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I worked for three years as a business unit's marketing manager, gaining a great reputation, solid annual reviews, becoming a certified high-potential, and carrying a promising career development plan in the marketing concentration.

When my business unit was recently dissolved, the company wanted to keep me, but instead of placing me in a marketing role elsewhere, they made me a product line manager of a highly technical product set. It was a promotion on paper, but all the while I questioned if it was the right next step for my career. All my PLM peers had engineering degrees and decades of hands-on product experience.

Five months in, it's clear this isn't a good role for me. I'm treading water, managing a 27-year veteran who completely resents having a much younger/less experienced individual manage him, and am typically lost when customers/sales asks "do we have the technical capability to manufacture this product?" I have asked to be moved into a marketing role only to be told, "what you're doing now is practically all marketing." It's not. It's new product development, meetings with R&D, feasibility studies, and only a little focus on product promotions (my favorite part). I don't know how I'll be able to succeed in this role when I know so little.

What should I do? And why would my company put me in a role that deviated so far from my career development plan? I went from loving my job to absolutely dreading Mondays.

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6  
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle may be worth reading to understand the idea of promoting someone up to a position one can't handle. –  JB King May 4 at 14:59

7 Answers 7

If I were in your situation, I would take this assignment as an opportunity to learn new skills, broaden my managerial outlook beyond just marketing, etc. And this broadening will make you into a better general manager. Marketing managers with operations experience don't come a dime a dozen. You don't need to be the best/hottest Operations manager who ever worked for the firm. You just need to be a good one and make sure that you don't screw up in a way that leaves harsh memories about you - That should be good enough for the firm, and good enough for you.

Follow-up note from PCK: "Thanks, Vietnhi. This is definitely a position that fits well with a GM track - one which I believe my company would like to guide me towards"

I took as many courses in the strategic marketing of high tech products/technology as I could as an evening student in NYU Stern's MBA program. In most of these courses, my strategic marketing analysis included an extensive analysis of the cost structure of the competitors. Operational efficiency as measured say in total costs per employee, revenues per employee, profits per employee, if achieved, gives the firm a hell of an edge over its competitors and gives it the flexibility to choose to compete on price or to compete on value add :) If you can design marketing strategies for the firm in a way that takes advantage of the firm's business strengths and mitigates its business weaknesses, you're golden as a GM :)

As for that 27-year veteran, you may need to take him into a dark alley i.e. your office :) use gentle New York City persuasion i.e. pound on him :) and make him understand that while part of your job as manager may include some necessary ordering him around, it is really to give him the logistical support so that he is successful at his job, and so that his success is in alignment with the firm's success.

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29  
Last paragraph is wise. As an engineer, I'll add to that: You'll turn into the manager every engineer loves overnight if you conduct that meeting from the explicit perspective of: "I need you, I can't do that technical work. You need me, you don't want to spend all day every day writing e-mails and doing cost projections and explaining schedule slippage. I do the miserable work, not because you can't, but to free up your time to get the product built. That's valuable." –  Ben Voigt May 4 at 23:59

The first thing to do is to look at your situation differently. Whomever made the decision to put you in that position was certainly not doing so with intent of making you fail. This would go against any organization's goals. It seems even possible that they tried to set you up for the best chance of success by having an experienced veteran in your group.

As far as why they set you on a path different from your plan, the company management needs to use the resources they have for the benefit of the company. While it's great when the company's goals line up with an employee's, that's not always possible.

That said, here are some specific recommendations:

  1. Work on improving your relationship with your veteran direct report. He can be a really good asset to your team.
    • Find out how to help him best do his job...and help him.
    • Work on behaviors, not feelings. Think about what he's doing (observable) that makes you think he resents you and address those behaviors.
  2. Figure out what strengths you bring to this position. Maybe you have a perspective that this group hasn't had before. Your manager would be a good source; as would other leaders and peers.
  3. If you do feel this situation won't develop into a better fit, you may have to look outside the organization for a role more aligned with your own goals. Continue to perform your best in your role while looking for other opportunities.
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Instead of thinking of a management role as the person who knows more than anyone else and orders them to do things, think more about being a leader and actually helping your people do their job better. Use your marketing skills to sell your team to the company.

managing a 27-year veteran who completely resents having a much younger/less experienced individual manage him,

Find out what gets in the veteran's way of doing is job. Does he need better tools? Maybe you need to work on managing the external pressures that are creating too much of a work load. This is the person you get technical answers. Be respectful of his time and don't just interrupt when you feel like it. That's bad for productivity. Workout a time/place to utilize his expertise.

and am typically lost when customers/sales asks "do we have the technical capability to manufacture this product

Obviously, it is great to know answers off the top of your head and not make people wait, but you are never going to know everything immediately. Let people know they can come to you and get great answers. It may take some time. Just make sure when you say you'll get back to them you stick to it. Even if you don't have the answer. Let them know you are working on it.

You are a marketing person, so market your technical team. The company should know how important they are. Get them competitive wages and benefits. Fight to increase your budget if they need help. You won't know what your team needs, so be a marketer and find out. Send them to a training seminar, get them books, set a meeting so they can share ideas. Get them the recognition they deserve.

So your team doesn't need your technical expertise, they need you to provide everything else. A good marketer should be able to do this.

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You are probably looking at this in the scope of the next few months or year, while your company is looking at how this (or these) product(s) will evolve over five years or so. In short, they're hoping you'll get 'up to speed', since later on this will be more of a promotional challenge than a technical challenge.

While it isn't clear what business you're in, the following illustrates a situation a number of tech companies are in: there is a zoo of embedded controllers from a largish collection of semiconductor manufacturers, all jostling to get market share. This is chip-level stuff - consumers buy boxes but engineers buy chips. In short, there are perhaps a half-million people in the country that are interested in this stuff, and no one has figured out how to 'break out of the pack'. As fast as one company makes something smaller, someone else makes it cheaper, and someone else adds a knob that no one else figured out how to do.

Therefore, if you're someone that loves marketing and have been successful at it, they may be thinking you'll just keep working it until you arrive at some inspiration. Rather than 'dreading' the Monday, dump the technical stuff on your 27 year veteran, and see if you can package the 'bigger picture'. Point out that you're trying to broaden the audience, not address existing customer issues (if this is true). See if you can figure out better ways to explain the product, and who could be using it that is only dimly aware it exists.

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Dumping the work you don't know how to do (but are paid to do) onto other people on your team is not going to win you any co-operation. It will make them resent you and possibly actively work against you, to try to make you look even more inadequate than you already do.

It's entirely possible that the Peter Principle is at work here because letting too many people go in the restructuring process may make them look bad.

If you can't come up with a learning plan to fill the gaps in your knowledge (maybe take some non-MBA courses, etc), then I think the best option is for you to seek employment elsewhere.

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I think most of the answers are saying basically "suck up and deal with it." If you're going to stay with the position then that's the thing to do, but it's horribly passive. You have other choices. Warning: irreverence ahead.

Choice 1: Suck up and deal with it

Treat it as a chance to learn, yadda yadda. Buy a book full of cat pictures to cheer yourself up and provide "inspiration". If you don't have any marketable skills and feel blessed to have a job, any job, then this is probably your best option.

Because, after all, the economy does suck.

Choice 2: Find another job

Another fairly passive solution is to avoid confrontation with your current company while looking for the job you want somewhere else. This might require relocating!

Choice 3: Ask for the job that you want

This will require tact and negotiating skills. It sounds like you said "I want to do marketing" and then someone in a position of power told you that's what you were doing now, and rather than disagreeing with them you instead avoided conflict. This is a tricky point because confessing poor competence at your job invites getting fired or demoted to a duty assignment in Siberia.

You need to be able to articulate what you are doing now, what you want to do, and be able to deftly avoid nomenclature wars. Emphasize the tasks that you want to do and not labels. Reading a book or two on negotiating skills might give you some ideas on how to have this conversation.

Finally, note that your company didn't do this; an individual did. Perhaps an individual that didn't know the difference between promotions and feasibility studies. People in the workforce are not the rational agents one learns about in business and economics classes. Be careful of using your intellect and creativity to imagine scenarios that would justify their actions in some sort of long-term scheme at the company, as that leads to wishful thinking that maybe, someday, your current job will emerge from a cocoon as a beautiful butterfly.

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Some years ago I was out of work briefly and needed a job, I have no scientific experience or qualifications (High School only) but managed to get interviewed for a job working in a Biotech as Development Manager. Most of my teams had PhD's or Masters and I reported to the Chief Scientific Officer. I had no knowledge of Bioinformatics or Chemogenomics, of DNA or RNA or modeling proteins or Chemistry. But by asking questions and using my commercial (I've also worked in sales) and general IT experience and project experience I was the first manager who managed to get my highly technical scientific development teams doing what the business ACTUALLY wanted. Like most managers, my real job was to get the best out of the team who knew how to do things, but it seems their knowledge and scientific opions often got in the way of delivering what the business needed.

As others have written, use your commercial, business and management experience and skill to make your engineering team the most effective unit in the place. Draw on the skills you have already in the team, trade your marketing management experience with your peers engineering experience so that between you, you achieve more.

I agree with others, this could be the making of your general management career and that will also give you MUCH more choice about future marketing roles if that's where you want to specialize.

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