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I Didn’t Sign Up For This – Making the Move to Management

Today’s guest blog is submitted by Jay Steffensmeier, an Assessment Scientist at Kronos.  He writes here about the challenges of making the transition from individual contributor to manager.

Catching up with a friend over dinner brought about the usual conversation of news, friends, family, and jobs. He was lamenting a recent career move from an individual contributor role to the lead role of his team. While excited, he also found himself in a bit of a pickle: what made him successful in his previous role didn’t really translate to his new role. For instance, he found himself mired in office politics that he could watch from afar when he wasn’t the manager. Trying to advocate for his team and resources was completely new to him. He also had the added responsibility to not let his former teammates down who were once his buddies and now were his employees.

For the uninitiated, the management track can seem like the golden ticket to so much more…more power, more money, more prestige. In many companies, it is the main conduit by which you move up through the organization. What may go unnoticed (until it’s staring you in the face, that is) is that you now have to tackle completely new challenges and there are new problems to solve. Scariest of all is that you are going to need to learn new methods and skills in order to be as good at your new role as you were at your old one. And if you don’t want to be a manager, trying to fill the role can result in you being dissatisfied and the company being dissatisfied with you.

Our conversation turned to the inevitable: college football. That week, University of Illinois was playing Northwestern University in historic Wrigley field. As an idea, this sounds like a great one. Wrigley Field is the home of the Chicago Cubs and had not seen a football game played there in 40 years. In reality, it wasn’t such a good fit. In fact, it was such a bad fit that the fundamentals of the game had to be changed to meet the new digs: Each team would run their offense toward the same end zone. The second end zone was deemed unsafe for play due to it being too near the outfield wall. Oops. We realized his management conundrum wasn’t all that dissimilar to trying to cram a football field into a baseball park.

So what does all of this mean? It depends on where you sit. For the company, it means making sure to hire or promote someone who can excel at leading others, not just the person who has been the most successful in doing the work. For the aspiring manager, it means taking a deep look at whether you want to move away from the work that has made you a success and into new territory. It can be exciting, it can be daunting, and it could be the career move you’ve been looking for…In football, as in life, just make sure you know what you are signing up for.

Have you made this transition yourself or promoted others into management for the first time?  What does it take to make this transition successfully?

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  1. This points out something else — not everyone is cut out to be a manager. Unfortunately, too many career paths reach a point where moving into management is the only way to increase one’s compensation any more.

    Yes, sometimes people would be better served staying in the role that they are good at rather than taking the management leap. The trick for the organization is to find ways to make their work more relevant, more challenging, and better aligned with the needs of the company.

    Management isn’t for everybody. I’ve seen far too many people who were great individual contributors crash and burn because they had made the mistake of moving into management. Some just don’t make the transition, and the trick is to give them the ability to return to their former duties, without prejudice, if the new management position just turns out to be a poor fit.

    December 8, 2010
  2. Sue Meisinger #

    I think that one of the big mistakes organizations make when someone is promoted for the first time is that they fail to have a conversation with the new manager about time allocation. The organization has to help new managers understand that part of their time should now be dedicated to, well, managing. New managers often think that they should continue to be as productive as individual contributors, but have just added management to their job duties. Organizations have to give new managers space and time and guidance on the new reality: Managing will take time; it’s not an add on.

    December 8, 2010
  3. Jay,
    I agree the move from individual contributor to manager is one of the biggest and most difficult transitions in a career. HR shouldn’t simply hope it works out; this is an area where a little coaching or the use of support groups will have a big payoff.

    December 8, 2010
  4. Karen Brennan-Holton #

    I agree that everyone is not cut out to be a manager but many feel overly preasured to make the move becuase they do not see another career path which allows them to grow and continue to be challenged. Organizations have to find ways to create more “career landing points” that support individual contributors and allow them to continue to grow and be challenged. The one challenge people will have is that landing points may be perceived as less valuable to the company which in many sitations is not the case. This will be a fundamental shift for some organizations and a mindshift for people as it will be a change in the typical career path.

    December 10, 2010
  5. Dave Almeda #

    The great thing about the challenges associated with moving an employee into a manager role for the first time is that virtually all organizations have it. Organizations / HR folks don’t need to plow much new ground here beyond determining what solution that will likely be the most effective for their specific organization. The principle of adopt first, adapt second and invent only as a last resort really seems to fit here. This type of challenge reinforces the need for HR practitioners to constantly be aware of best practices in our space.

    December 10, 2010

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