How to Identify Potential Managers Within Your Ranks

If you have a spot open in management it’s tempting to look only to your top performers to fill it. Or maybe it’s time to conduct an annual performance review for your account executive who keeps blowing up her sales goals. She’s been with your organization for three years and is hoping for a promotion.

Whether you’re recruiting for, or promoting someone to, a first-time manager this is one hiring decision that is critical to get right.

Management Matters

A Gallup study of more than 7,000 U.S. adults revealed that 50% had left their job to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.

We all know that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers, so who you have in management positions directly connects to your ability to retain top performers.

Even more sobering, according to a Gallup poll, 82% of companies appoint the wrong person to a management or leadership position. So this begs the question, how do you know if an employee would make a great manager?

All-Stars, Coaches, and Managers

Management and coaching have a lot in common. A great manager motivates, equips, and inspires their staff to improve performance and morale. A great sports coach will use their knowledge to elevate a team’s game.

Not all front line performers will make great managers, just like not every all-star is destined to be an exceptional team leader.

Take Wayne Gretzky. a.k.a. “The Great One.” His on-ice talent was incredible. It seemed logical that the leading scorer in NHL history would be well-positioned to lead another team to their own Stanley Cup win. However, his four lackluster seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes proved that being a skilled player doesn’t always guarantee you’ll make a winning coach.

Vince Lombardi’s career, on the other hand, demonstrates that you don’t have to be the highest performer in your field to lead others to victory. The NFL Super Bowl trophy is named for Lombardi, yet he never played professional football in his life. He was, however, one of the most successful coaches in NFL history, leading the Packers to three straight and five total NFL Championships in seven years. While his own athletic ability wasn’t extraordinary, Lombardi was able to take what he knew about the game of football and impart that knowledge for the benefit of his players.

It is more important for your managers to be great leaders and have a working understanding of the tasks that front line employees are doing than for the manager herself to be a great task-level performer.

So how do you know whether one of your employees has what it takes to make a great manager?

Ten things to look for in first-time managers:

  1. They have the right motivation. Ask your candidate why they want to be a manager. If they want a raise or promotion, there may be other ways to meet those goals that don’t involve a management position. Great management prospects are interested in the success of the organization, not just the next step in their own career path.
  2. They share credit. Leaders are willing to delegate and aren’t afraid to let their colleagues shine. They celebrate the achievements of their teammates instead of trying to compete with them.
  3. They have strong communication skills. Managers must be good listeners, they must understand how and what to communicate, and they must communicate clearly and proactively with their colleagues.
  4. They’ve been tested. It’s important that managers have experienced adversity in their professional and personal lives and have demonstrated the ability to grow from it. Ask candidates how they manage stress, handle conflict, and make decisions; listen for specific examples where they have been successful. The ability to manage stress in a healthy way is critical for leaders. If a manager is tense that will have a ripple effect on the whole team. Likewise, calm is contagious, too.
  5. They’re okay with imperfection. Perfectionists and control freaks will drive their direct reports crazy,  create resentment, and likely have high attrition rates. Empathy and optimism, however, are great traits in a manager.
  6. They have experience. Just because someone doesn’t have formal management experience doesn’t mean they haven’t developed their leadership chops. Maybe they have been the captain of a team or have headed up a volunteer committee. Ask about any non-traditional leadership experience that demonstrates that they’ve successfully lead a group to achieve a goal.
  7. They can multitask. First-time managers will have the added tasks of hiring, coaching, and performance reviews, in additional to non-managerial responsibilities. A good candidate will know how to prioritize time and refocus after interruptions.
  8. They have healthy relationships. This may seem obvious, but look for people who take an interest in the people they work with. If you’re a manager you’ll likely celebrate engagements and births, as well as walk through divorce and death with the people you work with. People want to work for someone who sees and cares about them as a person, not just a role.
  9. They are teachable. First-time managers are people you see potential in. This means they have a lot to learn and they know it. They will be enthusiastic about mentorship and personal development.
  10. They are discreet. The employee who knows (and contributes to) all of the office gossip is not management material. Managers must be trusted to maintain the confidence of their reports and senior leadership.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but we think these are important criteria. (Our previous post on leadership may also give you some ideas on how to spot potential within your team.) Next week we’ll talk about how to train and develop your rookie managers, so check back with us.

In Your Corner

If you work in HR or management, your plate is likely overflowing with responsibilities including hiring, onboarding, training, benefits administration, and scheduling—and that’s just the beginning. What if you there were tools to make all of this easier and give you your time back? We’d love to offer you a free 30-minute assessment of your payroll and HCM processes and discuss how we can partner with you to tame your back-office chaos. To schedule a meeting, click here.