Ian: Welcome to the Business Coach Podcast, an advice-oriented series that tackles the top issues and opportunities facing Canada’s small businesses. I’m your host, Ian Portsmouth, the Editor of PROFIT Magazine and we’ve developed this podcast in cooperation with BMO Bank of Montreal.
If you have worked in a large corporation, there is little doubt you have watched amazing employees promoted into management where they end up failing miserably. It’s an error smaller businesses can’t ill-afford to make. So how can you avoid it? On this episode of the Business Coach Podcast, we are going to put that question to Dan McDonald, a co-founder of Business Improvement Solutions and the co-author of three books simply entitled Management, Leadership and Success. Business Improvement Solutions is based in Sherwood Park Alberta but Dan joined us on the line from Denver Colorado. Dan, welcome to the Business Coach Podcast.
Dan: Thanks Ian.
Ian: So why do so many companies make the mistake of promoting people into managerial role simply because they’ve shown in what I would describe as their technical roles?
Dan: What we found in our research is that a lot of businesses will look at their sales skills, their technical skills or just traits about the way they work around the office and say, ok well, you know, that person is organized or they have really strong competency skills in those areas, they must be a good manager. But there is no correlation at all with the competency of being organized or being good at sales or being good technically with the abilities to manage people.
Ian: So can you briefly remind us of the key responsibilities of a manager? What is it that managers do?
Dan: Well, managers effectively in an organization if you look at it systematically their first priority is to get a job done. They need to be able to complete a task or get the job done but here is the key, they need to do it through the collective efforts of other people and a lot of managers, they’ll think that they still need to do the job themselves a lot of times and because of that, it does not allow the people that they are working with or the people that work for them to build up their skills and getting that same job done which makes them not as effective as they could be.
Ian: So it is all about marshaling human resources and when that is your job, what are the key traits of a good manager?
Dan: Well, when you look for key traits of a good manager, people almost have to step outside of the normal day to day and they have to go and analyze, does this person have strong people skills? When we put a group of ten people together, do the other nine people look to that person for answers? Is that person organized and most importantly is that person, that potential manager, are they passionate about other people or is it all about them, are they a me, me, me type of person or are they really he does a great job at that. She is outstanding at this and those kinds of personality traits will really shine through when they take a manager role on.
Ian: It is very difficult to identify people for just about any job. At least, it is very difficult for most managers and executives to identify the right people for the right job. So apart from merely observing people in their roles, what are some of the best ways an executive or senior manager would determine whether or not an employee is fit for management?
Dan: Well one of the ways Reginald Jones, the guy that ran GE before Jack Welch was famous for the airplane question of, you know, if we die in an airplane tomorrow, who do you think would be the best person to run this company? And that same question or that same type of question would work great if you were to ask all the people that you work with, who would make the best manager other than yourself, the collective response would probably help illuminate some great choices for you.
Once you find a couple of great choices based on that method, you can give them pet projects and say, “Hey, you know what, here is something out of scope normally not in your job, here is a pet project, would you like to take it on?” And they’ll give you a team of people to work with and a little bit of resources to help get the project completed and see how they do on these pet projects. And then find out from their perspective where they see themselves in the company, five, ten years from now. What is their ideal or perfect role. And you’ll find that some people are really good or have a lot of potential but they actually don’t see themselves as a manager and they don’t want to be a manager. And you have to work with people like that because more often than not, the people that don’t want to be a manager will probably be some of your better managers so you don’t want to weed them out of the pile. And the people who do want to be good manager and have the skills, those are also people you definitely keep on the roaster.
Ian: Do you see much value in psychometric testing, basically psychological test to help you identify the traits?
Dan: There is value in that if it is used as an aid but I wouldn’t play all my bets on it because a lot of that testing and personality-based profiling really identifies preferences more so than competencies. When you research the top managers and the top leaders in the top businesses in the world today, you’ll find they don’t fit the perfect profile, they don’t fit that stereotypical manager profile. So they’re a good aid because they break down to if they are a genuine person, if they are caring about other people. And it is a good aid but I wouldn’t make it the only basis for choosing a manager.
Ian: Now, a lot of companies when they make this mistake of promoting the wrong people into management or even when the promote the right people into management, it is a skill that needs to be learned. So what kind of support should companies be giving their new managers?
Dan: You know, the best kind of support historically for results is mentorship. If they can tie that person with some senior person within the company or a senior person at a different company and have them on a regular basis meet with them to discuss topics at a more fundamental basic level, that will really help develop somebody’ skills and understanding much much faster. And then, if you build a learning culture, some organizations over the years have done this successfully where it is kind of a part of the culture where they meet every month and talk about, you know, the latest book that they have read or they share ideas. Working with some big organizations throughout North America the last few years, I find that a lot of senior owners and retail geniuses are the kind of people that will constantly be going through magazines and books and they litter them with comments and highlights and mark pages and take notes and then they always seem to share those books, magazines, articles and ideas with other people in the business. So they’ll go through it and they’ll find something and say “Oh my god, this is great for Sally or this is great for John” and that kind of culture spreads when it’s from the top.
Ian: So Dan, one of the reasons why a lot of potentially good managers don’t want to get into management is because they fear resentment from their former peers, their former colleagues. So what can companies do to minimize that if they can do anything to minimize it?
Dan: What we have found in the past is that’s a sign of a culture that’s got issues where its low self-esteem is their issue. When somebody is in a position where they should be promoted into a manager, in a healthy culture they will actually promote that co-worker.
Ian: Apart from the mistakes that we identified earlier, mainly the big mistake of promoting the wrong people into management, what would be the second big mistake that companies make in promoting people into managerial roles?
Dan: Actually, the biggest mistake is just promoting the wrong ones. When I spent some time on the question just thinking about it, it’s critical that they make sure they promote the right people. If they promote the wrong person into management, it’s like an atom bomb dropping on a company. You know the pride in the company is leveled, the moral is devastated, productivity is decreased, there are so many side-effects to that that happen. That is probably the most critical mistake that they can make.
Ian: Now, let’s say you do promote the right person into management, is there some things that people do wrong after that?
Dan: You know, the biggest thing is they don’t give them the support. If they hire the right person, sometimes, they’ll leave them to die. And the other mistake they make is sometimes, they will take a senior person that is doing very good in one position, move them to a different store or a different division of the company and they’ll be by themselves. When they are by themselves, they can’t really flourish, so they ever move top performing people into management roles, they should always give them a small support team of two or three people I think is the most effective.
Ian: Dan, that’s great advice. Thanks for joining the Business Coach Podcast.
Dan: Ok, thanks Ian.
Ian: Dan McDonald is the co-founder of Business Improvement Solutions, a performance management training and developing company based in Sherwood Park Alberta. But today, Dan joined us from Denver Colorado.
That’s it for another episode of the Business Coach Podcast. Be sure to check out other episodes which you can download from BMO.com, profitguide.com or iTunes. If you have any comments or suggestions about the podcast, then please send them directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time, I am Ian Portsmouth, the Editor of PROFIT Magazine, wishing you continued success.