Friday, July 29, 2011

Do you have the skill set of a Manager?

Madhukar was very happy when he got promoted as a Manager of a bank branch. He had waited for it very long and was already planning to take many initiatives in the branch. After six months, Madhukar was so unhappy with the job that he sought for a change.

This phenomenon is so common in organizations that HR executives call this a double jeopardy for an organisation. They say " When we promote a good performer, we lose a good asset and acquire a liability ( a bad manager)'. It is a total loss for the organisation.

Recently i read about Dilip Vengsarkar's loss of elections to head Mumbai Cricket Association- MCA.Following issues were brought forth in the various articles: Can cricketers become good cricket administrators? Can cricket administrator do a good job without knowledge of cricket? It is the same question we face in organisations: Can a good sales performer become a good sales manager? Can one become sales manager without any skill of selling a product?

First difference is between the skill-set of cricketer and administrator. I have used Sanjay Dixit's article here to list the skill-set of cricketer and cricket administrator. A Test cricketer learns the art of batsmanship, the nuances of bowling, the finer aspects of cricketing strategy and all about the modern developments in training methodology. A cricket administrator has to learn the politics of managing different stakeholders, the legal complications involved in the job, the financial aspects, Income Tax and Service Tax issues, and liaison with various agencies. As the cricketer has no opportunity to learn these skills while playing cricket, he is a novice in using these skills. He is more than likely to fail as a cricket administrator !

Some cricketers, on the other hand, pronounced Mumbai cricket dead after Dilip Vengsarkar lost the elections. Does this mean that sportsmen alone can do a great job of running an association? A good example to contradict this view is of S K Wankhede who was MCA's president during the best of Mumbai's cricketing years. He was not a cricketer, much less a Test player. Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium was his handiwork. He spawned a system in which the cricketers did the specialized jobs, such as coaching and selections and he promoted a fair system where only the best could represent Bombay.

Options for learning the job of manager

What is the lesson from the above story? Both skills are necessary - the skill of administration and the skill of nurturing cricketing talent - to head a cricket association. What can you do?

If you are a cricketer, for instance, what options do you have to become a cricket association's head? You have to acknowledge the skill you do not have, and find someone else in the team who has the complementary set of skill, the skill of administration. This is one option. However, if administrative part of job generates the 'power' required to perform the full role, you cannot handover that part of job to someone else without jeopardising your basic role. In other words, some parts of job cannot be 'delegated' to someone as easily because it sacrifices the integral component of the role.

This happened with Madhukar. He tried to delegate the job of 'man-management' to his deputy in his branch, but that slowly robbed him off all the power he required to perform his role of 'branch manager'. At the end of six months, he knew he cannot function effectively as a branch manager, even though his understanding of banking industry and customers ( business domain) was bringing more business to his branch. However, if Madukar was in Army, he would not have faced any such problem. Army is a very hierarchical organisation with clear differentiation of superior and subordinate. Managerial rule-set of Army is different than in Madhukar's bank. Managerial rule-set determines how things are done in an organisation, how performance is monitored and disciplined, how power is displayed and how 'authority' and 'knowledge' are intertwined in an organisation.

In other words, Madhukar failed as a Manager, because his option of delegating part of his job did not 'match' with the managerial rule-set of his bank. As you would have guessed, this managerial rule-set of organisation is not written explicitly in any manual. One has to be skillful in 'inferring' this rule-set from working in an organisation. Often individuals fail in managerial roles, because they cannot 'read' this managerial rule-set and therefore misalign with the organisation ! An experienced sales manager, moving to another organisation, in the same industry ( which means he has the same domain knowledge of the product and industry) may also fail because he could not align with the implicit managerial rule-set of the new organisation.

Please note that we are here discussing about the first level of manager who synthesises the work of 'doers'. ( Please read my blog of 'Paradox of doers' of 4 Aug 2006 to understand the characteristics of doers) More than skill-set, it is the mind-set of Manager which is very difficult to adopt for a performer when he is getting promoted. Job of Manager is to 'synthesise' the task output of different performers, like a orchestra conductor who synthesises the instruments of different musicians. The job of manager is therefore 'ends-driven', while the job of performer is 'means-driven'. For a performer, this orientation is very difficult to change because it means ignoring talent if need be, sacrificing quality when the time is critical, and promoting interdependent working instead of independent working.

What can you do?

If you are a performer - be in programming, design or sales - and you do want to become a manager in your function, plan for it. Preparation is helpful, because it reduces the 'surprises' and gives you more time to respond.

First, understand the differences in skill-set of your current role and the manager. If you do not know it, talk with HR person. Because managerial positions are defined differently in every company, it is necessary to understand the precise role in your company. Do not use book definitions of managerial roles. Secondly, get introduced to some of the skill-sets even though one cannot learn them by 'reading' a book about them. Talking with some mentor is useful. Thirdly, practice some skills, if possible. For instance, skills of man-management cannot be learnt only by reading a book of 'how to delegate'. It requires practice. Seek support of mentors or coaches to do the practice. Fourthly, in a skill-set, focus only on a particular aspect of the skill which you think may be difficult for you. For instance, if you think that 'confronting your subordinates on their lack of performance' is a big challenge for you, learn that specific skill.Fifthly, understand the mind-set required by talking with a manager. Mind-set cannot be adopted just by listening to someone, but it helps to become aware of the requirements. Sixthly, find a manager-mentor or coach and interact with him very often in the initial transition period to fine-tune your approach and actions. Planning alone is never enough.

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