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The Player-Coach Phenomenon

11 Sep

When reading job descriptions, I’m sure you’ve come across the term “player-coach” more than once. It’s a designation that employers use for positions that have management authority but are also expected to get their hands dirty on some day-to-day work. Seems reasonable, right? Especially when you’re talking about the junior-management levels where employees are in a team lead role, mentoring and managing others, but still doing the job themselves.

One thing that I find interesting about the term “player-coach” is that although it’s obviously based in sports it’s not something that I’ve EVER seen on an actual sports team. In sports, you’re either a player or a coach. Going back to my earliest sports memories – from toddler soccer leagues to little league baseball to high school football – we had players and we had coaches. But we never had a player-coach.

Businesses, however, have adopted a very different mentality. They have fully embraced the idea of a manager who isn’t too managerial to roll up his/her sleeves, and a front-line worker who is capable of thinking strategically. Two birds with one stone! Or more specifically, two jobs with one salary.

This hybrid role can be a great opportunity for employees and employers alike, but it’s not without its challenges. In its best format, it’s a way for star individual contributors to move into management without completely being removed from their comfort zones. It gives them a chance to lead by example, to grow into role models, and to develop their management style all while still getting to work in the area of their greatest strength. At the same time, the employer gets to bring a superstar into management ranks and mold him/her in the company’s image, while not overpaying for a more experienced manager if that’s not what they need. In this situation it’s a great arrangement for both the employee and the company, but lately I’m seeing more and more examples where the player-coach position is not being used quite as effectively.

As companies are bouncing back from recent recession woes, they are starting to hire and organize staff with the intention of doing more with less. Especially in small and mid-sized companies, executive level positions are being asked to pitch in at the line level, and junior and mid-level managers are being given increasing responsibility and autonomy – regardless of whether they’re ready for it. This can present problems for both parties – companies are having a harder time finding the right talent, and employees are having a harder time succeeding in these roles. It’s very tempting for employers to hire too senior or too junior for the role they need to fill, and both have serious risks. Going too senior, you risk making a hire that is not going to remain engaged and effective in the line-level work and will either leave for greener pastures or under-perform. If you hire too junior you run the risk of giving your new hire decision making authority and autonomy that s/he’s not ready for, which can lead to poor strategic decisions and a loss of morale – both of which can have serious negative effects on the overall organization.

So what’s a company to do? First and foremost, be honest and upfront. If you’re hiring for a player-coach role, emphasize and stress the nature of the role to your candidates. If someone seems too senior or managerial, dig deeply in your interviews to find out if they really are. Then go with your gut. Even though a candidate might seem perfect “if only there was less execution involved” then don’t make the hire. These roles should be a stretch for the person you’re hiring, but an achievable one. In today’s job market, lots of candidates are making compromises to find a solid job with a solid company. But these same employees will jump ship at the first opportunity for more of a “real” management job.

And if you’re a job seeker, how do you navigate this territory? First, be honest with yourself. If a job seems like a step down, or feels too junior for you, don’t take it just because it’s a job. There will be more. And wouldn’t you rather wait for the next one than spend the rest of your career explaining your bad choice? Conversely, if you’re more of a player than a coach, be realistic about how much of a stretch is appropriate for you. Never managed a budget before? Then that multi-million dollar one in the job description might not be for you.

For recruiters, hiring managers, and job seekers – ask questions. In the interview; after the interview; throughout the entire process. Make sure that you know what you’re getting into, and that it’s the right thing for you. Too many bad hires are made because of wishful thinking instead of thorough investigation.

The role of the player-coach might be right for you, but “might be” isn’t enough. Know for sure before making a decision you might regret.

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6 Ways to Position Yourself for Success in Your First 90 Days on the Job

11 Jun

Congratulations – you got the job! You searched, networked, applied, interviewed, and aced your way into a great new role. As anyone in the job market will tell you, you’ve done the hardest part. Now all that you need to do to succeed is to be awesome in that shiny new job – or at least not suck so much that you get yourself fired.

The first 90 days is an important time in the job cycle. It’s where you start building your reputation, your relationships, and your influence. It might seem superficial, but whatever you build up during that first 90 days is going to stick with you for a while. If you’ve done well, you’ll collect enough goodwill from your boss and co-workers to get you through a few rough times. If you’ve started off on the wrong foot, you’ll find yourself having to work twice as hard for twice as long to try to repair the damage that’s been done.

In most jobs, there are two keys to success.

  1. Can you actually do the job?
  2. Can you make your boss happy?

If you didn’t lie on your resume or in your interviews, the presumed answer to the first question is yes. The second one is often the more important, and always the more complex, of the two. So here are a few things that you can do to help ensure your success during that crucial first 90 days.

  • Be nice to EVERYONE. You’re in a new work situation, and you don’t know who’s friends with who, who are the influencers of opinion (especially your boss’ opinion), and who are the ones that you really want on your side. So err on the side of caution and treat everyone with respect. Don’t condescend, don’t belittle. Just be nice. You can never have too many friends. You have all the time in the world to pick sides. For now, pick EVERY side. Your boss will love when people come up and tell him/her how they just met you and they love you. And that love is very good for you.
  • Make the rounds. As you find out the people you’ll be working with on a regular basis, make sure that you take the time and make the effort to introduce yourself. When possible, schedule (or ask your boss to schedule) quick 15-minute meetings or even lunches to actually have a conversation and find out what makes them tick. You’d be amazed how far these initial meetings can go to solidify great working relationships for years to come.
  • Ask questions. During these introduction meetings, and as a general rule, ask lots of questions. Find out what and who makes things happen in your company. Get to know people’s happiness and frustration points. The insight that you gain from the answers will give you the beginnings of a great arsenal of tools for navigating any potentially slippery political or inter-personal situations down the road.
  • Take care of the easy things first. Most of the time, you’re not going to be expected to move heaven and earth in your first 90 days. When you’re given tasks, they’ll often be things that you can execute on quickly. Get them out of the way. Show your boss that you’re reliable and that you only need to be asked once. Stay on top of tasks however works for you – through technology, pen and paper, or your amazing photographic memory that used to impress everyone at parties. However you do it, do it.
  • Put yourself out there. Make sure that, as you’re getting the feel for what’s on your boss’  plate, you make a point to ask if you can help. Sometimes we forget that the boss has responsibilities, deliverables, and stress just like the rest of us. Treat him/her like a human being, and genuinely offer your assistance – even if it’s not something that’s in your job description. Start to solidify your place as the go-to person right off the bat.
  • Don’t over-commit. In the same vain, don’t try to be a superhero. You’re new. You’re learning. If you’re asked to do something, don’t give unrealistic timelines or say that you’ll do something that you’re not really ready for. Better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around. Your boss won’t mind that you don’t offer up super-human deadlines. S/he will mind when s/he has to explain to the top brass why a project wasn’t finished when you said it would be.

As Head & Shoulders used to say, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” And although I normally wouldn’t recommend that you take advice from a dandruff shampoo, in this case it just makes good sense.

Do you have a question you’d like to see answered on this site? Send an email to HR.Dave1@gmail.com.

Questions or comments about this topic? Please leave them below – it’s a conversation, not a lecture.

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