Your People

Recently, I was speaking with a manager in my organization. He said something which I hand’t heard in a while, but was once a common refrain in my own early managerial career. “Sometimes it gets to the point where it’s just easier to do it myself.”

Promoting the “Best”

This is a managerial mistake that is shockingly common. We all know the old refrain, “never promote your best salesman”. The reason for that is pretty straightforward — if you promote him, you’ve just lost your best source of revenue; and simultaneously, sales skills and managerial skills are different, and people who are truly great at sales are rarely great at management. While it is, of course, true that there are phenomenal salespeople who are equally phenomenal managers, this is not the norm.

In operations, that same maxim is rarely followed; and when it isn’t, you normally get one of two outcomes. Either you promote someone who wasn’t great in his line job, and you end up with the staff wondering why the less qualified person got promoted; or you promote someone who’s great at his job, and get the above type of comment from the newly promoted manager. It’s very natural. He was the best at the job, and he now has to manage people who, definitionally, can’t do it as well as him.

Just as with sales people, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes you promote someone who is great in his role, and he turns out to be even better at management. But I think we’ve all seen this enough to know that it’s a reasonably frequent outcome that the newly promoted manager isn’t as good at management as he was at doing his previous job. The question is, what do you do about it?

Enabling The Best in Your People

Before I answer that question directly, let me back up a second and tell another anecdote. Not too long ago, I stepped in to manage a nation-wide organization in Germany. At one point, my executive assistant came to me and told me she had just completed her degree in business and was interested in doing something in HR. At the time, our HR manager was doing the job part time, and managing some engineers part time. I sat down and spoke with both people for an extended period of time. It become obvious both that the one desirous of being an HR manager was going to be great at it, and that the one currently doing it would be much happier if he no longer had to do so. Six months later, she had been promoted to run HR for 4 EU countries, and he had recovered a client on the edge and motivated the engineering team to a point they hadn’t been in years.

Now, to return to the original question — the point of the above story is not that you should always ask employees what they want to do and then put them in those roles; rather, it’s that you should always be coaching, and always looking to have the right people in the right roles. Our recently promoted manager got promoted for a reason. Presumably someone (maybe you) thought he was going to excel at this new job. The story wasn’t about his employees for whom he wanted to do the work, it was about you and him.

When you put someone into a new role, he’s going to make mistakes. If you put him in that role, it’s your job to coach him. One of the best lessons my first boss taught me was that the most important thing a manager can do is cultivate his bench strength. Your job as a manager is to make sure you have the best people, and then take care of those people. When you see an opportunity to change roles in a way that will benefit both the employees and the company, take it! When you see someone making a mistake, coach him! If you do those two things consistently, you’ll end up with a great team and a deep bench. You and your people be ready to propel your company and your career to the next level!


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