The Administrator’s Desk: Finishing School for New Managers

February 1, 2008

When good employees are promoted to managerial roles, the transition can sometimes be rocky. Here’s how to help new supervisors make the leap successfully.

Keep it formal. But maintain an open-door policy. Be a mentor. But don’t micromanage.

When it comes to grooming employees for supervisory roles, practice managers get a lot of mixed messages regarding where their role begins and where it ends.

Some say your most important job is to train team leaders and then turn them loose. Others insist that you can never really take your eyes off the ball, that you must keep middle managers in check with weekly meetings and continual coaching.

The truth is, however, that every situation is unique. The degree of handholding you’ll have to provide is ultimately dictated by the individuals you promote and their new responsibilities.

“You have to consider the levels of experience that the people you promote have under their belts,” says Helena Dahan, practice administrator for Lawndale Internal Medicine in Huntingdon Valley, Penn. “If they’re not yet comfortable in a supervisory position, clearly you’re going to have to do a little more handholding until you see them falling into their role.”

That said, there are a few basic ground rules that every administrator can follow to keep her top talent in tune with the practice and make her staff members’ transition to leadership roles as seamless as possible.

1. Clarify your expectations. First and foremost, Dahan says that all successful promotions should begin by clearly communicating your expectations and the goals you want the promoted individual to work toward. “You need a written job description explaining what their new responsibilities are versus what they were, and you need to follow it up with a verbal discussion so there’s no misunderstanding,” she says. “That person needs to be made fully cognizant of what percentage of time [she should spend on] different duties.”

Aileen Naudascher, practice manager for Cevallos & Moise Pediatric Associates in Quakertown, Penn., says she too has learned the value of written instruction. “We’ve always had job descriptions, but now I’m more formal about it,” she says. “The first thing I do is make a list that outlines exactly what I want them to be able to do and how long it should take to train them to do it. I write down everything, from the procedures to expectations.”

2. Know when to step in and when to keep your distance. During the first few months following a promotion, practice administrators should be prepared to coach their newly appointed supervisors within their new roles. “You have to show them the ropes and what’s involved in all their duties that you’re now relinquishing to them,” says Dahan. “Be ready to assist if they identify a problem within their new role that needs to be addressed. And be available for impromptu huddles or something lengthier.”

But it’s equally important to know when to let go. Candy Chapman, practice administrator for Urology Northwest in Mountlake Terrace, Wash., says office managers should gradually scale back their level of involvement after the first few months, giving the promoted employee an opportunity to grow into his new role. “Immediately after a promotion I do check in with my supervisors routinely to find out how it’s going and to problem-solve any personnel issues they may have, but I try not to look over their shoulders,” she says. “I give them guidelines until they feel comfortable doing the job on their own.”

For example, Chapman, who promoted an employee to her front-desk lead position 18 months ago, helped her do all of her staff evaluations her first year in the new job. “We’d review them first and sit down with the employee together until she felt comfortable doing it alone,” says Chapman. “This year, she did it without my help.”

Naudascher adds that practice administrators should allow newly appointed supervisors to bring their own individual approaches to their new roles. Sometimes a fresh perspective is exactly what an organization needs. “I try not to micromanage,” she says. “If a job can be done in a different way and the result is just as good, I don’t have a problem with that.”

3. Should you always promote from within? Successfully promoting individuals to leadership roles begins with grooming the right person for the right job. According to Chapman, practice administrators should target candidates who are problem-solvers and independent thinkers: “Are they people who will run to you every five minutes and say, ‘Now what?’ or will they say, ‘This is what I think we should do.’?”

Think carefully, too, about the merits of promoting from within versus hiring outside applicants. “I have come across a lot of people who definitely have the skills, but don’t have the desire to be a supervisor,” says Chapman. She adds that it’s prudent to caution employees you promote from within that their new position may change office dynamics. “There are going to be days when coworkers are mad at them, and that’s the way it is,” she says. If they’re unable to confront former peers about mistakes or performance problems, they’ll end up correcting work themselves and resenting their staff in the long run.

Naudascher agrees: “Sometimes people think they want it because there’s a financial incentive and it sounds good, but then they find out there are parts of it that they really don’t care for.”


Finally, for everyone’s sake, ensure the supervisor you select is not a control freak. “I often have this problem when I promote from within because the [erstwhile supervisor] may have done something a certain way for X amount of years, and the person replacing them does it another way,” say Naudascher.

When it comes to grooming new supervisors, there is no one-size-fits-all guideline for how to proceed. Each situation is unique, requiring administrators to decide for themselves how much oversight their employees need - and when to step back and let their leaders lead.

Remember, by delegating responsibility to qualified workers, you’re not only empowering your best employees, but you’re also freeing yourself to focus on the bigger picture.

Shelly K. Schwartz, a freelance writer in Maplewood, N.J., has covered personal finance, technology, and healthcare for 12 years. Her work has appeared on CNNMoney.com, Bankrate.com, and Healthy Family magazine. She can be reached via editor@physicianspractice.com.

This article originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Physicians Practice.