How to Become a Manager

When you move from individual contributor to manager, your job has just changed completely. You need an entirely new framework to know what's important and what isn't on a daily basis.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #330

Melvin was verklempt. He was recently promoted to manager and now his life was a living heck. "I need to make sure our website is immune to SQL injection attacks," he proclaimed, "but my direct reports keep wanting to talk to me about irrelevant stuff. One was going on and on about their Kansas City summer vacation. I don't have time for this stuff!" Au contraire Melvin (that's French, it means "on the contrary"), this is now the most important part of your job.

When you're promoted to manager, your job changes. Your job is no longer getting stuff done. Now, you job is getting stuff done through other people. It's the through other people that becomes the focus of how you spend your time.

When Melvin is a programmer, his job is to make sure the Green Growing Things website is immune to SQL injection attacks. When Melvin is promoted to manager, however, his job is to make sure that his team is making the website immune to SQL injection attacks. In an ideal world, Melvin shouldn't even be putting his hands to the keyboard.

Managers Grow and Facilitate Teams

So what should Melvin be doing? Taking his attention off the computers and putting it onto the people. He needs to be growing and facilitating his department. That means understanding the technical problems just enough to identify and hire other people who can solve those problems. When he interviews job candidates, he needs to be able to ask them questions that will reveal whether they know (or can learn) to harden the website against attacks. Once hired, he needs to put them in the job that matches their skills, so they can be the ones who solve the SQL injection attacks.

It's true that managers may sometimes do some direct, individual contributor work themselves, but that's less and less true as you move up the corporate hierarchy. By the time you're at the Executive Level, you should be spending 80% or more of your time on people issues, making sure that the other people in the organization can and are completing their jobs.

Your employees are there because they have to be, not because they care to be.

If you've come up through a functional area—as most people do—you are suddenly, subtlety, no longer doing what you used to do. Now, your job is facilitating other people's skills. But if you have no prior experience, how in the world do you even begin? Use a four part framework: what-to, how-to, want-to, and chance-to.

Communicate the "What To"

First and foremost, you need to make sure that your people know what they should be doing. This sounds obvious, but it may not be. "Your team should keep the shelves stocked." Which shelves? How full is "stocked?" And stocked with what?

You need to work with each team member to understand how the team goals translate into their personal goals. You need to help them recognize when they are and aren't meeting their goals, so they can get to the point of recognizing it on their own.

Develop the "How To"

Your team knows what to do, now make sure they know how to do it. You may think that if you hired the right people, of course they know how. Not necessarily. People get promoted and need to learn their new job, just as Melvin needs to learn to shift from an individual contributor to a manager. People aren't perfectly matched to jobs. Sometimes you don't know what skills a job will require, and sometimes the skills needed can change. Marketing gets revolutionized by the new PlorpYourCustomers.com. Even the best marketer needs to learn.

Don't be afraid to ask your people, "where do you need extra training or development?" and arrange classes for them. Your job is also scanning the landscape to know what trends are on the horizon, and help them anticipate the skills they'll be needing. >

Cultivate the "Want To"

Of course, if you want them to stick around and do a good job, people must want to do their job. Most people don't. According to Gallup research on employee engagement, over 70% of employees are not engaged in their jobs. They find their jobs uninspiring, boring, and life-sucking, even if they show up each day and put in the hours. Your job is to engage your employees.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.