Self-confidence for transition

Published:  04 February, 2015

The majority of capable engineers are expected to climb the corporate ladder during their career, yet less than half of companies have a formal management training programme and a third are expected to learn on the job. Neil Lewin, learning & development consultant at Festo Training & Consulting reports.

The downside of a hierarchical organisation is the presumption that you have to climb the corporate ladder. With well-defined career progression, those who chose to stay in a specialist role and not develop into a more senior position with people responsibilities are often deemed a failure. Yet, should we really be expecting people who are excellent engineers to transition easily to be excellent people managers? Are these two skills complementary or do they actually create stress and pressure exactly at the point when it is least needed?

We know that the UK suffers from a lack of skilled engineers. In a recent survey Festo undertook, 61% of 102 manufacturers said they suffered from skills shortages of experienced engineers, and 57% lacked skilled shop floor positions.

On the other hand, there was a lack of middle and senior management for 26% of organisations and leadership responsible positions for 24%. So organisations are in a quandary. An outcome is that to satisfy the career aspirations of their people, organisations often fill management and leadership roles by promoting from within or recruiting first time managers externally with the right technical skills.

This can be a successful strategy. Obviously, internal promotions reduce cost, increase retention and satisfy career progression opportunities. What is worrying though is that 29% of organisations expect their first time managers to learn people management skills on the job. While some organisations provide one or two-day managerial training courses consistent support is often non-existent.

Equally, organisations must recognise that people management skills need to be developed and supported. Research from the Institute of Management and Leadership found that 93% of managers were concerned that low levels of management skills are having an impact on their business goals. There is a recognition of this issue. Festo’s research showed that 85% say that the lack of management skills is a very important management issue for their business.

A three-stage transition for managers

Managers and leaders tend to fall into one of three categories. The aim of the organisation should be to support their managers to move effectively through and between these three stages.

1. Tell.

First time people managers often rely on this approach. They explain what needs to be done in terms of tasks and processes. They react to the needs of the employee.

The focus is on monitoring and reporting performance. However, skilled people managers will use this approach when dealing with a performance management issue and where processes need to be in place to improve an individual’s performance.

The downside is when managers rely on consistently telling their people what needs to be done. This is because you rarely have to tell people things once. The employee ceases to think for himself or herself and instead relies on immediate and constant direction. This is frustrating for the manager, and can quickly manifest as a dictatorial approach. It is not a sustainable or satisfactory approach in the long-term. In our research, a main cause of stress for managers is the constant demand on their time from others.

2. Sell.

The second stage of management development is where managers and leaders have the skills to sell their ideas, goals and aspirations for the individual and the organisation.

Managers who use this approach will encourage the employee, asking them to think for themselves and explain ‘why’ they need help and support. Instead of relying on tasks and procedures, managers will focus on people and their emotions.

They will involve their people in decisions and empower them to make changes. They will also expect and recognise performance and enable their team to deliver results. Leaders and managers who are equipped with these skills will be the ones who build teams, instigate change and deliver results.

3. Ask.

This is the manager as coach, yet not everyone is a natural coach. Coaching creates an environment where employees are unshackled by organisational hierarchy, micro-management and a dictatorial management style. Coaching empowers the employee to have constructive conversations and to perform in a culture that supports the individual to achieve personal and organisational objectives.

The manager as coach will work one-to-one where they consistently ask the employee to reflect on his or her own performance and how it can be improved.

This approach builds self-esteem and sets a great precedent for good people management. It is about seeing the potential in people, helping them to decide on a future direction and empowering them to solve issues.

However, a coaching culture does not happen overnight and requires a substantive long-term shift in the skills of managers.

How to be an effective manager

Here are 10 steps for a manager to successfully transition to a leadership position:

1. Understand your role – An effective manager brings people together to promote creativity, improve performance and support collaboration to deliver consistently strong results and high levels of engagement.

2. Remember that all eyes are on you – An effective manager does not have the attitude of ‘do as I say not do as I do’. They should lead by example. If managers are disengaged and demotivated, their attitude and behaviour is likely to be reflected in the team and their performance.

3. Accept that you don’t have all the answers – An effective manager is open to ideas, contributions and suggestions from all members of their team. No feedback and suggestion should be dismissed; instead it paves the way for a two-way, constructive discussion.

4. Know when to back off – An effective manager allows their team members to do their jobs, and shows faith in their people. They should be on hand to manage the team, but employees will perform to a higher level if they believe their manager has confidence in their ability.

5. Get ready to get stuck in – An effective manager realises they can energise and engage their team if they show they’re prepared to get involved and get the job done, which is particularly important at times when the team needs to meet tough deadlines or targets. This doesn’t mean the manager getting bogged down in the ‘day to day’ work, but does mean being sensitive to the pressures and needs of their people.

6. Be prepared to coach your people – An effective manager helps their people to learn and develop. Although deep down they may have the attitude of ‘if you want something doing properly, do it yourself’, it’s important managers support their team to learn and perform to the best of their ability.

7. Appreciate the responsibility that comes with your role – An effective manager will need to take tough decisions. Whether managing performance or conflict, a manager will need to have a strategy in place to identify issues and negotiate a balanced, swift and lasting resolution, should the need arise.

8. Communicate in a variety of ways – An effective manager encourages open, two-way communication within their team. Their team needs to know they are approachable, prepared to listen and willing to offer constructive, reasoned responses. In addition to face-to-face verbal communication, managers will need to use other channels including virtual and electronic communications, as well as reading non-verbal messages from their people.

9. Reward and recognise your team – An effective manager invests time finding out the personal ‘needs’ of each team member so they know what motivates and what doesn’t. Managers can then use this understanding to recognise or ‘reward’ individual accomplishments based on the needs of the individual. There are many ways to reward performance and some of the best ones can cost nothing!

10. Have one eye on the future – An effective manager looks to the future of the team and the organisation they’re working for. Whether it’s developing talent within the team or offering people opportunities to develop new skills, an effective team leader isn’t afraid of nurturing new leadership talent.

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