Management Design: The “designs” we have now: You’ve managed a team before? We need you!

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The Manager by Design blog advocates for a new field called Management Design. The idea is that the creation of great and effective Managers in organizations should not occur by accident, but by design.  Currently, the creation of great managers falls under diverse, mostly organic methods, which create mixed results at best.  This is the second of a series that explores the existing designs that create managers in organizations. The design discussed prior was, “Hire MBAs and Consultants.”  Today’s design:  Hire someone who has managed before.

In this “design”, organizations solve the problem of finding good managers by seeking people who have managed before.  A more specific version of this is to put in the job description the requirement for people who have managed teams of a certain size:  Have you managed a team of 5 or more people?  10 or more people?  50 or more people?  By seeking this prior experience, organizations are making an effort to eliminate the error of having someone who is inexperienced in the role.  With many management designs, hiring an inexperienced manager is far too risky.

Obviously, hiring managers from a pool of existing managers is an important way to reduce the risk and improve the quality of your management staff, and of course managerial experience tends to be better than lack of experience.  However, overreliance on requiring management experience as the method of ensuring good management has its perils, because on its own, it’s bad design.   Here are the perils:

a)      It automatically infuses bad managers into management roles. What were the management practices employed before?  You don’t know for sure. If someone managed before, that doesn’t mean that they employed good management practices in their prior role.  Given that a high percentage of managers are not considered good managers, this method is actually guarantees that a percentage of managers are bad managers (let’s generously estimate 40% bad managers, plus or minus 20%).  Do you want a process that guarantees 40% +/- 20% poor quality?  It also validates whatever management practices that were employed in the manager’s prior role, which leads us to item b:

b)      Different management methods are employed. By relying on management practices learned from prior experience, you are guaranteeing that you are designing a management staff that has differing opinions and methods on how to manage.  This means that poor management practices have just as much validity as good management practices.  An “experienced” manager can claim, “I have experience in this area, I just tell ‘em to shut up and get to work. That’s what I do.”  (note: This quote is an example of bad management).  This can lead to item c:

c)       Management practices can erode and trend to low quality. Even if you hired a good manager, if other managers are employing poor managerial practices or no management practices at all– which is inevitably the case (see item a, above)– then the good managers’ practices will converge to whatever the minimum practice is found in the management group.

d)      It is expensive. If you open your pool of candidates only to people who have managed before, you are guaranteeing that you are limiting your pool of candidates to those already commanding management salaries, and are probably looking for salary increases. This means that your management class is all “above average” in terms of cost, but highly variable in terms of managerial quality.  Which leads to the corollary:

e)      It limits the growth of existing employees and managers, and the good potential managers will leave. If you are looking for managers, this design of hiring only experienced managers excludes internal talent who may wish to join or grow in the managerial track.  It also sends a signal that one has to leave the organization to get the necessary experience to grow. Those with the ability to find work elsewhere (i.e., the most successful ones or the ones who can market themselves well) will succeed at leaving, while those who are not as skilled at finding new work, more likely the less successful employees, will stay.   This is your new management pool should you decide to make the leap and “promote from within.”  Good job!

f)       Those who managed big teams like to have big teams and could very well be empire builders. Let’s say you are looking for a manager who is experienced in leading a team of 15 or more people.  You now have a pool of candidates that find it acceptable that teams are 15 or more people, and that a larger and growing team is a sign of managerial greatness.  Where are the managers who keep their teams small?   Is the manager you’re hiring aspiring to have more people?  Does more people on the team equal greater management skills?  If you’re an organization trying to keep your staffing under control, don’t accidently favor the odds toward putting in leadership those who like big and growing teams.

g)      Industry, team, technical and process expertise is lost. Those on the team with the industry and technical expertise, and the expertise in how the organization currently is run, most likely the non-managers, will leave for other opportunities (as described in item e, above).  The manager who has to back-fill these will now also need to ramp up the new person.  Since the design is such that the manager was hired based on managerial expertise, not internal process expertise, this is a more daunting task, as the manager knows less about the skills and tasks needed to do the job.   A quality manager has the ability to overcome these issues, but this still cannot be considered elegant management design.   Similarly, this leads us to item h:

h)      On-boarding the manager to the technology and processes is more difficult. If you are hiring a manager for their managerial expertise, you are probably going to make a sacrifice in the manager’s technical and process expertise. This creates the challenge of the manager having to learn the team, process, technology, and issues, in addition to instituting management practices.  Working in this management design framework is hard work and not always good work. It can be done, but it is slow, and creates lag in team efficiencies and outputs while the manager ramps up, which, owing to managerial pressures, may never fully happen.  As the manager will necessarily have a more shallow understanding of the processes and technology, and it will take longer for that manager to innovate or improve on the processes.   There is also a risk that the manager will implement new processes or technology based on prior, external experience, without fully understanding the current processes and what, if any, is good about what is already in place.  This is snapping to the manager’s comfort level, not the team’s, which leads to the next item:

i)        Earning team trust is slower. When you bring in a manager based on management experience, you are instituting a team trust issue from the outset.  The new manager has to meet with the new team, understand the team and people issues, and make numerous efforts to earn the trust of the team in order for the team to resume being fully productive.  Of course, hiring a manager from the outside the team has to happen a high percentage of time, so this process is inevitable a certain percentage of time (and if you get an excellent manager, this trust-earning process may actually go faster), but if you are putting a pre-requisite for similar managerial experience, you are designing in this necessary trust-building process 100% of the time.  This is not efficient, and if you could promote from within someone, say, 20% of the time, you have created greater continuity from the perspective of team expertise.  Of course, you should have management design infrastructure in place to make sure new managers—wherever they come from—become a good manager, which will be discussed in future posts.

If you are relying on the technique of seeking managers who have managed before (and even being focused on team size), and putting it in the job description as a requirement, it is bad management design.  You should focus on improving your management design to increase the speed to performance of managers, regardless of their prior experience or level. Prior managerial experience should be a “nice to have” rather than a “need to have”.   With this requirement of prior management experience, you have essentially designed in high variance in managerial quality and manager practices, and at a higher cost– in salary, recruiting and on-boarding costs.  It’s also pretty risky in many areas.  Good management design should make costs lower and outcomes better, and lower risk when a new manager is hired.

Have you seen this practice of including in the job description a requirement of prior managerial experience (and even of a particular team/org size)?  What has been your experience of how well the new manager instituted good management practices, and learned the team processes, people and technology?  What mistakes have you seen?

I look forward to seeing your comments!

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: Make the loudest person the manager

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: Recruit someone from a successful comparable organization

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: You can manage only if you’re from here

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: Hire the premier technical expert

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: Promote the top performer

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: MBA graduates and Consultants

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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