Robert Shea
Robert Shea, Account Executive, Caliper

While there are many books, articles, and seminars on what it takes to be a strong manager, studies show that most people in managerial positions had little or no management experience or training before taking on their current roles. In addition, studies show that 50-55% of employees who moved up to supervisory, managerial, or executive positions came from other roles inside the same firm. For these first-time managers, supervising others is a new responsibility—and a major challenge. Your company’s productivity and ability to retain committed employees depend largely upon the skill of its managers. And when you put people without experience in leadership roles for the first time, they may feel overwhelmed.

Many companies prefer to promote first-time managers from within. It is generally believed that the prospect of promotion offers employees a reason to stay motivated, in addition to presenting a defined career path. Internal promotions are often key elements in a company’s retention strategy and succession plan.

But promotions sometimes backfire and can just as easily derail careers as enhance them. Ironically, the very same skills that make someone appear to be an attractive candidate for advancement become less important once they are promoted and must then manage others.

When you are an individual contributor, you may think that if you work hard and follow company guidelines, one day you will find yourself promoted to management. Although such a promotion is often viewed as a destination, it is actually a point of divergence, a fork in the road less clearly marked than the old familiar path. Moving from a cubicle to an office requires answering the inevitable question: What now? The presumption is that, because a person could do the former job capably, he or she can also excel at management. But the old job probably came with a clear job description and the new job may not.

First-time managers often have misperceptions of what it means to be a manager. Ask some new managers what their roles involve, and they may start off by describing management’s rights and privileges rather than its duties. Or they might simply say that being a manager means being “the boss.” They may struggle to reconcile their initial expectations with a manager’s real responsibilities. First-time managers have to make sense of the complex, demanding, and often conflicting expectations of many constituencies—subordinates, superiors, and peers.

The biggest change in both mindset and behavior is moving from doing the work oneself to achieving results through the work of others.  This learning process can be emotionally unsettling, as managers have to act as managers before they understand what that role really entails. Without careful preparation and planning for success, a promotion can be a recipe for failure, for both the individual and the organization.

Robert Shea is the Account Executive (Atlantic Region) with research-based, talent management company Caliper.

Caliper is dedicated to helping organizations produce world class results by ensuring people are in the right role at the right time. With over 50 years of measuring people’s alignment and performance at work, Caliper’s talent analytics team use predictive models to help organizations select, onboard, develop and succeed their talent. Learn more here.

This article is an excerpt of Caliper White Paper “First Time Managers”, Caliper Corp, 506 Carnegie Center, Suite 300 Princeton, NJ 08540

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