Meetings & Conventions: Can You Manage - June
Can You Manage?
Becoming a boss demands a lot more than meeting planning
BY DAVID GHITELMANS
hortly after Amy Phillips was promoted to her
first supervisory job a few years ago, her boss asked her to stop
having lunch with her former peers. Phillips, then a planner with a
large Washington, D.C.-based medical association, at first chafed
at the request. "I saw no reason why I couldn't be friendly with
them as long as I also had their respect," she recalls.
But soon enough, she saw that she would have to choose between
being a boss and being one of the gang. "I'm someone who doesn't
need a lot of outside motivation," explains Phillips. "When I
became a manager, it was hard for me to understand why people
weren't doing their jobs. Someone would come to me and say, 'I had
a big date last night. Could you do half of this for me?'"
Eventually, says Phillips, "I had to sit her down and say,
'Look, you're not pulling your weight around here.' It would have
been easier to work with someone I didn't know," she admits. "That
would have made it a whole new ball game."
Altering social activity in the workplace is just one of the
many challenges new managers must face, experts agree. "Management
is a skill, not a natural ability," comments Kate Wendleton, the
New York City-based president of the Five O'Clock Club, a national
career counseling company, and author of Targeting the Job You
Want (Five O'Clock Books, New York City).
Wendleton also notes that opportunities to move into management
are more abundant now than they've been in more than a decade.
After years of energetic downsizing, in which front-line managers
were felt to be among the most expendable of employees,
corporations are once again hiring people whose principal function
is to oversee the work of others. "All of a sudden, in the last six
months, we're seeing companies that now want to hire managers,"
Wendleton says. "They've realized that there's a downside to
For meeting planners, there is no single route to a management
position. Sometimes, it involves a long rise through the ranks.
Patricia Capawana started working for the Newark, N.J.-based
Prudential Insurance Company of America back in 1970 as a
clerk/typist, a job title that has disappeared along with the
electric typewriter. She started planning meetings for the company
about 10 years ago when she was promoted into the public relations
department. In 1995, she was elevated to her present position,
director of special events. "It took me a lot of years, but I've
finally made it to where I always wanted to be," she says. "I feel
At American Banker Bond Buyer, a New York City-based financial
publishing firm, Karen Zubulake started out three years ago as a
one-person department handling nine meetings a year. Now, as the
company's director of conferences, she manages a staff of six -
three meeting planners, one registrar and two assistants - to mount
30 gatherings a year.
At E. Harden Associates, an independent planning firm in Dallas
that specializes in events for the pharmaceuticals industry, Judy
Benaroche Johnson, CMP, was appointed director of meetings and
marketing because she was the senior person in the field; she's
been in the hospitality industry for 25 years, 12 of those as a
meeting planner. Currently, she heads a staff of eight and is about
to hire one more.
As long as the current economic expansion continues, the likely
scenario for advancement will be the small department that grows
into a larger department, with one of the veterans from the smaller
department assigned to run the bigger show.
But while the promotions may seem only natural, assuming new
responsibilities can be a challenge. When someone is promoted
within an organization, the move is certain to rub some people the
wrong way. Johnson says that three of her former peers left Harden
at the time of her advancement. "They were concerned that I might
become a micromanager," she says. "I don't think those fears were
NICE GUY GETS THE JOB
For better or worse, most planner managers learn the art of
supervising the same way they learned how to plan - by the seat of
their pants. In many organizations, it's rare that management
skills, or even the potential for developing management skills, are
considered one of the major criteria for promotion, notes career
counselor Wendleton. Instead, she observes, it's the well-liked
employee who's most likely to be promoted.
"If you're not liked by your peers, you're not going to get
promoted," she says. Organizations are not going to promote even
the most technically skilled employee to a supervisory position if
that will produce a wave of resignations, Wendleton says. "Make
sure you have a good relationship with your peers. What determines
promotions isn't competence so much as agreeableness."
New managers, however, should be careful about just how chummy
they are. Florence M. Stone, senior editor at the New York
City-based American Management Association and author of The
Manager's Balancing Act (AMACOM, New York City), says many
people make the mistake of assuming the way to launch their
management career is to win the affection of their subordinates.
"Many new managers have this urge to be warm, friendly and
lovable," she observes. "They try to create a nurturing environment
before they make clear their expectations."
Instead of going out and making friends (or reassuring old
friends that they're still buddies for life), new managers should
spend their first few days in their office reading personnel files
of the people they are going to be supervising, recommends
"Go through the files," she urges. "Find out what your
predecessor said about these people." After finishing this
background reading, new managers should have one-on-one meetings
with their subordinates. Stone says this can be an opportunity for
people who are supervising former peers (and perhaps present
friends) to defuse tensions. She explains: "You can say, 'I've
looked at your performance, and I've noticed there were some
complaints. Are there any ways I can help you?' Or, 'I've noticed
that you've been doing a great job.'"
Stone also recommends that new managers have a one-on-one talk
with their boss. "Read your job description beforehand," she says.
"They're going to ask you to do more than you expect to, but you
have to find out what the priorities are. Ask questions. Find out
what your numbers are."
In addition, this is a good time for new managers to take an
outside course or two. "When you're a new supervisor, it helps to
be a little bit ahead of your people," she says. Courses can be
anything from a one-day workshop on how to measure the usefulness
of a Web site to semester-long classes at a local community college
on basic managing or budgeting.
RECIPES FOR FAILURE
Rick Maurer, an Arlington, Va.-based consultant and author of two
books about managing, Caught in the Middle and
Feedback Toolkit (both from Productivity Press, Portland,
Ore.), sees many new managers making a very different kind of
mistake. "An amazing thing happens when people get promoted," he
observes. "Their IQ rises by 25 points - in their eyes. They
suddenly think they're smarter than the people who were their
peers. As a manager, you do have access to more information, and
you do have more responsibilities, but you don't want to be
A swelled head may be hazardous to your career health, warns
Maurer. The newly self-important, he says, are often inattentive
"to the political realities of their organization. Research shows
the primary reasons careers get derailed is soft stuff. People get
abrasive, don't listen, play favorites. It has very little to do
with technical skills. Those soft skills may never appear on a
performance appraisal. They're extraordinarily hard to bring up.
They're the kind of things people say about you when you're not in
Since new managers should be neither too chummy nor too distant,
the experts say they should simply be themselves. And, unless they
know they were moved up to turn things around in a hurry, which is
an unlikely task for a first-time manager, they should go slow with
"During the first three months, don't do anything too dramatic,"
prescribes career counselor Wendleton. "You can set yourself up for
Rather than introducing the management flavor of the month, be
it quality circles or employee empowerment, think of yourself as a
coach, she urges. "Don't try to be flashy. Your primary job is to
keep the wheels of progress moving and perhaps raise the average
level of productivity. More companies just need the right things
done correctly on a consistent basis than dramatic
One of the most difficult skills for new planner managers to get
the hang of is delegating. They frequently admit that it's
difficult for them to watch others doing tasks they could perform
better, or at least faster. "That's something I still need to work
on," confesses DeAnn Fedyski, a conference manager who has
supervised a staff of two for the past two years at Katherine
Christensen Associates, a Phoenix-based independent planning firm.
"I know that if I put in more time at the beginning teaching them a
task, then it will be worth it in the end."
And learning to delegate is essential, particularly in large
organizations where supervisors must find time to report and confer
with their bosses. "Before I became a manager, I did not have to do
performance appraisals or hire people," says Al Jackson, director
of travel management and corporate events at Novato, Calif.-based
Fireman's Fund Insurance. With the company for 17 years, Jackson
has run a five-person department since June 1997. "Before, I was
not involved in department budgets or dealing with the corporate
structure or management. That's time and focus I never had, and my
biggest challenge is delegating to make time for it."
When medical planner Phillips was promoted to management, her
supervisor not only told her not to go out to lunch with her former
peers, she also dished out some constructive criticism. "Your
meeting skills are fabulous," she told Phillips. "But you need to
grow your management abilities."
Gradually, the experienced boss and the new manager grew closer.
"I became more appreciative of what she had gone through," says
Phillips. "She became more of a mentor to me. I had to bounce a lot
of ideas off her." Two years ago, Phillips left the large medical
association to become director of meetings at the considerably
smaller, Alexandria, Va.-based American Academy of Family
Physicians, where she supervises a staff of two, but the example of
her mentor still guides her. "Whenever I become stressed, I think
about the positive aspects of the way I've been managed in the
New managers are well-advised to strengthen their relationships
with their bosses, says the American Management Association's
Stone. "Invite yourself to join the group above you," she suggests.
"Go out of your way to join them for lunch. If you've been promoted
within an organization, you've got to build a new image for
yourself. You're going to have to be a part of that group, a part
of their information network." Being noticed by supervisors also is
an important part of moving up the ladder. "Get assigned to
important task forces," suggests Wendleton. "Make sure your boss'
bosses know who you are." New managers who successfully navigate
the challenges of detaching themselves from their former peers and
attaching themselves to the corporate elite can find themselves
very much in demand. Consider the recent career leap by Jackson's
former boss at Fireman's Fund. David Kliman, CMP, is now the firm's
vice president of corporate administration and communications. In
about a year, he's gone from supervising a staff of five to
managing 140 employees and controlling three-quarters of the
company's discretionary budget.
In other words, the corporate ladder can extend both within the
meetings department and well beyond.Do you have what it
Management is a skill
that can be learned, consultants agree; it's not necessarily an
innate talent. Yet, successful managers are often blessed with
certain abilities and attitudes that they bring to even their first
supervisory role. Before you ask for that promotion, ask yourself
the following questions.
Do I like to focus on team or individual
results? "Increasingly, teams are the way that work gets
done in organizations," says Arlington, Va.-based management
consultant Rick Maurer, "and good teamwork doesn't just magically
happen. It's not just chemistry, it takes work." Maurer suggests
that you think about how you've functioned in the various teams
you've been on. "Have you been interested in improving how the
group functions, or would you rather just focus on your part of the
action?" he asks.
Do I communicate effectively? Building
your vocabulary and improving your pronunciation are probably the
least of your communications worries. Far more important, and far
less frequently realized, says Florence M. Stone, a senior editor
at the New York City-based American Management Association, is the
need to be a good listener. "Communication is a process," insists
Stone. "If I don't listen to you, then we haven't
Can I give constructive criticism? Part
of good communication is praise. It never pays to be stingy with
good words for work well done. From time to time, though, all
managers find it necessary to talk with subordinates about
performances that failed to meet expectations. This usually is not
easy. "One way to do it is to distinguish carefully between
critiquing the work and critiquing the person," suggests Edward
Shroer, vice president for new business at the Alexandria,
Va.-based American Society for Training and Development. "You have
to make it clear that you're not talking about attitude or
psychology but about the performance of the work."
Will I feel comfortable giving orders, and the
occasional constructive criticism, to my former peers and
friends? Eventually, your relationships with your former
peers, no matter how close they were, will change. "You'd be very
naive if you thought they wouldn't," says Jill McCrory, president
of Leadership Outfitters, Inc., a Kensington, Md.-based
team-building and leadership-training firm. "If you are in charge
of performance evaluations and raises, the stakes have increased
Do I believe in the mission of my organization
and my department? You are not going to get the people you
supervise to give their all unless you are an enthusiastic and
dedicated manager. Telling your subordinates to perform a task, or
to perform it in a certain way, simply because that's what upper
management wants, is unlikely to motivate anyone. "One thing a good
manager should never say is, 'Do it, or do it this way, because
this is what they want,'" says Stone.
I see how my manager spends her work day. Would I
want to be in her shoes? If your supervisor is almost
always locked in meetings at corporate headquarters, while you're
almost always running meetings in the country's poshest resorts,
think long and hard about whether you really want her job, or
another managerial position in the organization. "I've seen a lot
of people's satisfaction go down once they become managers,"
observes Maurer. "That's not because managing is a bad job, but
they just didn't know what they were getting into."
Will this bring more stress into my life, and is
that okay with me? If you are happy with what you're
doing, moving into management could make your life more difficult
without making it any more satisfying. Do some careful
soul-searching before making a decision.
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