Your Best Employee Probably Won't Be A Good Manager

One benefit that comes from speaking with decorated apparel industry business owners on a constant basis is that you get to hear their challenges. They are all looking for a solution to their problems, and a good number of them shoot these over to me all the time.

For example, here’s a remark from one shop owner.

“I don’t understand it. We recently promoted Fred to our production manager, and now it seems like the shop is falling apart. Nothing is going out on time, we have constant misprints, and morale is at an all-time low. Fred was our best press operator and now, we are really struggling. You would think that someone with his experience would be able to manage the department.”

Actually, the opposite is true.

Regardless of the position and department, promoting your best or key person to lead the team is often a recipe for disaster.

Why?

Because these are different skill sets entirely. Doing the actual work and managing the team and process will not ever be the same.

Being a great press operator is not congruent with managing production.

Running an embroidery machine isn’t an instant success as a great embroidery department manager.

Having a knack for selling won’t automatically make you a good sales manager.

In this article, I’ll break down the top problems, some tips to avoid them, and what you can do in your shop to help your newer managers succeed.

Top Problems with New Managers

First, new managers probably don’t have the training and guideline expectations that “normal” employees have when they start their new jobs.

For anyone else in your shop, they understand and thrive because they know how to act, what to do, and the logical next steps of their jobs. This happens because you know to spend time with them training, mentoring, and being patient while they get some “on the job training”.

Start with the Philosophy of Leading

What is a leader anyway?

Some look at the promotion as an excuse to “boss people around”. They think, “Finally, I’m in charge!”

Those folks don’t last long. (Hopefully)

Instead, what if part of the initial training came with some discussions and expectations on the philosophy of how your company leads? Talk about the definition of accountability. Of doing the right thing. The importance of empathy and humor. Of getting things accomplished. Doing things early.

But most of all with an understanding of what it takes to be a servant leader.

That they are responsible for the performance and learning of the people that work under them. Maybe even a frank discussion on how to treat people with respect and understanding.

Need for Better Job Definition

It’s been my experience observing this industry’s shops for a few decades now, that new managers rarely get that. Usually, they get a congratulatory talk, a promotion, some more money…and then it’s “well, let’s see what you can do.”

No wonder they struggle.

Instead, what if the promotion came with some mentoring?

Is there a seasoned manager in another department that could help ease them into the role? What if there were established benchmarks, training guidelines, or a series of one on one meetings with a leadership member for at least the first six months in the role?

Basically, are you thinking about training your new manager with the same dedication to transferring the knowledge that you would do in any other position in your shop?

Structure and Guidance

Effective leaders are ones that can be counted upon to provide structure and sound guidance to employees that need it. Not every employee on their team is an A+ staff member.

Some are barely C type players.

For new managers, motivating and training this type of employee is quite often very difficult. They usually resort to “jumping on their case” about things. Barking orders, pointing fingers, and frowny faces that accompany any sort of improvement suggestions for the employee can become a fact of life.

After all, that’s what bosses do, right?

But there is a fine line between proper guidance and micromanagement.

Learning how to deal with people, what makes them tick, and what motivates them to improve is a key factor in becoming a great manager. As most employees actually want feedback on their work, guide new managers into working with their employees more with their tasks to better understand their strengths and weaknesses. It’s that familiarity with the person that becomes an effective leadership tool.

That doesn’t happen by sitting in the corner office. Your new manager has to learn to work with people to build improvements and better habits.

Leading a team of people is a learn-by-doing-type of class.

Timidity is Rooted in Fear

Often new managers have a difficult time making decisions because they don’t want to make a mistake. That fear prevents them from pushing forward, solving problems, and completing tasks.

You have to let them know that they are going to make mistakes and that it is natural. Nobody was born with the knowledge of how to lead.

Experience is the only way to learn and grow, and making mistakes is 100% part of gaining experience.

Get the facts, ask good questions, use your experience and wisdom as a guide, and make a decision.

If new managers could do one thing to help them resolve this fear, I would suggest setting expectations for what has to happen. Getting clarity with what success looks like will always help bridge the gap between the worker and the manager.

An easy tool for this is a simple checklist.

What are the ten things the worker should be doing, listed in priority order? How long should they take? What happens if there is an ambiguous situation?

Get these ideas handled out early, as the staff wants to know “what’s next?”

Feedback Loops Are A Must

Open, honest, and critical feedback is the best way to grow a new manager into their role and develop a culture of responsibility.

They need to hear it from you, the owner…but feedback from those they manage is important as well. Remember, their job is to elevate the performance of the team.

Just like with the staff they manage, your new manager needs to understand what success in their role looks like too. What is their number one priority? Number two?

Things can change from week to week.

Use this phrase, “I never lose. I either win or learn.”

Your new manager is going to do something wrong. Count on it.

Are you taking that as an opportunity to point out a better way? What should they have done differently? Is there data that supports a better way of handling the process?

Feedback is a critical tool in understanding their performance. Are they helpful? Condescending? Constantly late? Doing a fantastic job?

Get opinions and input.

But be wary. Some staff members might not like being suddenly held accountable for their work, or having to elevate their own performance.

With teams of people, the weakest link in the chain quite often squeaks the loudest under new pressure. This actually can be a sign that the new manager is doing their job, so be open to this type of complaint as a positive sign if the shoe fits.

Lack of Planning

When that new manager was a simple staff member the work flowed to them and they just knocked it out every day.

Good managers, on the other hand, constantly think ahead. Their brain needs to be wired to be thinking about tomorrow, the next day, or even next week. What are the potential problems? Who is out on vacation? Will we have an avalanche of work coming in, or will it be the opposite?

New managers need to learn the “P” rule.

“Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance”. If we only focus on what’s happening today, then it will be impossible to prepare for tomorrow.

Unfortunately, a lot of this type of planning doesn’t happen proactively because people have to have the situational experience to know what to expect. Wisdom is the result of experiences, and new managers might not be overflowing with that trait.

This is where other senior leadership advisors, or you as the owner, can help them. Quiz them on what’s coming up. Help them plan.

Don’t wait until disaster strikes so you can sit back and chuckle with a “gotcha”. That’s not helping your business, or the new manager grow into their role.

The Art of Delegation

It’s a fact. People can not be in two places at once.

But for new managers, it quite often feels like they have to be.

They are in charge of the daily circus now. And as the ringmaster, they might be helping the trapeze artists swing to safety, as simultaneously the clown car crashes into the lion cage. Yikes!

As the manager, the important thing for them to remember is that they are responsible for getting the work completed. On-time. With quality. As scheduled.

One tool that can immediately make an impact on a new manager is delegating tasks.

Delegating tasks can instantly accelerate the completion of tasks. “Many hands make light work”, as they say.

To be an effective delegator, the new manager should assign tasks and duties to those with the appropriate skill, give a time deadline expectation, and check back regularly to see that the task is being carried out according to plan.

The Use of Data

As a lot of folks know, I’m a data freak.

Not because I’m any sort of math or spreadsheet wizard, but because it paints a true an accurate picture of what’s going on. Gut feelings are one thing. Graphing out the performance is another. Only one captures things accurately.

For new managers, how are you using data to demonstrate their performance in leading the teams? This article isn’t department-specific, so are there Key Performance Indicators that make sense to review?

What were the numbers before they took charge? After?

Do you see any significant change?

Remember, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. If you want to see if your new manager is effective, obtain data points to paint the picture of how they are leading.

Use this as a tool for clarity.

The Title for This Article

I titled this article, “Your Best Employee Probably Won’t Be A Good Manager” mainly as a warning.

They absolutely can be.

But only if they are supported. Mentored. Trained. Plus, allowed to grow into their position.

One thing to remember here, and that they were elevated to the position for a reason. You, or somebody else, somehow thought that they would make an effective leader.

This means that you need to let them lead. Give them the tools. Support them when someone does an end-around and comes crying to you with a story about how they are unfair.

Guide them into the role that you are paying them for, and let them do their job.

But if you simply shove them into the deep end of the pool without supporting them, don’t be surprised if they drown.


“The productivity of work is not the responsibility of the worker, but of the manager.” – Peter Drucker

“A manager is responsible for the application and performance of knowledge.” – Peter Drucker

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker