How to Promote Your Best Developers to Managers—and When You Shouldn’t

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10 min
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How to Promote Your Best Developers to Managers—and When You Shouldn’t
Table of Contents
  • Introducing Hazel Olivier, our technical management expert
  • Why you shouldn’t promote your best developers to managers
  • 5 tips for choosing and preparing the right employees to become managers
    • 1. Learn your employees’ career interests
    • 2. Train for managerial roles
    • 3. Job shadowing
    • 4. Set goals for your employees
    • 5. Conduct periodic performance reviews
  • How to decide who to promote when you have multiple candidates
  • 5 common mistakes to avoid as a manager
    • 1. Isolating yourself from your team
    • 2. Setting the wrong example
    • 3. Not providing feedback
    • 4. Not giving your team autonomy
    • 5. Not celebrating wins
  • Final thoughts on promoting your best developers to managers

If you have a team of talented developers, filling managerial positions in your tech company may seem like an easy task. You may think that you’ll be spoiled for choice and not have to spend time and money shortlisting and interviewing external candidates.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, since good coders don’t always make good managers. Also, making the wrong promotion decision can reduce a developer’s productivity and, by extension, your company’s productivity. So if you’re considering promoting your best coders to managers, you may need to rethink your decision.

Luckily, we had a lengthy chat on this subject with Hazel Olivier, CTO of Nimbla, during one of our recent Tech Leaders Hub Fintech series. Hazel shared invaluable insights about promoting developers to managers that might save you from making the wrong decision.

If you’re struggling with this choice and want to get things right, keep reading to find out how to identify potential managers in your team and promote developers to managers without reducing their productivity.

Introducing Hazel Olivier, our technical management expert

Hazel Olivier has over ten years of experience in senior and executive management roles and over 15 years of experience managing technical delivery teams. She specializes in building and scaling complex engineering teams across multiple industries. She is also a natural leader who motivates and supports teams to maximize performance and profits.

Currently, she is the Chief Technical Officer of Nimbla, a fintech company that offers small invoice insurance services to businesses. Nimbla protects small business owners against customer default in an interestingly easy manner.

The Nimbla platform uses algorithms to assess the risk of a customer defaulting in payment or predict if a customer is likely to claim insolvency. Nimbla’s clients can link the platform to their accounting system or upload process invoices for insurance on the go. Nimbla also assists business owners in recovering sums from defaulting customers.

Nimbla has established partnerships with Barclays Bank, Starling Bank, and a couple of large brokers in the UK. Recently, the company launched an EU offering allowing UK firms to trade within the EU. As Nimbla’s CTO, Hazel manages and drives the value of the technology within the organization and helps Nimbla remain competitive in its vertical.

This article covers our discussion with Hazel extensively. However, if you’d rather watch the live session, here’s the link to the recording:

 

Why you shouldn’t promote your best developers to managers

People who excel in their fields often become the go-to persons for colleagues and team leads on matters related to those fields. And when there’s an opening for a higher position in their field, they naturally come to mind. But there’s no guarantee they will excel in a managerial role simply because they’re good at what they currently do.

As Hazel says, “Don’t just promote your staff because they are good at what they do.” There’s a difference between being a developer, a team lead, and a department lead. Managerial positions require additional skills that the best coders in your organization may lack. Also, people may be comfortable being just coders and feel overwhelmed and unmotivated if you promote them to a managerial position. In some instances, they might even end up leaving your company.

It’s advisable to ensure that your team understands that they don’t need to move up the management ladder to progress in their careers. There should be flexible roles for people who don’t want to be managers. For instance, they could be subject matter experts.

However, if you’ve identified that your best coders are interested in taking on managerial roles, you can promote them. Hazel recommends supporting newly appointed managers until they embody their new positions. Thus, you should provide them with the resources they need to excel in their new roles.

5 tips for choosing and preparing the right employees to become managers

Employees shouldn’t be promoted to managers on a whim. Therefore, it’s essential to set up a rolling plan ahead of the promotion date or any anticipated promotion. This way, you’ll have enough time to identify the right team members to be promoted and figure out the best roles for them.

Here are some tips for identifying and preparing employees for managerial roles:

1. Learn your employees’ career interests

People have different career ambitions. For example, some employees may want to transition to new roles in a different field. Some may want to explore a career in academia, and others may want to start their own businesses.

Thus, not everyone will be interested in becoming a manager, and you shouldn’t work with this assumption. Instead, discuss this with your team members and figure out their career interests. This way, you’ll be in the best position to help them achieve their goals. But, more importantly, you’ll find the employees who are interested in assuming managerial roles and narrow down your list.

2. Train for managerial roles

Ensure that you have a continuous professional development (CPD) plan for employees and tailor employee training to their career path.

Before developing a CPD plan for each employee, ask them about their interests. Then, when you’ve figured out your employees’ career interests, you can support them in developing the skills they need to fit into their desired roles.

Specifically, you can focus on improving the soft skills of employees interested in becoming managers. This will make transitioning to a leadership position much easier for them.

3. Job shadowing

Another way to identify and prepare your team members for managerial roles is job shadowing. Some people learn quicker by doing things and not observing. In Hazel’s words, “Some employees may get bored from watching people all the time.” Hence, engaging your team members with managerial tasks may be a great way to identify potential managers.

Job shadowing is essentially assigning managerial responsibilities to team members for a short period of 1–2 weeks. During this period, you’ll be able to see how they perform in the role. Also, they’ll be able to decide if they want to become managers or not.

Job shadowing can also be implemented effectively in a remote setting. For instance, you can ask an employee to learn the goals of 2–3 people on their team and revert or some other exercises that force them to think and experience what managing people would feel like. You should discuss their findings from the tasks later to find out what they think about such responsibilities.

4. Set goals for your employees

Goals help us achieve various milestones in our lives. It could be managing your finances, dieting for weight loss, or aiming for a promotion. You’re more likely to get the results you desire if you set goals for yourself. Also, it’s been proven that people improve their performance if they know what they’re doing in the workspace.

When it comes to setting goals for team members, it’s essential to identify areas where the team member needs to improve and help them set performance goals in these areas. Then, you can collaborate with them to identify key areas they can implement in a quarter, six months, or year.

Finally, you can link their goals to your company’s vision. For instance, if the company’s goal is to make more revenue in a given year, identify how the employee can help the company achieve this goal.

Goal setting helps employees see themselves as essential members of the organization as well as develop coordination and planning skills, which are necessary management skills.

5. Conduct periodic performance reviews

Beyond setting goals, you should also conduct reviews to evaluate the employees’ performance periodically. Performance reviews help employees identify their strengths and weaknesses. Also, it enables you to know who’s better prepared for management positions.

If you don’t conduct reviews periodically, your team may not improve and achieve their goals. It’ll also be difficult for you to make an objective promotion decision without a performance record.

Performance reviews make promotion decisions more objective. For example, an employee with consistent poor appraisals won’t feel unappreciated if another employee with good reviews is promoted ahead of them.

How to decide who to promote when you have multiple candidates

Sometimes, you may find more than one person in your organization interested in a managerial role and qualified for the position. In such instances, it’s advisable to come up with a process to select the right candidate.

Hazel recommends using the same process you’d use if you’re recruiting externally. Thus, you can review their CVs and put them through the interview process. This way, you’ll be able to find one person that stands out.

According to Hazel, the goal should be to “give them a fair shot and make them feel appreciated even if they don’t get the role.” Putting them through an interview process makes the selection fair.

5 common mistakes to avoid as a manager

As a manager or newly appointed manager, your activities can affect your team’s performance a lot more than you know. As Hazel puts it, “If you see a team that isn’t as performant, look into the management and how they are dealing with those teams.”

If you’re a manager hoping to find your predecessors from your team or a newly appointed manager trying to get on the right track, here are some common mistakes you should avoid to effectively manage your team:

1. Isolating yourself from your team

You’ll often come across people who are more interested in being a techie and don’t want to meet many people. Sometimes, they get enthusiastic about what they’re creating and forget about everything else. As a manager, you can’t afford to be so.

Managers are often the first point of contact for their team members. In addition, team members often relay their worries, concerns, and complaints to their managers. Thus, as a manager, you should be open to interacting with people and solving their problems.

As Hazel says, “Make your team feel like they are not just numbers, but the essence of the company.” People will feel this way if you interact and engage with them often.

2. Setting the wrong example

If you’re hoping to hire managers from your team, you need to set the standard by being a good manager yourself. People often learn by observing other people. Hence, it’s important to display the skills and attributes you want your team members and future managers to possess.

In Hazel’s words, “Good management needs to be timely.” It would be best if you led by example early on, guiding and supporting your team members to achieve the company’s objectives.

3. Not providing feedback

People can’t fix things when they don’t know that something is wrong; they’ll just keep making the same mistakes. Most employees will appreciate regular guidance and feedback from their team leads, and if they aren’t getting feedback on their work, they won’t be able to develop and grow into the positions you want them to fill.

Also, great feedback boosts your team’s morale and improves their productivity.

4. Not giving your team autonomy

According to Hazel, people who manage effective technology teams often give them time to grow and encourage them to use their initiatives. There will always be high-level decisions exclusively for leaders. However, you should learn to trust your team to make some decisions by themselves.

If you hire people due to their skills, you should trust them to use those skills with little or no guidance. This will build trust in your team and help your team members become more responsible.

5. Not celebrating wins

It’s easy to focus on solving problems and forget to celebrate your wins. However, as a manager, you should make a conscious effort to celebrate your team’s successes and manage failures diplomatically.

When your team members make mistakes, don’t attack the person. Address the error instead and offer solutions to the issues. Also, try not to jump from one problem to another.

Final thoughts on promoting your best developers to managers

In the tech space, managers do a lot more than coding. Therefore, being a good coder or holding a senior position doesn’t automatically qualify your team members to be promoted to managers. Managers are responsible for coordinating people and resources to deliver on the company’s goals and objectives, and not many employees can do this.

Also, employees are every organization’s greatest asset. That’s why they need to be adequately managed to become productive and efficient managers if they choose to become those.

As a tech leader, your role includes identifying the employees with the right potential and training them for managerial positions. If you use the tips shared in this article, making promotion decisions and managing your team will be a lot easier.

Thank you for reading this article. If you’re in the fintech or insurtech space, we recommend watching the whole live session to get more insights on common challenges faced by leaders in these fields. We also recommend that you read the following resources for managers on our blog:

Be sure to join our Tech Leaders Hub so that you don’t miss out on any of our upcoming live sessions.

And lastly, if you’re looking to expand your team or hire some of the best developers for a new product, we’re always open to new projects.

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