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Setting a New Manager Up for Success or Failure?

This case study and analysis is written by Rod Hayward, an Associate Professor in the BBA AV (Bachelor of Business Administration in Aviation) programme at the University of the Fraser Valley. Rod has worked as a commercial pilot, AME M1 &2, QA manager, director of maintenance, entrepreneur and manager in the Canadian aviation industry and is currently the president of PAMEA. (Pacific Aircraft Maintenance Engineers Association). Feel free to reach out to Rod at
Part 1 – The scenario

Peter was enjoying the evening, the whole QA department from Upward Aviation had gone out for dinner together to say goodbye to Terry, the QA manager who was leaving the company after 12 years of service. Terry’s spouse had recently been promoted to a senior leadership position in the federal civil service but it meant moving the family across the country to Ottawa. It was a tough decision to leave the company but for Terry, family comes first!

It was great to have the QA team together tonight, but Peter could not help but wonder – Was he ready to assume the role of QA Manager? Would he succeed or fail? The company was hoping for a smooth transition but the reality was that Terry’s departure was a complete surprise and the selection process had been streamlined to meet the tight timeline of getting someone into the QA position ASAP.

Terry had risen through the ranks initially starting as an AME with Upward Aviation when they only had 5 aircraft. Over the next 12 years the company had grown to 20 aircraft and Terry had taken on a variety of roles with ever increasing responsibility until he was made QA manager 2 years ago. Unfortunately Peter had only been with the company for 18 months and although he was a highly experienced auditor he had never actually managed a team. As the evening went on Peter’s level of anxiety over the new responsibilities increased – what was he going to do?

What would you do if you were in Peter’s shoes or in a senior management role?

When reviewing a scenario we ask a few questions like: who are the players? What are the primary / secondary issues here? What could happen? And what are the possible solutions to the problem? Take some time to write down some of the challenges and ideas for correcting the challenges.
Part 2 – Problem identification

When reviewing a scenario we ask a few questions like: who are the players? What are the primary / secondary issues here – root causes? What could happen? And what are the possible solutions to the problem? (Not unlike doing a corrective action plan)

Players: Terry – outgoing QA manager, Peter – Incoming QA manager, The Company itself including senior management and other employees, Transport Canada, Internal and external customers

What could possibly happen if Peter fails in this position?

The reality is a fully functioning QA department is critical to a modern aerospace entity. The results could be catastrophic for the organization, starting with the loss of reputation right through to the suspension of a licence by Transport Canada – this is a big deal!

On the surface the issues /challenge here appears to be twofold: retention and replacement but there is another issue around assisting Peter to be successful in this new position.

This scenario is not that uncommon, many of us have either witnessed or been part of a situation like this. The reality is people come and go all the time in organizations, Terry is no exception. One thing that may be different in today’s world may be the level of loyalty and devotion to the company. Today’s workforce tends to be more focused on work life balance along with life experiences. Another consideration, in most families both partners are working. The traditional 1950’s family model is long gone. Although it is doubtful that there is anything specific that could have been done to persuade Terry to stay, as a manager what are some of the things you can do to enhance retention among your staff.
• building a culture where all employees matter (this is a case study all in itself)
• Each member of your team has a development plan in place
• Ensure you have a clear set of objectives for your group and celebrate every success
• As a manager be authentic! Do what you say, and say what you do
• And remember, pay is only one reason why people work
If you develop a culture where people feel they are part of the team and they feel that their contributions matter, you will reduce but not eliminate turnover. So onto the other challenge - replacement.

Traditionally in many small to medium enterprises the process of employee replacement does not start until the employee announces their pending departure. This is not good enough and we need to do better. Here are some best practices that should be adopted to ensure that your organization is better prepared for employee turnover.

• Have a current job description for every position within the organization – the description should include job duties and key attributes necessary to be successful in that position
Transparency in hiring and posting – linking hiring decisions back to the job description – this assists employees to know what they need to do to move forward in the organization ( helps retention)
Identify key positions and ensure that a succession plan is in place for each – this may include who else in the organization has the ability to assume the role in an interim basis (Very important for positions which require the regulators’ approval) A 30 day notice of suspension goes by very quickly
• Every employee needs to have a development plan in place – these could be tied to positions within the company that the employee would like to aim for
• Keep employee profiles updated – this helps you identify possible internal candidates
• Ensure that you have a robust recruitment and selection policy which ensures that employees are selected with a balance of technical skills, and attributes that are in alignment with your company values

We just touched on some long term strategies for helping to build an organization which is more proactive around retention and replacement. A company with a strong Human resources strategy will be more resilient when the unexpected departure occurs. But, what do we do now that Peter is in a situation in which he feels unqualified for?

In reviewing the case we see that Peter has strong technical skills but lacks experience in managing a team. Now what sometimes happens in a situation like this is the new manager without training tries to emulate the managers that he has experienced in the past. Well, if Peter has had experienced good management he may do fine, but alternately – you see where this is going. Leaving Peters’ management training up to chance is not an option. Managerial training should be consistent across an organization and for this reason HR is a good starting point when creating a development plan for a new manager.

A couple suggestions that could be considered in Peter’s case:
• Identify a managerial mentor – preferably someone from within who understands your organizations unique culture. Schedule regular mentoring session’s offsite otherwise work gets in the way – and if you don’t actually schedule the session they don’t actually happen.
• Work with Peter to do a bit of a personal reflection and managerial gap analysis then build a plan which focuses on identifying the managerial skills that Peter needs to focus on first, second, etc.
• Based on the exercise above have Peter research some managerial courses he could take – avoid the one day managerial course – look to courses from public institutions with a bit more rigour.
• Sign up for some managerial podcasts such as Harvard idea casts or Manager tools
• Read some management books by recognized management experts such as Henry Mintzberg, Michael Porter, or Dan Pink – and set some time aside to actually read and digest the information.
• Ensure regular check-ins occur with the managerial mentor and with Peter’s direct supervisor –feedback is essential.


People are not usually born as good managers. Management is a skill or a craft, and as with any craft it takes practice and hard work to learn it well. A good manager is one whose main focus is on developing their team while meeting organizational goals in a positive manner. Preparing someone for a managerial position takes time and effort – if left to chance the outcomes can be disastrous. Our current workforce is aging rapidly, companies need to embrace strategic Human Resource policies which will provide for the recruitment and selection of solid candidates.

A quick analogy – Every essential system on a modern transport category aircraft has redundancy built in – ask yourself – What is my redundancy system for key positions in our company?