When I was a demand planner at Philips, the problems I was trying to solve were: getting the right quantity of electronic goods to the right European warehouse at the right time.

managing my quarterly and year end stock targets

making sure we didn’t have any old crap lying around that no one wanted anymore

making sure the financials added up

The more complex problems were how to handle data input from 14 countries times 250 products, make sense of it, take the above into account, and upload a new weekly demand plan, all by the end of Monday.

Having an operational role is tough, but you have clearly defined problems to solve most of the time.

The truly interesting work started to happen when I poked my nose in got involved in improvement projects. How do we simplify our processes? How do we get better results with these inputs? And more often than I liked: how do we do all of this with less people?

Side note: can we just talk about this a moment? What is this obsession with doing all the work with less people? What’s the fascination with making headcount the smallest number? I’ve not yet seen a real saving when you factor in the disruption that change causes. Why not just help them do more for you? Ok, reeling myself back in to stay focused.

When I started managing processes and people, the problems became a lot less defined, with complex moving parts.

I was at a loss for a while, because all the things I was good at didn’t seem to be working anymore, and I needed to do a whole bunch of things I wasn’t prepared for.

Take this problem: how do we get 14 planners to use the new process?

Train them, you say.

Ah but if information alone was effective, then those warnings on cigarette packets would have done their job by now, and no one would smoke unless they wanted to get sick.

It’s not just training them. You have to get people to accept the new process. To take time to learn the new process. To get slower at their job as they learn to do it in the new way.

All while the whole organisation around them (their sales, marketing, logistics, and finance people) keep asking for the old way.

What’s my point?

That the role of a manager and leader is so different to an operational role.

You are no longer solving clearly defined problems.

You have to enable others to solve clearly defined problems.

You have to make the switch from a do-er to an enabler (the good kind).

This is hard because you were most likely promoted to manager because you were such a good do-er.

And no-one wants you to be a do-er anymore.

You have to train again. Train for the problem that you are now trying to solve.

And all those who do, end up being good managers, and sometimes even great.

So do yourself a favour and find the training you like to help you make this shift.

Even if you started managing years ago, some training in leadership skills will make your own life so much better, and you’ll get better results with your team.

“What’s a leadership series? How’s it different from the thought series or coaching tips? Good questions.“ This series gives you tips to take your own leadership to the next level, and ways you can extend your own capabilities. Ready to take your skills to the next level, but aren’t sure where to start? Get in touch with me.