I cannot tell you how many times I have worked with a client who has told me some sort of story about how they promote from within, but have a problem with the supervisors and/or managers not being able to let go of wanting to do the technical work instead of managing the technical work. It is not hard to understand. People get into a field because of their interests or passion, rarely for their desire to manage others.
An organization’s challenge is to either create technical career opportunities or help those who are technically proficient to successfully move into management. But how? Here are some tips:
- Clearly identify the skill sets required of managers and note how different they are from those required of technical workers. One of the places I would start is with Delegation and Holding People Accountable.
- Make the management skill sets part of your internal recruitment AND learning and development process.
- Require internal candidates to demonstrate management skills before being promoted through an assessment center or other valid selection process.
- Start people at an appropriate management level, regardless of how technically proficient they are.
While I’m not one to think that sports are necessarily a good analogy for the business world, I found this article to be an exception. It describes how John Elway,
a multiple Super Bowl winning quarterback with the Denver Broncos, learned management skills from the ground up. He wasn’t made a Vice President of the team after he retired. Rather, he honed his business skills in another field and then transferred them to a low level of football. It wasn’t until he demonstrated success there that he was giving the big opportunity. The time spent out of the spotlight clearly led to many learning experiences.
What makes the story powerful is the understanding that while there were some technical skills which would translate for him from the field to the front office, Elway (and his bosses) understood that others would have to be learned. The organization was willing to let him take the time to learn how to manage and lead in a non-technical role.
The lessons for the rest of us are that:
- Management skills are different from technical ones (e.g., the best sales person is not necessarily the best sales manager). We can use valid tools to identify which of our technical experts possess them.
- Management development is a journey, as is the acquisition of any skill set.