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

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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, and disasters at worst.  This is the latest of a series that explores the existing designs that create managers in organizations. Today’s design:  Hire as managers only those from within the organization.

In this “design”, the organization values promoting people into first-level and upper-level management positions from within.  This is a natural tendency, because there are a lot of good outcomes from this process – it encourages thinking through management development and creating programs to support it; it creates career paths for employees; it assures that managers are familiar with company, department, and team procedures and expertise.  The manager is networked already within the company.  So if you are going to err on having this be your management design, this would be a good place to start.

However, as a design, it is still lazy, and there are some pitfalls and risks that need to be addressed.

a) Your management development practices need to be very good

Those organizations who make strong efforts to develop the management skills of anyone promoted to management are practicing management design.  They make an effort to help people make the transition into the management ranks through training, mentoring, setting expectations, and the like.  For some organizations, this is a long, involved process that takes great care to assure that when someone becomes a manager, they are indeed prepared to do this well.  This is great – and keep reading this blog on how these practices can be maximized for effectiveness.

What isn’t great is if an organization is NOT good at this process, and, unfortunately, this counts a fairly high number of organizations.  If great care is not taken in developing managers and making it perfectly clear what they should and shouldn’t do as managers, then you’re in serious trouble. You are producing managers who will, by necessity, make up their own management practices and start making mistakes as soon as they start as managers.  The culture will develop such that managers learn the “made up” practices that then become the lore of the company.

b) It tends focuses on the entry level to management

Many management development programs focus on those new to management.  This is a good place to focus, as this is perhaps the most difficult transition.  But the transitions don’t stop there.  If you become a manager of managers, or a manager of a department, new skills, expectations and strategic thinking are needed.  If these skills aren’t developed, then you are creating a management class that is stuck at the first level.  This creates a systemic risk for your organization.

c) Resistance to outside opinion

If your management comes exclusively from your ranks, you will miss out on the innovation that greater diversity brings.  The management team that has been developed solely from within the organization will certainly be able to understand the culture and history of the organization.  However, it will tend to be closed to outside opinions, since structurally, the management development process has edified that it does not need outside opinions.  You have a management class that has been rewarded and promoted precisely because they have been able to internalize the culture and thinking of the organization.  This means that they will tend to respond positively to internal ideas, and negatively to external ideas.  It is a big bet that your organization holds a lock on the best ideas for organizational growth, performance and innovation.  I don’t recommend taking that bet.

d) Resistance to change

Managers should be good at fostering change in an organization.  However, if you reward people in your organization (by, say, promoting them to management) because they a part of the organization, you are structurally telling your management and its employees that the existing organizational processes are the correct processes and strategies.  Those who followed these promotions and strategies the best were promoted.  They are now in charge of these processes and strategies.  Therefore, the management ranks will want to preserve these processes and strategies.  This is what they are good at.  It’s tough enough to get individual contributor employees to change, but the entire management ranks as well?  That’s tough!

e) Miss out on talent

This is an obvious one, but if you rely on an infrastructure that looks at promoting from within too much, you are missing out on talent that exists outside your organization.  Poor management design often makes it very difficult for a manager to come in from the outside.  You need that outside manager to be experienced in the functional field, knowledgeable about the company and industry, able to pick up the processes and expectations, and “take charge.”  As a result, hiring managers tend to look internally at a more limited pool of talent.  The pool that is missed is the one that has the ability to create innovation, identify areas of improvement that the internal teams are blind to, and has the ability to institute change.  This leads to the next area:

f) Miss out on superior management practices

It’s another big bet to assume that your organization’s management practices are absolutely the best ones.  It’s a big world out there, and if you open your door to practices that can improve your organization systemically by strategically bringing in people from the outside, then you are opening your organization to opportunity.  Of course, you should have good management design that allows for this superior management practice (whatever it is) to be identified, tested and, if indeed superior, replicated.

g) Tends to identify that growing in management is the way to grow in the organization

One potential pitfall about promoting from within is that this becomes the de facto way to rise and grow in the organization.  Because most, if not all, management positions come from the employee ranks, this creates the need for a disproportionate number of people needed to fill the management ranks, and this becomes the fastest way to get a promotion, pay increase, recognition for good work, and the like.  The downside is that developing technical and other non-managerial skills is devalued and undermined.  Also, people who would really rather not be managers feel that they have to become managers in order to grow in their career.  In essence, you are encouraging people who are not disposed to being good managers to vie for managerial positions.

h) If you promote a bad manager, that behavior will be replicated

Let’s say someone is promoted to manager.  Then they are really bad at being a manager, even though they went through the management training program.  Then they get promoted to being the next level manager!  Whatever it was that the manager did will be seen as what it takes to be a promoted further.  If that guy yelled at everyone, so will all of the other managers.  If that promoted manager “managed up” exclusively (and didn’t ever “manage down” – is that even a term?), then so will all the other managers.  On top of this, the promoted manager will “like” the managers who resemble his behaviors, and promote similarly bad managers.   So beware, you may be creating a monster with this lazy and poor management design!

So while it makes sense on the surface to “promote from within,” as a management design, it is not sufficient to create great managers.  It misses opportunities for greatness, and risks creating a dynamic of systemic failure.

Have you seen this design work?  Have you seen these symptoms in your organization?  Feel free to share in the comments!

Related Posts:

The Cost of Low Quality Management

Management Design: The designs we have now – Promote the one who asks for it

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: You’ve managed a team before? We need you!

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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