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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

So You Promoted Wrong People to Management, What Now?


It seems recently I’m telling you a lot stuff about people management and managers in general. If describing the role of manager wasn’t enough you could also read a rant about screwed promotions which we see so often. This all stuff is good (yes, such a shameless self-promotion), but it assumes one optimistic thing: you can still make decisions who will be promoted to management.

However sometimes we don’t choose who is promoted to managerial positions. These decisions have already been made and they’ve been made wrong. If your task is to deal with that you’ll need to follow a three-step scenario.

1. Coach

OK, great engineer doesn’t make a candidate for a great manager. But it doesn’t make you can’t make a good manager out of great engineer. The trick is to raise awareness that someone doesn’t perform well as a manager and coach them to improve their people skills. Help them to change their focus from engineering to people management. However this effort can’t be unlimited. If someone isn’t willing to change you won’t force them. Then it’s time to move to the point number 2.

2. Find a better place

If someone excelled as an engineer and you can’t make a good manager out of them you might try to move them back to some engineering-related role. Maybe design, maybe architecture, maybe even project management would be a good place. It all depends on an individual case. Of course it is tricky – what you basically do is you move someone back from management to engineering, so you better have pretty prestigious engineering roles. And do it if, and only if, you believe the person would perform well in a new role. If you can’t find such role or leaving management isn’t really an option all you’re left with is a solution number 3.

3. Let them go

If you can deal with an issue other way you should let wrong people go. And yes, this means you’re losing a great engineer, who unfortunately became poor manager and is unwilling to switch back to the role which he performed well at. What you’re left with at that point is either to keep someone who do crappy job, which also affects their team, or to let them go and find possibly a better candidate. Well, if we discuss someone who failed at points 1 and 2 of the plan I’d let him go. As harsh as it sounds it is a good decision for both of you and for the discussed team.

Keeping poor managers is much worse than admitting you’ve made wrong decision promoting them in the first place.

And if you want to see more stuff about being a good manager you will appreciate my recent presentation titled Good Manager, True Leader, which I delivered at our internal company conference.

in: team management

4 comments… add one

  • meade October 5, 2010, 5:32 am

    Great article – I agree that making a bad decision is one thing, not correcting it in a timely manner is something else. There are few people who I’ve worked for that I would consider effective managers, never mind leaders (Leaders focus on the right things, Managers get things done – a great Leader/Manager gets the right things done)….

  • Pawel Brodzinski October 5, 2010, 5:55 am

    What I often see is we are comfortable with coaching people, much less comfortable with finding people more suitable place and totally uncomfortable about letting people go. Seems like we suck in solving difficult problems.

  • Dave Moran October 5, 2010, 8:55 am


    Nice post! I took a look at your presentation — I was introduced to an “exceeds” version of the Peter Principle early in my career, when I was wondering how certain people made it to the levels of management that I observed them at. It was explained to me this way:

    “You know how people rise to their level of incompetence? Well, here at _____, we like to promote two levels above that!”

    BTW, I liked the “L.A. SCAM” model.

  • Pawel Brodzinski October 9, 2010, 3:37 am

    It looks as shooting yourself right in your foot. I guess what people might think when they introduce this kind of approach to their organizations.

    And there is one more interesting thing here. Somehow people tend to like that model. They want to get promoted to roles which they don’t suit to. This is also something I don’t really get.

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