About Johanna Rothman

Johanna consults, speaks, and writes about managing product development. She helps managers and leaders do reasonable things that work. You can read more of her writings at jrothman.com.

Who Do You Promote Into Management?

I vividly remember my first promotion into management. I was looking for a promotion to be a senior engineer. I asked for a promotion. I got a promotion into management. Was I ready? Oh no!

I remember asking for another promotion. I was told, “You’re too valuable where you are.” I decided to make my myself less valuable and leave.

When I made my last transition into management—the one where I did not transition back into development or testing—that was the one where there were two candidates for the position. One was a very technical guy who barely had any people skills and didn’t like managing people. How did I know? He said so. I was the other candidate.

Now, you need to know that I have been working on my people skills my entire life. I’ve been given feedback that I’m too blunt and direct. I suspect that if I’d been born a man and 6 feet tall, I would have received kudos for being aggressive. I’m just too short and the wrong gender. On the other hand, I need to know how to phrase the information so the other people can hear it.

Promoting people into management is one of those very difficult decisions. It should not be a decision you make on the spur of the moment. If you have one-on-one’s with people, you can discover their career plans. You can help them, if they want it.

Part of a manager’s job is succession planning. Do you plan to be in this job forever? I hope not. Even if you just take a vacation, you are not going to be in this job for the rest of your life. You need to think about who you promote into management.

Who is the best person to promote? It might not be the person with the best technical skills. It might not be the person with the best people skills. It might be the person with some combination of the two. I don’t know. You should do an analysis of the value the job requires.

Here’s what I do know. If you always take the best technical person, you deprive the team of someone who was doing great technical work. And, if that person does not want to do management work, you deprive the team of a potentially great manager.

If you know of someone who falls into the trap of promoting the best technical person into management, have that person read my new myth, Management Myth #12: I Must Promote the Best Technical Person to Be a Manager.

Remember before, when I said I asked for a promotion? I wanted to be a manager. Why? Because I was ready for the challenge of making the difficult management decisions. I saw the project portfolio decisions that were not being made and I wanted to make them. I saw the client decisions that were not being made and I wanted to make them. I knew there were difficult tradeoffs to make in the projects, and I was willing to make them. Those were management decisions. I was willing to take a stand and make them. They were not technical decisions. They were management decisions.

So, think about who you promote into management. It should not be a spur-of-the-moment decision. Think about your succession planning. Discuss what people want out of their careers in your one-on-ones with your staff. Whatever you do, don’t fall prey to the Myth: I Must Promote the Best Technical Person to Be A Manager.
 

Reference: Who Do You Promote Into Management? from our JCG partner Johanna Rothman at the Managing Product Development blog.

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