Promoted In Place

The long-time supervisor of your team will be retiring a couple of months from now, and you’ve been selected as their successor. Congratulations! You are about to move into your first supervision job. It’s exciting and scary at the same time, especially since you will be supervising a group of people who have been your peers for the past several years. You’re about to be promoted in place. When you move from being “one of the gang” to a supervisory role, you can expect to experience some (or maybe many) challenges. These could include:

  • How quickly you adjust to what good performance meant for you as a team member and what it means now as a supervisor
  • How well team members understand your new role, and their willingness to accept and support your new duties
  • How well you understand and adapt to the workload and pace associated with the responsibilities of your new job
  • How well you understand and deal with the uncertainty, ambiguity, and need for multitasking associated with your new role
  • How quickly you learn important administrative tasks that you aren’t prepared for or experienced in
  • How well you handle the wide variety of human resources, interpersonal communication, and people-focused issues that are part of your new job

If this sounds daunting, it should. The skills and behaviors that made you an effective member of the team – one of “us” – are not necessarily the same skills and behaviors required to be an effective supervisor. And regardless of how close and how strong your relationships are with your teammates, those relationships will change once you become their supervisor. Still, with good communications, particularly good listening and a commitment to lead the team rather than “boss” the team, you can be successful when you are promoted in place. What’s been your experience?

Paul

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While Washington Fiddles

Our federal and state governments do some things quite well; most career civil servants are dedicated, hard-working, and do a difficult job as well or better than one might expect. I’ve worked with great people at all levels of government; certainly none are more dedicated than the folks at the City of Kalamazoo.

At the same time many of our elected officials seem to be capable of generating only hot air and headlines. Now, if they could actually DO something instead of just talk about what’s wrong with the opposition, that would be deeply appreciated by everyone living outside the Beltway. I’m not holding my breath since they seem to be able to do . . . well, pretty much nothing at all.

Some states seem to be afflicted with similar extreme partisan rancor as the professional politicians prove themselves incapable of doing the job they were sent to do. And so it comes down to local government to lead the way in dealing with current financial reality, ’cause the folks in Washington and (insert your state capitol here) can’t seem to agree on what day of the week it is.

I grew up in an era where the particular political party of elected officials was much less important than their willingness to find common ground, compromise, and discover a way to make local, state, and federal government function reasonably well. Most politicians were moderates and while they might lean a bit left or right of center on some issues, the focus was on doing the work of the people in the best way possible. Right-or-left-wing ideologues were few and far between and there was much more that united us than divided us.

In spite of the level of rancor, venom, and hatred that seems to be the norm in much of our political discourse, I still believe that trying to find a common ground is the best way for government to work. Neither of the two major political parties has a monopoly on the truth; reality seems to exist somewhere between the two extremes.

The transition to an information-based global economy continues to disrupt lives and communities and it will do so for some time to come. One thing each of us can do is to get involved in helping our local and regional communities through nonprofit organizations and local government. We really cannot depend upon state or national elected officials to do much of anything beyond run for office. The political system is clearly broken and incapable of accomplishing anything meaningful.

So for all our sakes, please Vote – if the folks we elected to do the job can’t get the job done, maybe it’s time for somebody else to give it a try.

What do you think?

Paul

It’s All About Choices

I’m willing to bet that you have lots to do. At the end of the day, week, or month you can look back and spot all sorts of things that you could have accomplished but didn’t. You’ve clearly made choices about what to do, what not to do, what to pay attention to, and what to ignore or defer until later. You probably make hundreds of choices every day. The choices you make must answer three basic questions:

  • Who should address or resolve this issue? – you, somebody else, or nobody?
  • How important is this to me? Is this mission-critical to my job or not so important?
  • What is the best use of my time, talent, and energy right now? Handling this particular issue or something else on my plate at the moment?

I’m certain you have issues you can make decisions about, otherwise known as your “span of control.” These are decisions you can make on your own, choosing what seems best to you. For example, if something is within your span of control, you may decide to move ahead and keep your boss in the loop after the fact. If the issue requires sign-off or approval from your supervisor, then it clearly is not in your span of control; it’s in somebody else’s span of control.

You also have issues, challenges, problems, and concerns that you have some influence over, whether you realize it or not. This is your “sphere of influence.” These issues are outside your span of control; your position and authority don’t allow you to simply decide what to do. In this case you need the approval of someone else or the willingness of your boss to carry things forward. These issues tend to be things you care about and would like to see changed, but are outside your direct ability to make happen. So it pays to get good at raising issues, communicating critical information, and making recommendations so you can influence the person who actually can make the decision to make their choice the way you would like to see it made.

Learning to effectively use your sphere of influence has a great deal to do with the future scope of your span of control. Using and expanding your sphere of influence usually starts with your relationship with your own manager. You should quickly learn how they prefer to get your suggestions and ideas. Do they:

  • Need a lot of data or just a general overview?
  • Prefer to discuss your idea or issue, see it in writing, or receive it electronically?
  • Have a more receptive time of day?
  • Need to perceive any new idea as their own?

This is all about your ability to influence the future direction of your team or unit. The goal is to provide your manager with the information needed so their decision will go the way you want it to. Obviously, you need to provide your boss with information that’s truthful and complete. You don’t want to leave out an essential piece of information that could prove to be a problem later. That would brand you as someone who doesn’t think things through very well. Still, you can craft information and recommendations in such a way that they lead logically to the conclusion you prefer.

Often, supervisors and managers are frustrated by an issue or problem outside their span of control. So they toss the issue to their boss without thinking about how that person prefers to get input. When their boss ignores it, rejects the idea or makes a decision they don’t like, the frustration continues.

If you look back and can see you are not getting the results you want from your approach, it’s probably time to try a different approach. Ask yourself some basic questions, such as:

  • What is the real problem or issue? How can I best describe it so my boss understands the essential facts and generally sees the issue as I do?
  • What specific outcome do I want? If this issue was in my span of control, what would I decide to do?
  • Are there potential difficulties or problems associated with my approach? If so, what are they? What effect might they have on implementing my recommendation? (Hint – they often are political or “turf” issues)
  • What will be the benefits of following my recommendations?
  • What will the payoff be to the organization and its customers or stakeholders?
  • Who else supports my recommended approach?

Expanding both your span of control and your sphere of influence is a natural byproduct of experience. As you become more adept at managing yourself and the assignments, challenges, and opportunities that come your way, you “graduate” (David Allen’s apt term) and get to take on new, higher-level challenges. Because of the confidence you develop in your own abilities, this growth process can continue as long as you’re alive. But you have to start somewhere and where you are right this moment is a pretty realistic place to begin.

Ask yourself two questions:

  • What issues are really within my span of control?
  • What issues are in really within my sphere of influence?

Once you’ve identified the issues that are within your particular area of responsibility, then it’s a matter of choices – what are you going to do to move those issues forward to a successful resolution, and what issues do you choose to defer (maybe) until later?

Then once you’ve identified those issues that you care enough about to want to see move forward, then it’s a matter of who, how,and what – who needs to know about this particular issue, how do you want them to move forward, and what would you recommend they do?

I recommend you really think about it. What’s within your span of control and what’s within your sphere of influence?

Think about it and commit yourself to making good choices. Choose well and you’ll see your sphere of influence and your span of control expand.

Paul

What Did You Learn?

What did you learn from each of your previous bosses? Maybe you worked for one of those rare “natural” supervisors or managers. I’ve met a few, but they are few and far between. Most of us who have worked inside organizations have worked for a series of bosses. And we probably had no difficulty finding things about their style that bugged us, frustrated us, even made us angry from time to time.

But at the same time, looking at it from the rear view mirror, I bet you also learned some valuable lessons from each of them. I know I did. Some of those lessons were positives – things to emulate, copy, and modify to fit me. And some were negatives – things to not do when faced with a similar situation.

One of my first bosses was The Chief. He was a Master Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy and was the lead admin for the Supply Officer on my ship. He’d been in the Navy about 25 years and had risen steadily to become one of the senior people in his logistics specialty. Since our ship had one of the first on-board computers in the Navy (a Univac 1500 that took up a lot of room and was one of the few air-conditioned spaces on the ship), we were dealing with state-of-the art in some ways, and very old technology in others. Remember 10-part carbon paperwork?

From The Chief I learned precision and the importance of doing the job to the best of my ability. He also served as a role model of how to handle a difficult boss who had spent his entire career on shore duty. When we were at sea, the Supply Officer spent the whole time holed up in his cabin, alternately hollering at somebody over the ship’s phone and bouts of throwing up .

Some years later I worked for a boss I’ll call Sam. I was running an organization-wide system with multiple locations and nearly round-the-clock operations. From Sam I learned the value of building effective cross-departmental relationships and the wisdom of seeking multiple opinions and perspectives before making major decisions. My mid-20’s shoot-from-the-hip, get-it-done-now style sometimes backfired on me, particularly when I failed to identify key stakeholders and give them a “heads-up” regarding plans. Sam showed us all how to lead a diverse (and often highly competative) group of department heads in a positive direction by “communicating lavishly,” to use a favorite Max DePree quote. Sam knew where we were heading, kept us all in the loop, and ran interference with other senior leaders when necessary. Quiet leadership, practiced daily.

Those are just two of the people I learned from. What did you learn?

Think about what you’ve learned from some of the people you’ve worked for over the years. If you’d like to share a thought or two, that would be great. If not, at least think about it.

Getting the Word Out

This week we’re getting the word out that The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers is published and now available on Amazon.com. We’ve sent out E-mail announcements letting our contacts know the book is, at long last, actually out and available.

Regular readers of this blog know this has been a longer process than originally planned, but in the high-change world we live in today, no major project is likely to go exactly as originally planned. After all, Skill 5 of The 8 Essential Skills is Managing Change. How are you doing with managing change in your life?

Next time – Quantity Discounts on The 8 Essential Skills

That Derailment Thing – Again

Our friends at the Center for Creative Leadership have studied the reasons behind managers derailing and crashing. It seems to come down to three things: 

They don’t successfully adapt during transitions

They are difficult to work with

They fail to lead in a team-centered way

As I look back at supervisors and managers who derail somewhere along the line, I see lots of examples of people who failed due to one, two, or occasionally all three of these reasons. How about you? Can you think of examples that stand out in your own career?

The 8 Skills at Indy – Lessons – Part 3

Stepping back for a bit of perspective on the Indy 500 as an example of The 8 Essential Skills at work, we continue to see lessons for all of us who supervise and manage, such as:

Skill 5 – Managing Change: a 500 mile auto race with 33 cars on the grid at the start is a study in Change. Often rapid and abrupt change. And it can (and does) happen at any point in the race. Davy Hamilton returned to the Indy 500 after a nine year hiatus, only to crash on the first lap after Thomas Scheckter took Hamilton’s line in Turn 2, causing Hamilton to swerve, lose control, and hit the inner wall. Sarah Fisher, on the other hand, steadily worked her way up in the field over much of the race only to graze the wall on lap 125, ending her day. Often the 500 is lost or won in the pits and when a driver is given the “Go!” signal before the fuel hose is fully disconnected, a return to the pit on the next lap causes a delay and may affect that drivers finishing order. Constant change is the norm; how it gets handled and what adjustments get made makes all the difference.

Skill 6 – Solving Problems & Making Decisions: over the course of a 500-mile race each team will have literally scores if not hundreds of decisions to make. Do we bring our car in for fuel now or wait a lap or two on the chance that there will be a yellow flag (forcing everyone to hold their positions in the standings) later? How many of our 15 our “push-to-go” turbo boost uses do we save for the final laps? Should we adjust the front wings for more downforce or more speed? Given the heat (130 degrees on the track) how often should we plan to change tires? Problems to solve and decisions to make are just a normal part of the process and are treated as such. Frustrating perhaps, but “that’s racing.”

Next time – Skills 7 & 8