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.
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.