“What is different about being a Manager?” starts out a blog I read regularly.  In it Tom Foster, the author, asks: “What is different about being a manager [than a supervisor]?” This is an ongoing and growing conversation I have with senior managers and business owners.  Tom again hits the nail on the head when he writes about a client telling Tom his hiring woes: “[He] had been a great supervisor, but was having difficulty [in his new role as manager].  

Tom then writes about a conversation which I’ve heard and participated in hundreds of times before – it was like Tom was eavesdropping on my client conversations!

“And did he demonstrate any of that behavior before you promoted him?” I asked.     
“Well, no, but we thought he would be able to figure that out.”   

“Did you ever assign him tasks, management tasks, to test him on his capability to handle those assignments?”  

Gerald narrowed his eyes, before his short answer, “No.”  

“So, you promoted him to a Manager level, without evidence of Management capability, based on his success at a Supervisor level?”   

This conversation is taking place more frequently than ever.  Why? Because growing companies need more managers and established organizations are losing managers to retirement – or the competition.  Loyal, hard-working supervisors are being rewarded with a promotion to the rank of manager without the experience, knowledge, and very likely the most important –  the competence, skills, and motivation to perform the duties of a manager.  

Just like Tom recommended, job sampling or assigning manager-type responsibilities ahead of a hiring or promotion is ideal.  But in today’s lean and mean (aka – shorthanded and understaffed) organizations that type of flexibility is sometimes just not practical. When tasks are assigned, it is only on the rare occassion that any oversight and mentoring takes place.  Instead it’s more like trial by fire.  If you survive the experience, you get the promotion; if not, you’re stuck in supervisor h*ll for eternity.  That’s too bad because the successful performer may have had just a little luck on his side and won’t be able to repeat this success in the future while the high potential candidate who failed on this one particular project may have had the cards stacked against him. What’s a better way to predict manager potential when you have a vacancy and a supervisor is the only available employee to fill the job?  

Let me take a step back before I answer that question and ask “what is the worst way to find out if a manager is competent (or at least has the potential)?”  The answer should be obvious at this point: promote them and think “they can figure it out.”  

The better approach is to evaluate the candidate’s current and potential managerial competence.  By combining the likes of a personality test, employee values assessment, DISC behaviorial style assessment and cognitive ability test, a hiring manager can determine not only the candidate’s potential to act and think like a manager but his motivation and ability to learn what he doesn’t know.  

Even better testing, the first step in evaluating managerial or supervisory potential should be identifying the essential core competencies. Several competency models are available. For management and sales, I prefer the Assess Success Model.

Here’s a short list of common competencies that both supervisors and managers should have:

  • Decisive Judgment
  • Planning and Organizing
  • Driving for Results
  • Managing Others
  • Coaching and Developing Others

Several additional competencies seem similar in theme but are in fact very different on the job. For example, supervisors should be competent at Adapting to Change while managers need to step it up a notch and be skilled at Championing Change.

Another competency difference is Motivating Others for supervisors vs Relationship Management for managers. A third difference is Functional or Technical Acumen for supervisors vs. Business Acumen for managers.

Examples of several supervisor/manager/executive assessments I recommend, including what they measure are: