Because everyone should dig their job

Making the Transition to Manager

By Dan Bobinski

Getting promoted is a common goal, but perhaps the most difficult promotion is transitioning from line worker to front-line supervisor. Why? Because the skills that made one successful in the rank and file are not the skills one needs for success as a supervisor.

If you’re a recently promoted line worker—or are looking to get promoted—it’s time to learn a whole new skill set.

Consider Burt. He’s been with his company five years, building an excellent reputation as a craftsman. Everyone recognizes that Burt has produced the best the company has to offer.

Recently Burt was promoted to shop supervisor. Before long, Burt’s former peers were complaining about being micromanaged. And instead of educating people in what to do, Burt just did the work himself.

To head off production and morale problems, the company’s owner pulled Burt aside. “I need you to supervise and train these people, not do the work yourself,” he said.

At the root of this common scenario is lack of adequate training. All the hoping, wishing, and magic wands in the world do little to equip new supervisors with the skills they need to succeed. Learning objectives must be established, and training must occur.

Another company I know of has experienced a 50% turnover in entry-level management over the last year. The reason is the same—lack of adequate training for the position. This company has job descriptions outlining what is expected for each managerial position. Unfortunately, nothing is outlined on how to train or equip people so they can actually do those managerial tasks.

At the risk of oversimplification, the core of what new supervisors need to learn consists of three basic skill sets:

            Learn to Plan better
            Learn about People
            Learn to communicate Purpose

Learning to plan better

Planning is rarely urgent, so it often gets put on the back burner. New supervisors would rather do the exciting things like put out fires. To a new supervisor, planning takes time that doesn’t seem to produce anything. But planning is important. It allows one’s mind to see the finished product and consider all the processes needed to get there.

New supervisors must come to realize that, in their new position, the first step in producing means creating an organized, effective, workable plan. It means identifying key action items and important details and then using good time management and delegation skills to get the job done.

With effective planning, emergencies are minimized and manpower is maximized. 

Learning about People

As a line worker, resources consist of raw products, materials, or information needed to make or assemble whatever the company produces. But as a manager, your resources are your people.

In the same way that a good line worker understands the strengths and weaknesses of different raw products, a manager must understand the strengths and weaknesses of the people reporting to him. In other words, to be successful, a new manager must become a student of people.

Trying to understand the human personality can be an overwhelming undertaking (psychologists go to school for years). So, for the sake of practical application, I like to boil understanding people down to three basic areas: Head, Hands, and Heart.

Head: How do your people think? What are the differences in how they perceive and process information? Are they more structured or more spontaneous in their decisions?

Hands: How do your people behave? What are their preferred actions when approaching problems, people, pace of the workday, and procedures?

Heart: What drives people? What motivates them? People can be motivated by a variety of things. To assume all are motivated by money is a terrible (and often costly) mistake.

Learning how to appreciate and capitalize on the diverse strengths of your employees allows you to leverage the skills and abilities of your team for maximum productivity.

Learning to communicate Purpose

Purpose—a clear picture of the end result—is often missing from workplace conversations. Too often people get bogged down in the details of everyday tasks and they lose sight of the bigger picture.

An effective manager consistently communicates the big picture. When employees see that what they’re doing contributes to a much larger end result, their commitment levels often rise. They engage. They care more. They want their piece of the puzzle to matter.

Bottom line, moving from line worker to manager requires proficiency in a whole new skill set. Learn and master these new skills and you can become just effective in management as you were in your previous position.