Tech & Work

Some people just shouldn't be managers

In some companies, the only way to get a decent raise is to accept a management position. But if you don't like managing, or if you're no good at it, what then?


Managing people is a delicate and complicated art. I have nothing but respect for people who can manage well. Unfortunately, companies too often promote people to management positions who either don’t want to manage or who, for all practical purposes, are no good at it. If you’re one of those people, the smart thing might be to go back to being a regular employee.

Case study: You don’t have to STAY a manager
A good friend of mine recently took a job as vice president of operations for a software company. Within two weeks of taking over, he realized one of his managers wasn’t happy.

This manager was formerly a software engineer—a top-notch programmer. He loved nothing more than tackling problems and delivering solutions. When the management position became available, he was the first person to be considered for the job because he had the most seniority in that department.

The problem was that this guy didn’t particularly want to be a manager. He was, of course, happy to get the bump in pay that accompanied promotion to a management position. He was proud that the company had enough confidence in him to add to his responsibilities.

But he missed doing the “real” work of software development. Even though his direct reports liked and respected him—since he was doing an adequate job managing the team—it was painfully obvious that he was an unhappy camper.

My friend, the vice president, called this guy into his office and put the question to him: “Would you be happier if you went back to being an engineer instead of managing the team?” The guy didn’t flinch. He didn’t take offense. Instead, he was incredulous. He said, “Can we do that?

My friend’s reply was: “Hey, I’m the vice president of operations, and if I say we can do it, we can do it!” So they did it. They posted the manager position and moved the engineer back into his old position. He didn’t have any hard feelings or embarrassment about the change—it was the “common sense” thing to do.

What about salary and job title?
When they reassigned the engineer, they didn’t take back the raise he’d received when he was promoted to the manager position. Instead, they recognized his dedication and the high quality of his work, and they created a new title for him—“senior” engineer—as a way of justifying the higher pay to the upper management team.
Each Tuesday, Jeff Davis tells it like he sees it from the trenches of the IT battle. And you can get his report from the frontlines delivered straight to your e-mail front door. Subscribe to Jeff's View from Ground Zero TechMail , and you'll get a bonus of Jeff's picks for the best Web stuff—exclusively for our TechMail subscribers. To respond to this article, please post a comment below or send Jeff a note .
Managing isn’t for everyone
I love that story, because I love it when common sense wins out in business situations. I like that the vice president didn’t criticize the engineer for failing to embrace management status. I like that the engineer had enough self-confidence to accept what many of his peers probably regarded as a demotion.

I like the fact the company won. They got to keep a perfectly good engineer perfectly happy, and they got to promote someone else to the management position.

I think too many of us—especially in IT—regard obtaining a management position as the holiest of business grails, the thing to which every good employee is supposed to aspire. Many talented, brilliant people simply don’t have the temperament to be good managers.

The question companies should ask, in my opinion, is: In what capacity can an employee best serve the company and still look forward to decent raises and a reasonable career path? If the only way to get a good raise in your company is by managing a number of “direct reports,” then what’s left to motivate the “reports” who derive satisfaction from doing their jobs well?
Have you been promoted to a management position only to discover you hate it? Have you worked for someone like that? To respond to this article, or to share your experiences, please post a comment below or send us a note .

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