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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