6 Tips for Supporting your Employee’s Career Development from Individual Contributor to Management

  • 5 Min Read

Determining what employees' skills are and what they enjoy is key for helping them navigate their career development.

At some point in time as a people manager, you will be in the position to support your employee as they navigate the “is formal leadership right for me” conversation. And while there is no silver bullet answer with a perfectly laid out roadmap to guarantee a “right” decision when it comes to moving into people management as the next step in their career development, there are some key strategies you can leverage to ensure that you are doing right by your employee and their leadership development.

Jay Walker, chairman of Walker Digital and founder of Priceline and Upside has a simple way to describe the difference between individual contributors, managers, and leaders.

Individual Contribution is the art of creating something tangible.

Management is the art of accomplishing objectives through other people.

Leadership is the art of inspiring others and getting them to want to do things differently.

So, to oversimplify, let’s tackle the question of whether formal leadership is right for your employee by looking at it through two specific lenses:

  • What is your employee good at (i.e. what skills do they bring to the table)?
  • What do they enjoy (i.e. what are they energized and motivated by)?

For example, your employee’s role and their relationship with those around them will change if they choose a management role. Manager roles require a unique skillset and motivators—e.g. developing others, thinking about the big picture, giving feedback, listening, being responsive, being agile, shielding people from distractions, removing roadblocks, conflict resolution, being process-oriented, etc.

Check out these particular skills that new managers need to succeed.

 

One of the more impactful ways that you can help your individual contributor navigate these career development waters is to help them to ascertain (1) what their skills are and (2) what they actually enjoy doing. Here are six ways you can help them do that.

Facilitate individual contributor excellence

Excelling as an individual contributor DOES NOT necessarily mean that your employee will excel as a people manager. Please do not make this (oft-made) assumption! However, excelling as an individual contributor will indeed help if the shift to people manager is made. Having a healthy history of credibility and the ability to influence and get things done will definitely help to facilitate any future transition to people management (particularly if the employee will be managing people who were once direct colleagues).

Coaching for (and recognizing) the collective and bigger picture

A transition to people manager would require a shift in focus from the individual to the collective and bigger picture. Support your employee’s development by coaching towards the collective (i.e. “How do you think that decision would impact Department X?” or “Where do you think our industry is going and where does our company need to catch up?”). Individual contributors often enjoy being rewarded and recognized and are energized by controlling their individual piece of the puzzle. People managers make the shift to a broader and bigger picture perspective. Already seeing this shift in focus in your individual contributor? Great news! Reinforce via specific and timely feedback and recognition.

Learn how Social Assessment™ can help with employee career development

Encourage increased accountability

While, in an individual role, you are ultimately accountable for work that you control, shifting to people management means moving into a situation that involves more accountability. And yes, that means being accountable for work that you do not directly control or manage. Pay attention for opportunities to help broaden your employee’s level of accountability and comfort by providing feedback and holding space for dialogue around establishing comfort level with increased accountability.

Ascertain desire and intention

Solid, open, and transparent career conversations and coaching are necessary here. Does your employee truly want to be in a people manager role (aligned with the skills and accountabilities described above)? Or, are they perhaps looking for something else (perhaps more aligned to the leadership description above) but are ‘stuck’ in the assumption that people management is the “only” or “best” next step. Alternatively, are you perhaps pushing for that next step and taking your employee too far outside of their comfort zone because (1) you aren’t clear enough on your employees’ goals and/or (2) you’re not sure what other development options are available to them? The role of people manager shouldn’t be taken lightly and moved into without adequate interest and excitement. Ask yourself and your employee the difficult questions to ensure it is the right and best next step for them.

Consider the split

There are many companies with a lot of “working” managers. As you know, it’s never as cleanly defined as this article would suggest! If your employee is considering a move to people management, coach them to ask the question, “how much of the role involves managing versus doing?” Information about the managing versus doing split is more data for you and your employee to leverage in order to decide how much of a stretch the opportunity might be and what kind of a challenge might exist.

Facilitate “trying it on for size”

When it comes to your employee’s development opportunities, look around and be creative. Is there an opportunity for them to “try on” the role of people management on a special project, committee, or tiger team? Looking for relatively low risk, high learning/feedback opportunities for someone to give people leadership a shot before jumping all in may provide fertile ground for learning and growth.

Helping your employee navigate the individual contributor to people management waters is critical career and leadership development support. By leveraging the six considerations defined above, you can help make sure their career journey will involve more smooth sailing than not. Good luck!

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