The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Educate New Managers on Their New Responsibilities

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Far too often companies promote employees into management positions and expect them to fulfill the obligations of their new position without helping prepare them to meet their new responsibilities. People who excelled at doing their non-supervisory job often have little education or experience to succeed with their new responsibilities.

Managing a software development team is a completely different job from being a great software developer. Most everyone would acknowledge that: but if you look at what actually happens in many organizations the management system is not setup with this fact in mind.

A company with a Deming based management system actually will provide relevant education and experience to all employees that will benefit new managers (much more than most organizations do). Since the Deming management system includes educating everyone on useful management tools and using the abilities of everyone as much as possible most non-supervisors will have gained significant knowledge and experience during their career. In Deming based management systems employees are called on to work cooperatively, coach colleagues, evaluate priorities, assess the success of changes, take proactive action to improve processes, etc.. But in many other organizations this education and experience is often fairly limited.

And even in organizations where everyone is encouraged to learn and take on leadership responsibilities in various ways (leading a project team, leading a PDSA improvement cycle effort, helping colleagues apply a management tool the others are not familiar with, continually improving the standard work instructions, evaluating data to determine the proper course of action…) normally they would benefit greatly from training and education specifically aimed at helping them succeed in their new role.

image of quote by Dr. Deming "Best efforts are essential. Unfortunately, best efforts, people charging this way and that way without guidance of principles, can do a lot of damage."

Large organizations have some advantages in this area as they can afford the overhead to create a plan and provide structure to assist those taking on significantly new responsibilities. Formal internal training and education for those taking on management responsibilities can be very helpful. Of course, one of the problems with such efforts is they often reinforce management practices we, The W. Edwards Deming Institute, are trying to help people overcome. Still, the idea of courses to help people learn about how to be successful managers is a useful one. Just be careful to choose the right content. Good strategies are undermined by poor tactical choices.


Even with very little structure (in those cases when a wonderfully designed system for assisting new managers is not realistic) we can help our organizations by providing some help to new managers (and existing managers actually).

Reading several good books can help a great deal. But such a tactic has limited value; it is hard for most people to learn a great deal about management in just that way. Online training and videos also offer some promise, as do podcasts and blogs and other online resources. It is normally very useful to have people the new managers can interact with in taking on such challenging new responsibilities. An internal mentor can be a huge help. Coaching (from a consultant) for new managers can also be very valuable.

Taking the time to create a process for new managers to be given every chance to grow into their new positions is important. Paula Marshall, CEO of The Bama Companies spoke at our 2014 annual conference and mentioned how she personally leads training sessions for all managers (all her new managers get 40 hours of meetings and seminars with her).

For small organizations the efforts might well be on a smaller scale than that.

I strongly believe the ideal way to set up such a system would be to use a capacity matrix (as discussed in more detail in the link). Even if you decide to make the number of items in the matrix very small that would be a great start. It is also surprising how much you will learn about what is actually needed to do the job well. This could help recruit and evaluate candidates more effectively; a nice extra benefit from using this idea.

Providing a list of resources for the new managers to learn from will also help. It could be as simple as list of 3 books, 2 webcasts and 5 articles. Maybe you would include specific training courses (such as the Deming Institute 2 1/2 day seminar or online courses). Those resources should be picked to aid in learning about the capabilities identified in the capacity matrix.

In an ideal situation resources to learn about specific capabilities would be linked. Realistically this is unlikely to be created at the outset. My advice? If it wasn’t created at the outset have those people that are using the capacity matrix complete those linkages for those who follow in their footsteps (and just like a standard work instruction this should be a living document that is updated as it can be improved).

Give the new manager someone to talk to as they learn from those resources and attempt to expand their capabilities. They also need someone to talk to as they experiment and try to apply what they have learned for themselves within their new responsibilities.

Maybe that person to consult with be their supervisor, maybe it could be a mentor, maybe it is their supervisor and a coach (and of course likely their will be several people, even if none are formally assigned such a role, but it is wise to formally assign at least one person). Use whatever process makes sense for your organization. Put that process in place and continual improve it based on what you learn.

Some positions will have the need of some specialized capabilities. Make sure your process is flexible given that the needs are going to vary. A base capacity matrix that then has modules added on for specific roles (perhaps some managers need to present to large audiences or be interviewed by journalists, etc.). With a good system in place it is easy to build customized a capacity matrix for each position. And creating such a system is a powerful way to improve the value managers can deliver to the organization during their career.

Related: Give People Enough Rope (and the Right Rope) to AchievePaula Marshall Thoughts on MentoringInstitute Training on the JobCreating a Great Software Development Team


Categorised as: management systems, process thinking, systems thinking


2 Comments

  1. Thanks for this article. I’ve thought about this topic a lot as well. I agree–books, articles, podcasts, seminars all help, but I think the important ingredient is having a good mentor. Ex.-My daughter takes gymnastics. How realistic is it for her to learn it by reading books and watching online videos? I really like the capacity matrix and will look at that in more depth. I often ask myself why people are put into management positions without any training. I can’t help but think one reason is because so many organizations value an individual’s own efforts in figuring it out themselves. But what if they are wrong? I also think certain personality types are often selected over others to lead–type As, ENTJs, and theory X management styles seem to typically get the nod. These folks are not inclined to be receptive to a Deming-type message. I’m not sure how we get ourselves out of this hole.

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