High Performers don’t always make great Managers!

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By definition managing means managing people and in that context, it all comes down to getting team members to deliver the team goals.
A high performing individual contributor is driven by the sense of “wanting to be the best” as compared to the rest. This sense of competitiveness and the appetite to win always starts individualistically. It is only natural that someone as competitive and successful will naturally extend that thinking and actions to fuel their future ambition. At an individual level, high performance and bigger ambitions fuel each other and are comfortably self-fulfilling.
In the workplace, there comes that point where individual performance starts interacting with other aspects of the business and these intersects becomes increasingly evident as the vintage increases. Having spent some time as an individual contributor and having delivered consistently good performance.

This tailwind of success comes face to face with one’s own ambition to grow to the next level in the organization. Past performance and the urge to grow both become clear and present especially when an opening gets created for growth to the next level. At that point, the only barrier one needs to overcome is to be better than the other contenders for that post…or so it appears! Function, process and domain knowledge, skills and experience are extremely important inputs to succeed. However, key determinants of success as a team always goes way beyond those inputs. It is very important to realize that irrespective of the function in focus for example sales, production, operations, finance, HR etc. the most critical ingredient for team success will always be “people skills”.
In determining the employees most suited to move into a managerial function, it is vital for the evaluator (the decision maker on the promotion) to recognize that past performance alone would be insufficient and there must be potential to deliver well in the next level. This becomes the moment of truth.
This potential to deliver as a team is solely dependent on the people abilities and skills the high performer carries within self and is able to put it to good use. This assessment of potential is just loosely connected to the past performance.
It is at this point that the evaluator responsible to assess, select and prepare this individual has the greatest responsibility and must execute this decision very carefully. To manage other team member is a specialized skill. Everyone has this skill to varying degrees. Developing these skills is a matter of coaching not a training room agenda. These skills must be polished and brought into work every day. It takes a while, almost 3-4 months to bring about this transformation.
In the recent years as IT, BPO and other rapidly growing industries have witnessed this challenge and consequently, some may of these challenges might have got severely complicated in terms of business performance. These challenges manifested as poor business performance combined with underperformance on employee engagement, experience, satisfaction and employee retention are not restricted to rapidly growing industries but extends easily albeit slowly in the other industries. Depending on the severity and prevalence of managerial underperformance, business impact could be restricted to a few select teams or cut across large sections of the organization. A study of over 100,000 exits and over 1,000,000 survey responses clearly suggests, the immediate manager directly or indirectly influences every decision made by a team member at work.
By design HR teams must guide and support resolve people issues that line managers have to deal with in their teams. HR teams of some of the high rowth organizations and industries have to deal with this class of self-inflicted challenges which do not seem to disappear easily.
Here’s what HR and Business leaders can attempt from this point on, to ensure all managers of all vintages deliver on the “people skills” front. Here below are three key steps to follow :
  • Discount the past performance of the manager (when he/she was an individual contributor)
  • Assess employee engagement, experience, satisfaction and retention of the team members. This study of feedback from the team and the manager’s manager elicits the areas of improvement and coaching objectives.
  • Create and implement a coaching program (not a training program) for each manager. Such transformation requires roughly 3 months of supervised coaching. Assess improvement after coaching.
Much like how one learns to swim just once in a lifetime and never forget, managers who complete the coaching successfully will deliver consistently high team performance going forward without too much help going forward. Those who are unable to transform, will remain useful to the organization but are best left to deliver as individual contributors.