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VALLEY AND VENTURA COUNTY | BUSINESS VIEW

New Managers Can Build Skills in Transition

June 16, 1998|GARY IZUMO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Your dream of becoming a manager is a reality. Your promotion is here. Yet now that the initial excitement has passed, you are beginning to wonder.

Do you know what it takes to be an effective manager? Can you translate the concepts you have studied, such as planning, organizing, leading and controlling, into meaningful actions? And more fundamentally, will you be able to make a successful transition to manager?

Even with years of preparation, including college classes, seminars to develop management techniques and hours of reading to keep current on management trends, you wonder if you can be a success as a manager.

You wonder because you have seen high-performing employees fail in the new role of manager and even lose their jobs, despite outstanding contributions as an employee, sound management preparation and dedication.

The transition to manager is challenging.

Just knowing how to use the tools of management in a general way is not enough. An effective manager needs to know which tools to use, and how and when to use them in a variety of situations, in an increasingly diverse work force and in a rapidly changing environment.

More than ever, a new manager needs a boss who is also a coach. New managers need timely, context-specific advice on the practical application of management concepts.

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But today, new managers often do not receive the consistent and timely coaching that is vital for a smooth transition to become an effective manager.

Middle managers, who have been the coaches for new managers, have wider spans of management and feel overloaded with work after the downsizings, re-engineering and budget cuts of recent times. Many middle managers are just trying to survive, and the time spent on training new managers has diminished. As a consequence, it is not uncommon for new managers to experience a "learn by doing," sink-or-swim situation.

So what can an employee do to successfully make the transition to manager? Here are several ideas to consider:

* Start now, even before you are promoted to manager, by volunteering for special projects.

Seek opportunities to develop skills you probably will need as a manager. For example, a project that lets you work as a team leader will allow you to use many management skills as well as demonstrate your ability to manage.

Or work on a strategic planning project that can help you better understand your company's direction and priorities, an understanding that is critical in making good decisions as a manager.

* Talk with experienced managers for advice on making a successful transition.

Don't limit yourself to managers within your company. Use your network and talk with friends, family and seminar leaders to learn about issues you might face and how to resolve them.

For example, by using your network, you might anticipate issues and learn techniques to better manage former peers who are your friends and with whom you may even have shared jokes and complaints about a former manager.

Talking with others will help you understand the range of challenges, what techniques you might use and how you might use the advice to fit your particular situation and style.

* When the promotion comes, ask your boss for help.

Explain that you would like to periodically seek his or her guidance.

Your boss can help you answer such questions as when and under which circumstances to make exceptions or knowing when to push harder and when to ease up.

In seeking advice, be sensitive to how you use your boss' time. Identify a logical set of questions that will more fully develop your understanding of an issue before meeting with your boss.

This will help reduce the number of times you need to ask to see your boss and build an image of organized thinking. Schedule periodic meetings, perhaps monthly over lunch, when you can have a number of questions answered. And as you think of the guidance you might seek, remember that the purpose of these discussions is for you to learn so that you can better manage--and not for your boss to end up doing your job.

* Help establish an informal group of new managers who meet periodically to share experiences and learn what has worked, what has not and why.

Talk about your successes, the challenges and surprises. Not only will you gain a deeper experience base from which you can more effectively manage, but you will have a support group for the tough times every manager experiences.

* Sign up for management courses and seminars in anticipation of and after your promotion.

Upgrading and refining your skills is critical in meeting the ever-changing challenges a manager faces. Formal training programs can help you develop new management tools, gain fresh perspectives on issues and expand your network. Your boss, the human resources department and your network can assist you in identifying relevant programs.

* Find an outside mentor.

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