We’ve all asked that immortal question – “How on earth did he/she get to where they are today?”  We’re stumped as to how someone with no perceivable people skills –  rubbish communication, unwilling to develop staff, complete lack of empathy, incapable of giving feedback without causing offence,  no concept of performance management, and just general utter muppetry – ever got to become a manager. But the answer is quite simple; they were promoted on the basis of their technical or operational excellence, or their long service. Not because they actually demonstrated any competence or potential in people management. They are the Accidental Managers, and the business world if full of ‘em.

So, not only are they suddenly taken away from the very thing that they were probably good at (the day job), they have a whole new set of responsibilities (line management) for which they have no relevant knowledge, skills or behaviours. Of course, the result is a general train wreck – you either end up with managers who don’t actually manage, but instead go back to the comfort zone of operations (but on a bigger salary), or you get managers who give it a go but are pants at it. They can be pants in any number of ways – too soft, too harsh, too buck-passing, too controlling – but pants they are. And more than likely, they are unhappy or uncomfortable in the role, particularly if they are struggling to assert their authority appropriately over people that used to be their peers. Ultimately, they’ll either leave the role, or just continue to be miserable. And pants.

It’s such a no-brainer, yet it happens all the time! The answer is as simple as the problem – make sure that people are ready, willing and able to take on a managerial role *before* they are put into it. Succession planning, in other words.  The benefits of succession planning are well-established. Not only does it lead to improved and cost-effective job filling for key positions and retention of key staff (and therefore of organisation-specific knowledge, experience, skills and values) – it also provides motivation and incentive for employees and helps foster a culture of internal promotion, development and career opportunities. All of which contributes hugely to employee engagement. What’s not to like!

So here’s a few quick tips on grooming future managers:

1.       Identify who has potential. Look for personal qualities such as a willingness to take responsibility, the ability to communicate with tact and diplomacy combined with a clear message, and a genuine interest in other people and getting the most out of them.

2.       Find out their career ambitions – do they actually want to progress, or would they rather bloom where they’re planted?

3.       Identify what capabilities your line managers need to have in order to lead, manage and develop staff effectively. E.g. a sound knowledge of people management procedures, great feedback skills, the ability to set SMART objectives, a creative approach to performance management and development, a motivating and encouraging approach etc.

4.       Develop those skills! Provide learning activities and opportunities to put them into practice. It doesn’t have to be all training courses – try internal cost-effective methods such as workshadowing current managers, supervising junior staff or temps, coaching or mentoring, watching DVDs/YouTube clips, e-learning through webinars, podcasts etc. – there are loads of ways.

5.       When vacancies arise, encourage them to apply but manage expectations, and if they don’t succeed, be sure they see it as part of their development journey rather than a reason to give up. Eventually they will be placed in the right role for them, at the right time.

It may take a bit of time and effort, but not to invest in it is surely a false economy when you consider the potential fall-out!

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