The Engineer to Manager Transition - 5 Key Issues

engineer to manager Jan 06, 2020

(This article is an edited extract from the free guide, ‘From Engineer to Manager – 8 Key success Factors’)

You know the story. Someone, who is very good at their job and generally well-liked and respected, gets appointed to a position where they are now managing a small team of peers. Everything can start out so well and, at first, it can seem like a new and exciting challenge. Most of the time though, this transition is handled badly and many companies recognise this as perhaps one of the most difficult people development issues. Google, in an extensive multi-year review of management development practice called 'Project Oxygen' highlighted that one of the most significant management problems is when 'fantastic individual contributors are promoted to managers without the necessary skills to lead people'.

It's important to understand what typically goes wrong in order to fully understand why it's so important to actively do something about it. If we don’t understand the underlying causes, then we are more likely to keep repeating the same mistakes. So many solutions are essentially temporary or ineffective because the underlying causes are not dealt with.

Here are 5 key issues:

1. Not letting go of the old job

When your identity and the reason you were promoted is based on your technical competence it is inevitable that you may hold on to the security blanket of your old job. However, this not only gets in the way of doing the job you should be doing but can result in destructive and damaging behaviour such as micro-managing and overload through a failure to delegate appropriately.

2. Developing an ineffective management style

Without appropriate help, new managers are prone to try and behave like their manager or what they perceive to be the management style of their organisation. This can be a huge mistake.

Without a doubt, the best managers and leaders develop a style that fits their strengths and have strategies that cover the weaknesses. By trying to be something that doesn't fit their personal preferences new managers can put themselves under tremendous personal stress which can lead to a range of dysfunctional behaviour. The best management development practice will first help the individual understand their own personal preferences and then, from there, help them work on development priorities.

3. Assuming everyone operates the same way

Even if an individual does understand their own personal preferences they also need to understand and appreciate, the many differences of the people that they work with. Often new managers assume that everyone either does (or should) think and behave as they do. This can be the cause of quite a traumatic personal transition as their tried and tested behaviour starts to get in the way. In taking on the management of people they can suddenly find themselves experiencing all sorts of resistance when they fail to take into account other people's preferences. This is one of the great challenges and joys of management - how to get the most out of individual contributors who have a very different outlook and approach.

4. Not asking for help

A new manager or leader will often feel like they've been promoted because they have all the answers to the current problems of the team. In fact, the whole interview and selection process may accidentally reinforce this, i.e., they may have been asked what approach they will take if given the role and being given the role implies that their answer is the right answer. This is an unconscious and unintentional trap. Management is a daily onslaught of problems to solve and the best-laid plans will regularly hit the reality buffers. A new manager will often feel like they should have all the answers and subsequently feel like a failure if they ask for help. Again, this can lead to a great deal of stress and dysfunctional behaviour that can affect both work and personal life.

5. Off-the-shelf development approaches don’t work

The first reaction in many organisations is to provide training. This often unintentionally makes the problem worse unless managed very carefully. Training naturally focuses on skills development to fill a perceived behavioural gap. That sounds pretty sensible. But the reality is that much training fails to add value because it doesn’t operate at the level of beliefs and values, i.e., what the person believes about themselves and what value they place on the skills and behaviours being taught.

Take, for example, Presentation Skills training. Many tricks and much ‘best practice’ may be taught. However, if a person still doesn't believe that they have as much right as anyone to be a good presenter, or value presenting as a skill that takes practice and is worth rehearsing and learning, then they are left with a bag of tools that they are still unable to use confidently. In fact, you may end up in a worse position – knowing you know what to do but still lacking the self-belief to do it.

If you recognise these 5 issues you may want to know what to do about. To find out get the free guide 'From Engineer to Manager - 8 Key Success Factors'.


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