You’re good at your job and suddenly find yourself promoted to manager because of your enthusiasm and dedication. But you’re now the boss of a group of people who were your workmates. What does it take to survive this difficult transition into management? Jane Breush reports.
Moving out of a peer group and into management takes guts, determination and a very thick skin, say managers who have made the leap. It also involves a wider perspective and a good deal of self-awareness. Honesty and a sense of humour won’t go astray either.
For people with these qualities, this particular move into management will be less traumatic and they will probably mark themselves out as candidates for future promotions too. It will be a different story for those who haven’t yet developed those skills.
Some of the needed skills – such as self-awareness, an altered perspective of the workplace, and even the thick skin – can be developed through training and experience. Others, like interpersonal skills, can be such an ingrained part of the personality that they cannot be improved.
This is one of the problems that is often overlooked in any promotion to management, but can be particularly crucial to the success of a person promoted out of peer group.
These people are often singled out because they have proven their technical skills, demonstrated their flexibility, shown a capacity to fulfill their obligations, and have taken the lead when asked or simply because it needed to be done.
But often these attributes do not translate into good management skills.
“There needs to be a continuing understanding by people who make these decisions that technical expertise doesn’t necessarily translate into good management expertise,” says Lori Berston, Managing Consultant at Melbourne-based specialist services provider to the insurance and risk management industries, Bercham Management Services.
“What happens then is you end up with people who are desperately unhappy in their management roles.”
Troy McGilvery, General Manager of The CyberInstitute agrees, saying self-awareness is the key to avoiding this problem.
“Behaviours can be changed but personalities can’t be,” he says. “Prior to stepping up, it’s important to understand your own personality. If you do that, you might be able to say you’re not the right person for the role or be prepared to work around it.”
McGilvery and Blake Dawson Waldron Business Development Manager Anne Gately, who have both experienced a promotion into management from a peer group, say finding a good mentor is absolutely crucial to making this transition as smooth as possible.
“I certainly think it’s a case of seeking a mentor or actively seeking opportunities to be mentored; and to find people that you can seek advice from that is objective and mature and from people who aren’t playing out political machinations using you as a puppet,” says Gately.
“I know in my own experience that training and professional development over a long period does work, but some of the best interventions have been by mentors who actually suggest approaching it a different way.
“I think that mentoring in that situation is probably more effective than training.”
Strong support from the executive level will also ease the process, particularly when it comes to helping the new manager to deal with problems encountered in the attitude of their former colleagues.
Performance management can be one of the most formidable aspects of the role for a manager who has previously worked as part of the team. Managers in this position often feel that they don’t want to let their old workmates down and therefore, find it difficult to judge them honestly at review time. This needs to be addressed as soon as possible if a manager is to succeed in the position and formal training can help here.
Formal training can also help a new manager with other necessary skills such as strategic planning and communication techniques and it should be offered as soon as possible.
“My view would be that the training should be had before they step into that role,” Lori Berston says. “It’s a bit silly to let people go through a traumatic transition and then teach them how to do it better and in the meantime, everyone has had to cope with the upset, work practices have suffered and tempers have frayed.”
Margaret Locke, General Manager, Management Recruiters Australia, believes that new managers should tread carefully during the early stages of their appointment to ensure that they gain respect from the team.
“A certain amount of respect must also be allocated to the ways things were done, before they go about implementing change, otherwise team members may think that you are changing things for the sake of stamping your authority.
“The old formula: forming, norming, storming, performing applies to all team changes and the appointment of new management is no different. It is also essential to be seen to facilitate change for the good of all, rather than dictate change. A former peer group will certainly resent a dictatorial style of management.”
Dr Robert Heath, Associate Professor in Strategic Management, The International Graduate School of Management, Division of Business and Enterprise at the University of South Australia, says making a smooth transition to a management position depends on two critical factors: “the type of workplace relationships previously held by the promoted person, and the cognitive changes adopted by the promoted person, and by those who were workplace mates or colleagues.”
Dr Heath says if the promoted person’s peers (a) recognise the role change and feel comfortable that all players have the credibility and skills to manage, and (b) have a stable corporate culture, then the transition is likely to be smooth once past the short period of estrangement that comes from the role change.
If, however, the environment is not stable or credibility is low, or the change in inter-relating is not accepted, then awkwardness leading to friction will probably arise, Dr Heath says.
“On one level, therefore, newly promoted people need to remain consistent with their existing personality and make time to allow all parties to again re-establish predictability, patience, consistency, [with] no abrupt changes in espoused attitude and treatment. On another level, bosses need to establish their respect for their co-workers.
“This may be difficult should others feel passed over or that they have been used by the promoted person. Here, genuine respect and focus on common goals can help ease the re-establishment of roles and workplace interrelationships,” Dr Heath says.
“The key point is to be actively aware that relationships and attitudes are in the process of changing during the transition period (six to 18 months).
“As a boss, one needs to remember that you are likely to be increasingly powerful in the sense of directing who does what and also the knowledge – corporate and personal – held about your staff. There may even be an awkwardness because your former peers may feel you know them too well and feel vulnerable to that knowledge,” Dr Heath says.
He says the newly promoted manager needs to become trusted in the confidentiality of that knowledge and in the fairness and appropriateness with which corporate and personal information about staff is used.
“Respect is based on fair treatment, being credible in the job (not, for example, excusing poor performance on newness in job or scapegoating others by deflecting blame), and by rebuilding predictable (hopefully positive) relationships in which former peers establish trust in your fairness, approachability, and capacity to protect them from the ravages of upper management and the outside world,” Dr Heath says.
Dr Heath said new managers should not chill friendships but should not be seen as continuing socially unequal strong friendships with some of the team as the rest of the team may resent this.
Jane Breusch is a Brisbane-based freelance writer.
Anne Gately from Blake Dawson Waldron
Anne Gately was 28 years old when she was promoted out of her team at the New South Wales Department of Education and into her first management role.
Significantly younger than the colleagues who were now her staff, Gately found the transition lonely and describes that period of her life as extremely distressing and disturbing.
“I was far and away younger than they were, I was certainly less experienced than they were, but I was better educated and that made the difference,” she says.
“I was told in the first few months of being in that management job that the only thing I was interested in was power. I found that very confronting and very upsetting and I found that people used all sorts of covert strategies to undermine me. I found it very isolating.”
Gately turned to contacts and friends in other businesses and jobs for advice and was fortunate to find that she had two or three very strong mentors within the department.
“They chose me as much as I chose them,” she says. “I didn’t do it consciously, but I gravitated towards these people and they were very generous.”
She also put herself through a comprehensive management reading program.
“I spent quite a bit of time on my own, working out what my key messages were, doing a lot of writing and thinking and mind mapping. It was virtually like rehearsing,” she says.
Gately, who took two years to come to terms with her new role, advises anyone in a similar situation to find a mentor and to have confidence in his or her ability.
“You can have some really scary times and some dark and lonely nights, but if you really think you can do it, then you can.”
Troy McGilvery from TheCyberInstitute
Troy McGilvery likens the move out of peer group and into management to giving a presentation to a group of people you know well. It is much easier to give a presentation to a group of people you have never met before, he says.
“It’s a lot more difficult to move from peer group manager to team leader/manager within the one environment than it ever is to move from one office to another because the pre-expectation is there of what you are like and how you work and what your skills are,” he says.
“Probably what’s the most important and the most difficult thing is to work out how to step back from being the technical person you used to be,
to actually being able to manage that team.”
McGilvery says it is important to be able to put your own pride aside.
“It’s not about how you deal with things and what specific achievements you’ve made: it’s about the team and helping them to achieve,” he says. “That, for me, was probably one of the hardest things to learn and I still get challenged by that on a day-to-day basis.”
- Remember you are the boss
- Deal with problematic staff immediately
- Be honest
- Don’t avoid the tough decisions
- Seek a mentor
- Self-awareness is important – know your strengths and weaknesses
- Invest in a sense of humour
- Believe in yourself