Among the all time greats of classic management mistakes is rewarding the efforts and achievements of an outstanding individual contributor with a management role. To be sure, moving a leading individual contributor into management is sometimes a good thing to do and is appropriate, but often making such a move, especially as a reward, can represent a huge error. Interestingly, this is a mistake made by both small and large companies, alike. The compelling nature of the move drives almost all managers to consider it at one time or another and the desire to fill management ranks with good people while recognizing the contributions of key individuals often makes those responsible blind to some of the issues involved.
Here are the issues at play:
- Just because someone’s a great individual contributor doesn’t mean they know anything about how to manage – Management is a skill unto itself (a set of skills, actually) and is only partly related to the application-specific knowledge (the understanding of what the group to be managed produces or delivers) required for the job. Just because a person knows how to do the job, doesn’t mean that he/she knows how to manage others in doing it. Management skill requires some natural ability and a good deal of training, some of it on the job. If the individual hasn’t had it, they will struggle and, perhaps, fail. In the end, the group won’t get what it needs and the individual’s failure will likely have a negative impact on whatever they do next in the organization.
- Management skills are misunderstood or underestimated – Many small organizations assume that management = bureaucracy = overhead and is, therefore, a waste. Good management gets more out of individuals than they can get out of themselves. Good management makes projects run more smoothly and significantly increases the odds of meeting schedules. Good managers always increase the productivity of a group to a level higher than adding another individual contributor to that group can.
- When a great individual contributor moves into a management role, you lose that person’s direct contribution – This is often ignored as part of the calculus in making the move. In doing so, an organization may lose not only its best contributor, but may also lose all of the indirect benefits that the individual brought to the team – motivation, competition, drive and education. Changing the role of the individual from a peer to a manager may cause the loss of the influence of their actions on the group, especially if someone else isn’t ready to step up and fill in some of the roles being vacated by the individual.
- In a growing organization, it’s difficult to find as many experienced managers as you need – As an organization grows, the need to fill management ranks becomes obvious quickly. Where better to reach to fill these roles than internally? Who better to fill them than the your best people? The easiest path is not always the best, though. Often, it’s better to bring in experienced management as an organization grows. Those new managers can then be part of the team that trains others internally for the next management openings.
- Society values and rewards those who manage more than those who are individual contributors – This is a big problem. It prevents individuals from feeling like they can be successful without having some kind of management role and keeps companies from compensating individuals as highly as they do managers. As such, individuals have an expectation that they will earn their way into management roles as a result of their efforts. In fact, their adoption of a management role should be somewhat detached from their efforts as an individual contributor. Companies should also establish career tracks that offer positions that have virtually equivalent compensation for those valuable contributors that stay on an individual contributor track. In this way, strong individual contributors will feel less like they have to move into management to be rewarded financially.
- Any experienced manager will tell you that management is more of a punishment than a reward – If you’ve been there, you know what I mean. ’nuff said.
When someone has the natural skills to manage and the desire to make the move, it’s great when the organization has the opportunity to give that person the opportunity. Too often, though, such a move is made to recognize the efforts and success of an individual or there regardless of their knowledge, experience or training in management skills. To make sure that both the organization and individual are successful in a move to management, any move should include an acknowledgement by both parties that there are new and unique skills required in the management job and the expectations on performance and metrics for success are different from the previous role.
Additionally, organizations should attempt to adopt a culture that has implicit and explicit rewards for those individuals who would prefer to remain lone contributors. This individual contributor career track should include organizational recognition of these individuals as key employees, in a sense, glorifying the role. Also, the role should warrant higher compensation levels so it does not seem like moving to management is the only way to make more money.