#126 from R&D Innovator Volume 3, Number 11          November 1994

Promotion to Manager Requires Changing Gears
by Joanne Adams, Ph.D. and Joyce Shields, Ph.D.

Dr. Adams is senior consultant and Dr. Shields is president and general manager of Hay Management Consultants in Arlington, Virginia, specializing in aligning human resources with the technology and design of organizations.

Tom was the best research scientist in the group at company X.  His ideas had an ideal combination of creativity and practicality, he kept abreast of current research, and his own work was regularly published.  He worked well with other researchers, often sharing ideas and helping them when necessary. 

Eventually, his record of performance led to a promotion as R&D manager.   However, within six months, his department was in chaos.  Although Tom was regularly working 60- to 70-hour weeks, his staff was at cross purposes, deadlines were missed, and morale plummeted.  Frustrated, burned out, and embarrassed by the prospect of a demotion, Tom resigned.  Although he soon found a position as team leader in another organization, the setback was painful for him--and expensive to company X, which lost a great contributor. 

We think it’s a major reason the failure rate among senior managers over the past 10 years.  This rate has, by some estimates, exceeded 50 percent.

When someone is moving from a research position into management, a dramatic change in attitude and behavior is required.  The roles and accountabilities of the individual contributor and manager-leader are quite different.  Yet curiously, most people are promoted into managerial positions based solely on their superior performance as an individual contributor. 

From Individual Contributor to Manager-Leader

What are the responsibilities of an individual contributor, say a lab scientist or an engineer?  Although the specific job determines whether timeliness, quality, creativity, or efficiency is cardinal, the individual is invariably responsible for the performance of his or her own tasks.  Most jobs carry varying degrees of interpersonal requirements--perhaps collaborating in idea generation or task completion.  Nevertheless, the emphasis is on individual input. 

The responsibilities of the manager have traditionally focused on bottom-line results:  revenue or profit, product development, and delivery of products or services.  That is to say, performance in the past was based solely on the outcomes over a relatively short term.  Standard management tasks included planning, organizing, directing, and controlling. 

Need we tell you that the manager's job has changed?  Today's manager must provide leadership to the organization by living its values and energizing its members.  Managers must create an environment where change is successful, where people are innovative, and where customers feel satisfied.  In other words, what’s needed today is a manager-leader--someone who displays quite different behaviors and skills than the individual contributor. 

The manager-leader must understand the new definition of leadership, which was recently expressed by Robert Hogan, from the University of Tulsa, as “...persuasion, not domination; persons who can require others to do their bidding because of their power are not leaders.  Leadership only occurs when others willingly adopt, for a period of time, the goals of a group as their own.  Thus, leadership concerns building cohesive and goal-oriented teams; there is a causal and definitional link between leadership and team performance.”

Management must recognize how job requirements change as people move from individual contributor to manager-leader, and must then develop and promote people who can willingly accommodate these changes.  Individuals, by this paradigm, must understand themselves—their motives, traits, skills, and values—and then determine a career path that will provide the greatest opportunity for personal success and satisfaction.

The following table contrasts the competencies associated with superior performance among individual contributors in scientific or engineering organizations—versus those of manager-leaders. 

Behaviors, Skills and Attitudes of Individual Contributors and Manager-Leaders

Individual Contributor

  Initiative:  does more than a job requires and acts in anticipation (before a request or the pressure of events compels the action).

  Concern for Quality and Order:  combines a high standard of excellence with fear of failure; monitors tasks and outcomes to be sure they meet standards; checks up in the manner of a good auditor or inspector; doesn’t let critical attention to detail interfere with creativity. 

  Teamwork and Cooperation: intends to work cooperatively with others, to be part of a team.

  Technical Expertise:  is motivated to expand and use technical knowledge and to distribute work-related knowledge to others.

  Information Seeking:  collects and uses information relevant to work problems or opportunities; gets several inputs; investigates issues and facts before deciding.

  Analytical Thinking:  can break complex problems, processes or projects into components, then organize the parts systematically; can set priorities rationally; compare models or options, and identify causal relationships.


  Directiveness:   makes others comply with standards and remembers the long-term good of the organization; can tell people what to do in a tone ranging from firm to demanding.  The key is knowing when to use directiveness, and to adapt the tone to the situation, so direction is understood but does not sap motivation.

  Group Leadership:  takes the role of leader of a team or group; wants to lead others; creates an energizing vision; inspires the group to interact as a cohesive whole and focus on shared goals; maximizes the contributions of all members.

  Developing Others:  regularly coaches and fosters the development of others; does not just rely on formal training programs.

  Conceptual Thinking:  can see patterns or connections between situations that are not obviously related; can identify key or underlying issues in complex situations; uses creative, conceptual, and inductive reasoning to develop novel concepts.

  Influence:  has an impact on others; can influence and persuade; can appeal to others’ interests, obtain buy-in for ideas and actions; can strategize how to get difficult ideas or opportunities accepted without resorting to authority (a useful skill with peers or superiors, outsiders, or employees unsure about their tasks.)

  Relationship Building (Networking):  develops and maintains a network of contacts, both inside and outside the organization, with people who may be able to supply information, assistance, or support for work-related goals; builds and maintains friendly relationships with people who are, or might be, useful in achieving work goals.

  Organizational Commitment; “Business Mindedness”:  aligns personal behavior, and behavior of others, with organizational needs and goals; promotes organizational goals and meets organizational needs (i.e., recognizing the suitability of an innovative new product to the organization’s primary market, and understanding the likelihood of acceptable profit margins in production.  These two tasks are particularly challenging when working with specialized scientists and technologists, who seldom contact customers).

Making the Transition

Organizations and individuals can take practical and effective steps to create successful management placements.   The steps outlined below have proven successful in helping organizations and individuals facilitate this transition:

1.  The organization defines and articulates behavioral (competency) requirements for individual contributors and managers.

2.  Career paths are identified for various lines of progression, allowing individuals to optimally prepare themselves.  Career planning helps employees identify their ideal career track, which may require the establishment of senior technical positions on a parallel track to managerial positions.

3.  Competency-based selection and promotion processes ensure that incumbents’ deeper characteristics match job requirements (leading to greater success and higher satisfaction).

4.  Development opportunities are designed and delivered to ensure that necessary competencies are developed in people selected for those jobs.

What’s the most important result of using this method for ensuring smooth transition?  Simply, that we must begin anticipating which experiences and competencies will be required in a job several years before we apply for (or accept) it.  The organization must likewise begin preparing people for managerial jobs at least two levels below the target job. 

The fruits of this preparatory process will be realized over the long term, as the organization experiences more innovation, greater efficiency, higher morale, better customer satisfaction, and increased profits.

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