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Opinion: Front-line managers need to reassess time allocation

New Management, Part II

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Editor's note: This is the second in a series of three columns on "management epidemics" that plague organizations. Click here to read Part I.

In the first part of this series, I shined a light on a “management epidemic” that plagues too many organizations: the unsuccessful transition of individual producer to manager of others and the broken promotional pipeline that causes it. I examined the first of three necessary changes a newly promoted manager must make – a shift in skills from achieving individual results to getting results through other people. It isn’t only skills that must shift, however, to make this transition a successful one for both the manager and the organization.

The change in allocation of the new manager’s time can be a shocking one. For the first time, he must split his time between completing his own assigned work (assuming he is still responsible for some individual production) and helping others get their work done effectively. In other words, front-line managers often have one foot in production and one foot in management, necessitated both by what he is evaluated on and what his job description requires of him. This calls for an artful dance, or learning to balance time spent working and time spent managing.

As someone once accurately observed, “old habits die hard.” No different in this scenario, a newly promoted manager is naturally drawn to spending his time doing what he’s used to doing – the individual producer work required of him. Consequently, a quick assessment of a struggling manager’s time often reveals that he is spending very little time actually managing others.

Instead, questioning would reveal that far too many managers see managing others as a waste of their time. Frequently, I'll coach managers who declare themselves "task-oriented," as opposed to "people-oriented." This is a huge red flag. As a manager, your people are your most important work. Taking an interest in and developing other people is not a distraction from your work as a manager, it is your work. Well-trained managers must make the shift to stop thinking solely about getting work done and start thinking primarily about the people who are getting the work done.

The necessity of spending less time on individual work and more time managing others only increases with each level of management. While this shift in time allocation is very clear at the top of an organizational chart, if managers don’t learn and practice this shift in time allotment from the beginning, it can become a costly liability as they move up the leadership chain. In fact, to be most effective, once a manager has been promoted to managing other managers, he should divest himself of all individual producer work entirely.

How can an organization easily and instantly diagnose when this particular shift in time allocation has not taken place for a newly promoted manager? Simply put, if a manager of people is not interacting frequently with said people, there is a problem. If a manager of people knows very little about his subordinates, there is a problem. If a manager of people is more concerned with his to-do list than his time spent interacting with the people he leads, there is a problem.

Recognizing the ripple effect of a manager who hasn’t shifted his skills or time allocation from an individual producer to a manager’s role is relatively easy, as these are tangible shifts that can be measured. The third required shift – changes in values – isn’t quite so easy to spot, however. It also happens to be the most difficult shift for a manager to make.

Caitlin Kissee is a Gallup-certified strengths coach and owner/founder of Propel People Development LLC in Springfield. She can be reached at caitlin@propelpeople.com.

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