The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Friday, March 4, 2016

TRANSITIONING FROM “DOER” TO LEADER


During the best of times, many of our excellent worker’s abilities are diminished or devalued when we promote them into leadership.  Far too often organizations move their “best technician” into supervision, take their most efficient employee at “doing” and expect them to teach, or ask their innovators to troubleshoot existing processes.  We expect employees that were a part of the team on Friday to become “leaders of the pack” on Monday - without doing anything to prepare them for the transition.  If difficult when things are going well, think about how rebuilding an organization to meet changing business demands when major alterations are needed might compound the problem.  If processes are strong, methods foolproof, product refined and employees experienced we may be able to move a strong individual into a leadership role IF all he or she must do is maintain the status quo.  Unfortunately, the only thing in life that is guaranteed is change – and individuals hired to keep things as they are rarely handle the stress and pressure of crisis transition well.  In order to equip individuals with the resources needed to lead we must identify some of the more significant changes that a promotion might initiate.

When we ask new managers to prepare for an increase in volume, to undo all that has been done wrong and to improve employee morale without first setting the stage for change (none of US would ever do such a thing!!!), we are making a huge mistake.  There are, however, ways we can maximize the chances of an individual’s success.  Before any employee (or individual) is expected to move into a leadership role (whether at work, at play or within a personal relationship), make sure they are aware of several critical management factors (AND they are given the opportunity to consider what it means to make such a transition rather than simply being given the promotion or being put in a leadership role to steer through a personal situation or resolve a relationship issue):

  • As a Supervisor, you can no longer be a friend to your past peers.  You must elevate yourself to being a fair and consistent “boss” that no longer is one of the gang but is now the voice of the Organization. As a leader, the weaknesses or “negative behaviors” you may have once accepted from your peers must be confronted and addressed.  You may have to determine pay increases or carry out disciplinary action to make sure that each employee is treated equitably (rather than equally).  Where you may have complained with and to others about “oppressive Company policies,” you must accept that you are now part of the “problem” you once complained about so you had better start becoming “part of the solution” or you will be seen as ineffective (by Management) and unfair (by those you have been charged to lead).  Once elevated, you earn the right to question privately while accepting the responsibility to support publicly.  Being respected must replace being liked.  Consistency must become the final consideration for every decision you make.
  • People will usually accept change IF they are consulted first.  Consulting an employee (or someone that might be impacted by an alternative process, direction or attitude) about how to best implement change DOES NOT mean that you are going to do exactly what they suggest.  It DOES mean you have sought their input by asking “what if?” questions so that support can be secured before change is imposed (Why do we do things the way we do?  What if we try doing things differently?  What would make this a better process?  What is the worst that might happen if…?).  Most individuals can accept doing things differently – even if it is not the way they may have chosen to do them – as long as they feel their opinion was considered before change is implemented (and they understand the reason for the change rather than just being told to act differently.
  • Understand that you are now a member of Management and, as such, you must accept
    corporate 
    direction, oversight, goals and visions (rather than poking at the decisions or direction provided by others).  When you were “one of the gang,” you did not have access to the discussions or considerations that went into decisions that were made.  Likewise, your team does not have the insight you now have into the full context, short- and long-term impact or strategic positioning that might lead to decisions or changes from the status quo.  It is YOUR responsibility as a leader to show people not only where your organization is going but also how they can help to make change happen (while painting a clear picture of where it has been and why staying there is not an option).  You must typically “sell” others more often than you “tell” them, encouraging their “ownership” of the change (allowing them to take credit for aspects of the transition even if credit was not due them).
  • Employees can be motivated (or held hostage by) compensation, can be captivated by their work assignments and influenced by their surroundings BUT if employees do not like you, they will leave the organization.  If they don’t like the way you do things they will complain to others.  If employees (or someone with whom you might wish to be in a relationship with) does not like the way you talk to them, they may ignore what you say.  If those you are expected to influence do not see any REASON to listen to you – be it a lack of consistency, credibility or integrity on your part or no understanding on their part as to why they should give you the time or space to be heard – you will be unable to significantly alter, change or in any way influence their behavior.  Recognize that it is your job to accomplish the Organization’s mission by working to fulfill its vision through the coordinated efforts of all those who work for you.  Being popular or liked is not a primary management criterion – being fair and consistent is required.
  •  If you prefer to do rather than to tell, to perform rather than to plan, to create rather than to coordinate, or to react rather than to anticipate, perhaps it would be better that you pass on the prestige of promotion.  Not everyone is “built” to be a manager.  One must recognize their strengths AND acknowledge their weaknesses, acting upon both, to be a valued contributor tasting a degree of success in life.  Unless (and until) one is able to rise WITH others (rather than upon their backs), elevate others to their greatest potential (rather than bringing them down to feel better or more important) and give others individual “credit” for success (so that all can reap the rewards of the efforts), he or she may not be “suited” to lead.  


Moving into management is a huge step for anyone.  When opportunity continues to grow and expectations are high (while resources are low), it is an even bigger leap.  If you ask someone to move into leadership – or are asked to do so yourself – make sure the ramifications of transition are understood AND the tools necessary to make the move are provided.  Leadership provides a unique opportunity to express yourself – through both your own actions and the thoughts and actions of others.  Accept the challenge with humility and curiosity – seeing it as an honor and a privilege while seeking to do things “the way you would have liked to see them done” prior to your being elevated – and new doors to unlimited opportunity will open to you (requiring ONLY that you move forward and enter fully in WITHOUT holding so tightly to the comfortable “past” that you cannot see or embrace “the future”).  The implementation of change without first preparing for the ramifications of change is destined to fail - turning what should be a reason to celebrate into a true disaster!