Why New Managers Fail

When you are great at your work, you have learned how to use the resources around you combined with your skills and experience, to create high-quality outputs. 

As you become great at creating, growing, and managing a result, you often find yourself in management. The thought is, if you are so good at this, perhaps you can help others become just as effective, and the company can multiply its great resources.

This isn't inherently wrong. However, it often proves ineffective, unless... you understand the change in approach required to make it happen!

Move Up a Level

The first change required is a change in mindset.

As an Individual Contributor, you will have viewed your work as a craft. You were flexible and agile, and able to make changes based on small nuances in previous outputs. You created, and adjusted based on results, 

When moving to management, you will get frustrated by trying to teach and manage people to do the same thing. You'll find

  • others won't pick things up as fast as you'd like
  • quality quickly deteriorates when you aren't personally monitoring
  • the place seems on the edge of breaking down at all times

What do you expect? You are trying to recreate years of training your eye, brain, decision processes, and problem-solving techniques into days or weeks for someone else. It's just not possible.

The mindset shift is that you must now create a system that creates the outputs, rather than just focusing on the outputs themselves. You must create a method or approach that can be followed and achieve 70%-80% of the results you can achieve. 

You must now think of the system as your output.

As a manager, you are managing adherence to an approach rather than the work itself. When you create a method that accomplishes the output, you will be able to write it down, train to it, and scale it. Your job will become building the methods rather than focusing directly on outputs.


Fix The System, Not The Output

When you experienced a problem pre-management, you would adjust your technique or decision process, or update your technical knowledge. 

After becoming a manager, working directly with individuals on this process will again lead to frustration. Rather than fix the problem or the person, the manager must now think "How can I fix my method so that this problem doesn't occur?"

Fix the system, not the individual problem. This is called a feedback loop. 

  1. A problem occurs
  2. Look 1 level up at the system
  3. Diagnose how the system allowed or caused the problem
  4. Redesign that part of the system
  5. Implement new system

This adds scalability to the fix and moves it from assisting one person; to every person that uses or will use the method in the future


Train People To Work On The System, Not Just In It

The last key part of moving from Individual Contributor to Manager is how you train your people. 

You want to train them to consider the system, not just the outputs. Encourage them to consider it, its weaknesses, and its strengths. Where might it be improved? Encourage them to experiment and see where there are better ways.

You want your team to not only be aware of the methods you create, but also see them as separate from creating outputs, and know they can co-create these systems with you.


Considering these three mindset changes will take a new manager much further than simply trying to recreate their own expertise across the company. Fixing a system that fixes outputs is slower than directly intervening, and is often frustrating to those who come from doing it themselves. Yet once you put up with the early frustration, and the system starts to get momentum, you can far outpace any results you could personally have achieved before. The compounding makes it impossible to compete it.

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