What went wrong? We promote great people because they’re really good at what they do. Then far too often we watch as they crash and burn. Here are three examples where we failed our newly promoted manager by not providing the training and coaching needed for success…
Tom was fantastic with customers, he always asked the right questions, explored the right issues, delivered great results for both the company and our customers. He was a star in our customer service department. So, when it came time to name a new manager for the department, we turned to Tom. He was thrilled with the promotion! And filled with ideas about how the department could be better than ever.
Four months later, we’re having a serious conversation about firing him.
- Two women in his department have raised sexual harassment complaints.
- Another person has complained that Tom is overbearing, can’t be satisfied, and micro-manages.
- We’ve received a letter from the attorney of a fourth employee in his department claiming retaliation taking time off due to a medical condition.
What happened to our star employee? Tom is dumbfounded and depressed. He doesn’t know what’s happened either. He just wants to do a great job and thinks he’s been very dedicated to meeting the company’s expectations.
The Sexual Harassment Complaint: Tom says he’s not treating anyone any differently than he did before as a member of the team. With the women, he says that they always joked around and had a good laugh in the years before. Everyone joined in and no one ever took any offense. He just wants to continue as a member of the team like always. Why should anything be any different? He hasn’t changed and what he’s doing with everyone hasn’t changed.
Tom hasn’t changed, but his position has. And his new positional authority as the manager changes his relationship with his former peers regardless of his wishes and intentions. We have walked Tom through the looking glass and there is no return. What used to be fine for a colleague, a peer, to do, is no longer received the same way from the Boss. Over the years, I’ve seen many managers caught by this. They assume that because they are the same person they’ve always been (in their minds), and because they want to be friends with their team mates, that nothing has changed. But the relationship and how those former peers perceive Tom has changed fundamentally. He’s now the Boss and his positional authority that we’ve given to him changes everything. Tom just didn’t understand how material that change is to how his former peers will now interpret what he says and what he does.
The Overbearing Micro-Managing Complaint: Tom acknowledges he has high standards. Now that it’s “his” department, he wants it to be the best. He knows how it should be done, so he’s ensuring the team does everything perfectly.
Tom needs to learn the skills of managing and of adapting to what his employees truly need from him, as their supervisor, to accelerate their performance and success. Tom’s natural tendency is to “do it himself” and, in the absence of being able to do it himself, it’s to get as close to that as possible by observing and telling in great detail so the result is as if he’d done it himself. In the process, he drives to distraction the team member who has been doing this quite successfully already for many years. For a “newbie,” Tom’s very directive, hands-on style, may feel very supportive. For an experienced performer, Tom’s style feels overbearing and micro-managing.
The Retaliation Complaint: Tom says that the employee was out of work for 4 weeks and the team took on an extra burden to cover for this employee. It’s only fair that the extended hours work be picked up by this employee in compensation to the rest of the team’s extra burden while she was out.
The most frequent legal challenge that generates lawsuits that companies lose is that of “Retaliation.” An employee exercises a legally protected right, and then receives adverse treatment in return. In this case, the employee’s time away may have been protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Supervisors cannot treat someone differently because they exercised their rights. The employee is protected. Different treatment (in this case, an expectation to pay back other members of the team who had to carry a heavier workload for a time) may be retaliation. Retaliation claims carry very significant penalties and companies rarely win these.
The root of the problem today is not Tom, it’s the failure to provide Tom with training on the knowledge and skills needed to be effective as a manager.
The role of a manager is very different than that of an individual contributor. We too often take great individual contributors and just assume they will be great managers. Well…, how will they know what to do? How will they know the legal minefields in their way? How will they know how differently their former co-workers will perceive them once we’ve placed the mantle of authority on them by naming them a manager?
So here is the challenge for business owners: We need to assess what our managers need to be effective, and we need provide them the training and coaching that accelerates their success. To simply ASSUME that great individual contributors who excel at doing the job will be successful supervising others is a dereliction of our responsibility to assure the success of our organizations. .
Read about The Critical 8 Skills Every Manager Needs to be successful. Contact me if you need help in your organization.
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