Why Experts Fail in Transitioning to Management – And What to Do About it.

For high performing experts in any field, there comes a time when you get promoted to the end of the expert pipeline.

The choices are simple: stay put and received accolades as you continue to perform at the top levels with little effort – at least until you start getting bored – or take a “promotion” and manage the division you currently work in or one alongside you.

For many leaders this question leads to sleepless nights, arguments with spouses and lost lunch breaks poking at food with forks pondering what the future could look like.

The fact is that managing a business unit or division of an organization is very different than working as part of the division. The skills required are greatly different. While expert knowledge and skill will be useful in understanding the solutions, products, and value that can be created, that knowledge without necessary management skills will fail to deliver.

There are three major questions to tackle in exploring why this recurring problem keeps happening:

  • One. Why do we seek to promote experts in the management?
  • Two. Why is there such a high attrition rate among expert-managers?
  • Three. What can we do to support our top talent in their new role as a manager?

Let’s take these one at a time.

One. Why do we seek to promote experts into management?

Simple. We know them. We can trust them. They know the business unit. There may be other reasons but these three seem to always be mentioned. There’s something be argued was already knowing that the candidate is a good fit for the organization and has demonstrated at least some amount of loyalty in working their way up the ladder. This is the “safe bet” system of leadership development.

Two. Why is there such a high attrition rate among expert-managers?

Those who excel in implementation and practice do so based on a set of skills, experience, and intuition that has been developed based on the combination of those. This is an extremely valuable asset to an organization and one that makes the high-performer feel like they are in “the zone” much of the time. Consistently on or ahead of deadline and always with high quality performance, these employee superstars got to their status by making business owners feel assured things are in safe hands.

This set of assets – while useful in execution – does not transfer to planning, strategy, and human resource management. What ensues is frustration, anger, a drop in confidence, withdrawal or anger. Given the employee’s high marks in their previous roles, they may not have the skills to handle the downturn and manage the emotions and frustrations of their new reality.

Frequently the solution they come up with is to transfer back to their old role, humbled and demoralized – likely never to achieve the performance levels they previously had. Others leave the company, assuming the failure was on the part of the organization and was not their fault. They wind up at competitors or in an adjacent field where they recapture their strength.

Three. What can we do to support our top talent in their new role as a manager?

Organizations that seek to build from internal power-performers and keep top talent need to follow a five-step plan:

Develop a learning culture. While many strive for perfection, it has its limitations. If we define “perfect”, then we accept the fact we cannot improve, learn, or get better. A culture of perfection will soon become a culture of stagnation. Over time this will lead to a business that will fail to compete.

By creating excitement and expectation of learning and bettering ourselves and the organization, business not only accept that employees are not perfect, they encourage them to constantly improve. Failures are opportunities for growth, top performers continually reach new heights – not just in the organization – but in the industry. Businesses with a learning culture benefit from greater internal collaboration instead of competition, higher morale and employee engagement, and increased retention levels.

Recognize areas of growth opportunity. Employees should be encouraged to share and explore areas where they can grow. This is especially true for those moving from operational-area experts to managers. With a supportive organization, an employee who believes self-improvement is fundamental and valued will have a greater chance of succeeding. They will be more likely to engage in the work and – like most high performers – will actually thrive in building their skills and assets. Encouraging new leaders to explore these areas of growth instead of hiding them will go a long way to retaining and growing leaders internally.

Support through ongoing training and coaching. Organizations without internal coaching and mentoring structures will be greatly served by utilizing the services of an outside consultant in helping top performers grow and serve the business. Over time and with effort, internal structures can be built and maintained that allow for most coaching and mentoring to be done collegially with others within the organization.

Whichever path is taken, having a mentor or coach work with newly promoted talent will allow them to grow faster, make fewer mistakes, get the most out of their professional development opportunities, and reduce the likelihood and severity of negative interactions with subordinates during the initial months of their new role.

Create systems of mutual accountability. The new manager is responsible for their job and approaching their professional development as a required part of their promotion. The business is responsible for providing the resources to engage in the professional development and listen to feedback on needs. The resources include coaching, time off for coursework, more time for planning and job functions new to the employee, and support from the person to whom they report. Both the business and the expert-manager have roles to play in ensuring success in the transition.

Evaluate and Revise Professional Development. As part of the work being done, the expert-manager needs to meet on a regular basis (monthly, quarterly, etc.) with the person to whom they answer to discuss how things are going. This should not be a blame game if struggles are apparent. Rather, given the system of mutual accountability and culture of learning, this is an opportunity to discuss things that might not be working in the transition, explore why, and identify other ideas to try in order to make the transition stick. The timing of these check-in sessions can vary but should be established early-on at the time of the promotion.

Following these five steps will help an organization ensure they can retain top talent and utilize high-performers for the benefit of the organization for years to come. For more information on how Cloud10 Strategies can help in coaching, transition management, or organizational culture change, schedule a call today.

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