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SMART ANSWERS
By Karen E. Klein

9.23.99  
Making Leaders out of Technicians
Be sure to back up a promotion to manager with training

Q: I have an Internet-based business and have recently promoted some programmers and Web developers to management positions. These people have never been supervisors before. Where do they begin?
--J.R., New York City

A: Many companies promote employees who excel in the technical aspects of their jobs to management positions automatically. It seems logical to reward good performance with more pay and responsibility. Unfortunately, your great programmer may not know how to be a good supervisor. Especially in information technology, where so much of the work day is spent interacting with computer code on a flickering screen, new managers may lack people skills and leadership experience.

Small-business owners must train and prepare their middle managers. It's not easy to be boss to people who were your peers yesterday. Your managers need one-on-one guidance, company seminars, mentoring, and other opportunities to gain the needed confidence and knowledge and to adjust to the shift in loyalties, perspective, and work rhythm. If you don't help them make the transition, they'll be tempted to concentrate on the day-to-day work they know so well and neglect the people they're supposed to be supervising.

The American Management Assn. has many resources available on leadership in general, and how to supervise employees in particular. Its self-study programs, which your employees can complete at their own pace, are excellent, says Larry Bishop of the HR Consulting Group Inc., in Snellville, Ga. "I've recommended them for years to nurses, who are wonderful with patient care and medicine, but need help when they are promoted to management jobs," he says. The AMA Web site (www.amanet.org) offers a four-tape audiocassette course entitled, "How to Be An Effective Supervisor," for $155, including a workbook and AMA credit upon completion. Topics covered include: conducting a job interview, training new hires, setting realistic performance goals for employees, solving performance problems, and increasing productivity.

The AMA also sells textbooks and videotapes on leadership and conducts on-site seminars for small groups, which might suit your company. Three of its top five seminars involve leadership or supervisory skills. If you can't shell out the fees for an on-site seminar exclusively for your employees, consider having a group of them attend a one- or two-day workshop on business-leadership skills. These workshops are offered around the country on a regular basis both by the AMA and by many human-resources consultants and organizations.

While active training programs will have the greatest long-term impact, you can also give your employees a good taste of the management approach you want them to assimilate by giving them a selection of books to read. "How to manage people is a universal topic, whether you're in the technical world or wherever," says Sue Tovey, an executive consultant at Major Consultants in Ramsey, N.J. "Human acumen works no matter where you are." If you don't have any favorites, she recommends doing a search at Amazon.com for books on management skills and employee supervision. Take the time to scan the readers' comments posted on the site before you order. "Get them to work and reading right away," Tovey says.

Many Web sites offer articles, e-mail newsletters, books, and other human-resources information that you and your employees may find helpful. Try the site of the National Human Resources Assn., www.humanresources.org, for a start or call them in Milwaukee at (414) 453-7499 for more information on what their group has to offer.


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