Helping Your Reports Become Managers
19 September, 2021
At Niche, I’ve had the privilege of growing a department of two people to one of over a dozen. That growth enabled me to establish scaffolding and improve career pathing for my team. But I enjoyed nothing more than preparing and introducing people to management. I am a firm believer in creating opportunities for team members to be internally promoted. Sourcing outward has its value, but rewarding people for investing in your business is second to none.
As my team grew, I recognized that having too many direct reports would soon hinder my ability to focus on the growth of the individuals on the team. It was becoming unsustainable for me to continue to directly oversee the entire team. I needed to foster and develop a new layer of management within the team in order to enable further growth.
The first person I helped become a manager was the most senior member of the QA team, who was back then a team lead. To begin with, I set a six-month plan for their growth. We were doing twice-per-year performance reviews at that time, so we started six months before I knew I would need someone in a management role. I spoke with this team lead and gauged their interest. After I confirmed that they were interested in management, I walked them through the development plan.
My plan was founded on a simple premise: I wanted to give this emerging manager a foundation they could use to develop their own style and management philosophy, and the confidence to solve problems independently. But to come up with the plan that would equip them with those skills, I had to know our starting point. So, we conducted a SWOT analysis together to see where their strengths and areas of improvement were. We identified that their drive and organizational skills were exceedingly strong, as well as their ability to share context and provide coaching on core skills. On the other hand, their ability to provide critical performance feedback and manage conflict were areas they needed to improve in order to assume their new role successfully.
We put together a reading curriculum for a two-person book club. I went over a group of tremendously valuable texts on management that had helped to shape my own philosophy as a leader, but I presented these as texts to engage with critically rather than merely copy. It was ultimately up to this emerging manager to decide for themselves which aspects resonated best. I was not trying to duplicate myself, but rather help this person chart their own course to become a successful manager. There is no Platonic ideal for a perfect manager; management training, to a degree, needs to be tailored to the individual.
We discussed the selected reads meticulously. We studied in great detail The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier because I felt it resonated with their career trajectory to that point, as well as other classic texts such as The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. We were able to meet every other week for mentorship sessions and guidance. Session after session, I was able to introduce them to more demanding managerial tasks. Some of these included shadowing on hiring decisions and vetting of potential candidates, especially ones I knew would join their team. This allowed them to not only be an active participant in growing the team they would be leading but also to nurture their instincts as a hiring manager in a safe, supportive environment. Much of the preparation was about showing them the tools they already had and how they could build on their current experience. Then all it took was to give them opportunities to exercise those skills.
Though it took six months to change their official title, they were able to do most of the tasks the role required a few months prior to the title change. That prepared them to feel confident and competent once the title change officially occurred. By that point, the promotion was not a leap but a mere formality. After becoming a manager, they continued to grow and improve their skills as a leader. Today, they are helping to mentor and support newer managers outside of our own department, which is very exciting to see. I think that the foundation we laid together enabled them to embrace being a leader. They were already a natural leader, but fully embracing those skills required some preparation.
- The longer preparation time was extremely helpful in changing the emerging manager’s perception within their team, as they moved from being a non-managing leader into management. Making the transition transparent and keeping the team looped in made it easy to get the team’s buy-in and make it feel natural. There is always risk involved when you have to manage people who were your peers, and the gradual transition eliminated the risk.
- I had an option to hire externally, but having someone with a passion for and experience with your product is such an asset for a leader. Nurturing talent internally is a way to reward employees, but it is also a sound business decision as long as there is lead time to prepare.
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