be difficult leaving much-loved aspects of an old role, to others. It can be tempting to hold on to a few things, for old times sake however, if it’s not related to the new role, it must be left behind. Relationships between colleagues may also change, if a new manager is responsible for individuals who were previously their role-equal. That too, can take some getting to.
Hook #4 – Good in one area, but…….. The three general skill areas managers need include technical skills – the ability to perform a specialist task that involves a certain method or process; interpersonal and communication skills – human or people skills; and conceptual and decision making skills – the ability to recognise complex and dynamic issues, to examine the numerous and conflicting factors that influence these problems and to resolve such issues for the benefit of the organisation. Additionally too, there are the other cornerstone management functions of planning, organising, staffing, leading, controlling (monitoring, taking corrective action), to mention just a few. Being skilled in one area, doesn’t automatically mean management skills exist (at all) or exist at the same level of expertise as skills in another area.
These potentially tricky situations are best avoided. Don’t assume that individuals who have expertise and skills in one area will automatically have expertise and skills in ‘management’ and ‘managing’. Provide support and guidance for individuals making the management leap by providing tailor-made, one-to-one management coaching; by encouraging attendance at relevant courses – when needed – and by providing meaningful, ongoing support and guidance.
First Published in NZBusiness August 2001