Great Job Performance Won't Make You a Good Manager

In many organizations, promotions into management are based on little else beyond good job performance and tenure. However, being great at one's job doesn't necessarily mean that a person will be a good manager. For example, an employee can have large sales numbers but be too aggressive to manage people. Similarly, producing a high volume of product on an assembly line doesn't qualify one to make schedules or delegate responsibility.

In reality, individual management candidates should be looked at much more closely and judged according to more relevant criteria.

"One factor to consider is alignment between the employee's skill set and interests and the demands of the prospective managerial role," says Katherine Alex Stevens, product manager for the Becoming a Better Manager program at HBX, the digital learning arm of Harvard Business School. "Is your strong executional performer ready to stretch to a role requiring strategy development and people management? Will he find the new role personally and professionally fulfilling? Dispositional factors can be a useful indicator as well: Does the employee go beyond simply identifying problems and proactively propose solutions? Does she not only look to fulfill her own obligation to a team project, but empower her teammates to succeed as well??

Becoming a Better Manager

If you're a manager who was promoted into a role you don't feel prepared or qualified for: Don't panic.

Instead, you should "spend more time thinking about your processes and less time thinking about personnel," says Joseph Fuller, professor of management practice in general management at Harvard Business School and the instructor for the HBX Becoming a Better Manager course.

Processes are those steps and actions that determine how work is done in an organization or team. Managers who are unhappy with their results should be asking: Which process drives the specific outcome? Who is involved in the process? What information drives relevant decisions?

Candidates preparing to move into management positions should ask similar questions about processes to make sure they understand the role they're getting ready to assume: What processes are most important in determining whether a unit meets its objectives? Who is involved? What data are people relying on to make decisions? What assumptions frame their choices?

"Managers often don't understand the importance of the way they structure a process — who is involved, what information is available to them, what their incentives are, etc.," Fuller says. "Executives need to evaluate the quality and efficiency of their managerial processes just like they assess operational processes. Managerial processes drive results, and results create opportunities for companies and for individual managers."

New managers promoted from the pool of workers they now manage often struggle with interpersonal relationships with subordinates who are also friends. Learning to navigate these relationships is key to making the promotion successful.

"Because managers must objectively evaluate employees and navigate decisions on their progression within the organization, it's important that they establish reasonable boundaries on how they relate personally to members of their teams," says Stevens. "That said, employees who feel supported and engaged will bring their best performance to work each day. You as manager can cultivate this atmosphere by demonstrating a genuine interest in each of your team member's personal lives, serving as a sounding board for their concerns, offering solutions and advice, and coaching and mentoring each of your team members in their professional journeys."

Management Myths

Before accepting a promotion, it's important that workers understand what managers actually do. Stereotypes suggest managers do nothing at all, but that's only because many employees fail to understand what their bosses are really up to.

Myth No. 1: Managers Spend All Their Time Making Broad Strategic Decisions and Looking at Big-Picture, Long-Term Concerns.

"In actuality, managers spend most of their time on execution — reviewing, monitoring, and overseeing ongoing activities to make sure things get done," Fuller says.

Myth No. 2: Managerial Work Is Based on an Orderly and Predictable Sequence of Activities

While many believe managerial work involves defined cycles of planning, organizing, supervising, coordinating, and controlling, the reality is management work is rarely that neat.

"Demands on a manager's time often arise at the spur of the moment or due to the actions of a customer or a competitor that are beyond management's control," Fuller says. "Managers must have a definitive understanding of their business and the processes that underlie them. Chance does favor the prepared mind, as Pasteur said. But, such understanding relies on more than having a refined understanding of the marketplace. It requires an intimate understanding of how one's organization gets its work done."