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I have been the top performer in my team for three years and was promoted to manager.

I have struggled a bit in terms of establishing authority for my new role and this has sometimes made my individual contributions less effective than I expected from myself, though I always got only positive feedback from my superiors and my team as a whole has still performed beyond expectations.

In the past few months I have been asked to delegate as many of my responsibilities as possible so I can become a "free resource" in the company.

Moreover some others in the company - not in my team - are also being groomed with the responsibilities of my role.

While I am becoming a "free resource" I am not even learning anything.

I am starting to fear whether this is a strategy to make me redundant at some point.

I would like to find out more and mitigate this before it is too late.

What could it mean and how could I address this with my superiors?

  • Are you trying to take on responsibilities for this role yourself? Creating special projects, initiatives, etc? Or are you waiting to have work assigned or otherwise not receiving any work? – enderland Mar 7 '14 at 12:50
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    In order for people to effectively answer this, you need to define what exactly a "free resource" is in this context. – Radu Murzea May 29 '14 at 11:42
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What could it mean and how could I address this with my superiors?

It could mean that you are a very valuable employee (resource) but management felt that your talent was wasted as a manager. Consequently they moved you into a role to maximize your talents.

It could mean that you aren't perceived as a sufficiently-capable manager, and that they are parking you temporarily in a general role until they decide where you really belong and how to structure a new role for you.

It could mean that you are on your way out, but that management didn't want to dismiss you immediately.

If could mean that management is preparing for IPO, planning to shed some middle-management layers, but wants to keep you around post-IPO.

Or it could mean something else altogether.

The only way you will know the real answer is to discuss this with your bosses. Simply ask something like "I'm not sure I understand this whole 'free resource' thing. I'd like to understand what you expect from me, and talk about why you have made this change. That way, I'll have a better idea how to meet your expectations. Can we talk about this?"

In general, when you want to know why something was done - ask the person(s) with the answer (the one who did it), rather than surfing around for outsiders' opinions.

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    "It could mean that management is preparing for IPO, planning to shed some middle-management layers, but wants to keep you around post-IPO." In a previous company, myself and a friend/co-worker were picked as Team Leads and then I was advanced to be the newest Manager, with multiple TL's under me. About 8 months later, out of the blue, we were both told basically the same thing as the OP. We were dumbfounded. A year later, we were then the newest managers in the newly public company. "Or it could mean something else altogether." – CGCampbell May 29 '14 at 17:34
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You are correct. Every situation I've seen where someone is shed of normal responsibilities and starts doing "special projects," it's considered an either short or long (depending on the pace of the company) path to irrelevance or the bin.

Consider whether you want to be a manager and are doing well at it or not. Being a top performer and being a manager are actually two significantly different skill sets and dispositions, despite the default habit of promoting the former to the latter. It's not bad to try out management, decide it's not for you, and go back to being an individual contributor; I know many people who have done that. They may not be liking your performance in your new role. I'll be honest, when I see the line "establishing authority for my new role" it raises some red flags about what may be going on interpersonally.

I would definitely start looking for a new role within the organization (and wouldn't hurt to get your resume in line for outside). "I don't feel challenged, how about I go do X" is always something legitimate to ask for.

  • "Special Projects": bloomberg.com/news/2013-07-29/… – Aaron Brager Mar 9 '14 at 0:19
  • Actually, that happened to me in a good way. I was assigned to "Special Projects" at a multi-channel broadcasting facility because I had a wider range of skills than most, and I was pretty much given all the tasks that no one else could or wanted to figure out. It was a great move for me, as I was able to focus on these projects and not my day-to-day drudgery stuff. I made good money, and saved that company hundreds of thousands in consultants, I'm sure. – Wesley Long Aug 5 '16 at 23:43
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It's very difficult to answer this without knowing the financial state of your company and what, if any, changes in organizational style there have been throughout the business. Here are a few ideas on how to handle this:

  1. Ask someone in your management chain what exactly a "free resources" is supposed to be - While this sounds as if your company is paring down its managerial staff by using managers in other areas to support other departments, you need to have an exact idea of what this means for YOU. If no one is certain or you aren't given solid answers, then you might want to begin to:
  2. Assess your industry as a whole - It may not simply be that your company is changing; your entire industry may well be undergoing a drastic restructuring. You may not be able to see this as you may be concentrating on the "micro" in favor of the "macro" of your situation. Read some trade journals and undertake a skeptical assessment of your current industry and where it (and you) will be in the next 10-15 years. You may also want to use your company's training to strengthen your core skills and to add new skills sets to your arsenal as there is always the chance that:
  3. This may be your company's way to slowly phase you and others out - While you state that you are a solid performer, your company may be leaning things down to stay "competitive." Or it may have adopted a strategic outlook which its leadership thinks will make it stronger , but will ultimately weaken it and cause it to lose market share. Or it may be shaping towards a merger or acquisition which will mean fewer jobs for all. Whatever it plans to do, you really shouldn't wait for it to occur. You should be ready regardless of what happens and your skill sets should remain at or far above the needs of your industry. That way, you'll be an invaluable asset for the next company which employs you if that's what is destined to occur.

My thoughts are that you should find out what exactly is expected of you in your new role. Whether or not you feel "comfortable" in that role really isn't important as returning to your former position may not be an option. You should make do with where you are at now and continue to provide the best work possible.

You should also make certain that you avail yourself of all the training opportunities that you can. The more that you know, the valuable that you'll be to your current employer as well as any future one. You need to concentrate on improving yourself as your company may be in the midst of significant changes.

Finally,you should keep your ear to the ground and listen for what might occur at your employer. Not what you "want" to hear; but what really is happening. Too many people get sidetracked and then they realize too late that they stayed with a failing company or that they ignored opportunities which would allowed them to advance past the point where layoffs or downsizing would be more than a minor inconvenience (e.g. your company offers you a higher role elsewhere and you refuse it as you want to stay where you are at. You then are laid off when that division consolidates or closes down permanently)

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    Thanks Mistah. The company is actually doing very well, but there is indeed a chance it will be IPO'd very soon. What I have mixed feelings about is that I never got any negative feedback even in my current role, but just I myself am not satisfied with my own results. So I am not always 100% sure they are giving me transparent feedback about myself. – Rambo77 Mar 7 '14 at 7:39
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    If you feel that this is the case, then you should begin to get as much training as possible and preparing an exit strategy for yourself. Too many people take a "wait and see" attitude instead of be ready for any eventuality. if your skills are sharp and you are prepared, if the IPO means downsizing, you'll be ready to re-enter the job market. – Mistah Mix Mar 7 '14 at 7:45
  • Do you have any kind of mentor in the senior ranks? Someone you can have a confidential discussion with that you can mostly trust? Discuss what's happening to you with him/her. If it something like an IPO or Merger, the manager won't be able to disucss it for legal reasons, but may at least tell you that they can't tell you other than "it's not you." At that point, take it at face value and wait for the event to occur, or start looking elsewhere if that's what you need to do for you. – CGCampbell May 29 '14 at 17:40
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I don't think there is any value in speculating on what it could mean. But you should find out what the plans are for you. Not taking an active role in the development of your career then you risk ending up somewhere that you do not want to be.

Quality employees are hard to find and companies do not like to lose them when they do. I seriously doubt that there is any plan to eliminate you from the company for that reason. But that does not mean that the plan that your superiors have for you is one that you will be comfortable with. I went from being a development team lead to a manager of 30+ people of our IT Shop. While my team liked my leadership and we achieved the goals set out for us, I was not a good champion of our team with my management and the thing that I enjoy doing most, was no longer part of my job. It happens. But because I did not engage with management they decided to move me to a smaller department out of IT. I ended up leaving the company because I was out of my element and not enjoying the work. In my exit interview with my director he expressed that he wished I had talked with him more about my career aspirations. He thought I would prefer to stay in management over staying in IT.

I would sit down with your manager and talk about your career path. See with their plans are for you and make sure you are comfortable with them, and have something to look forward to. It is much easier to hand off your responsibilities and get people up to speed on them, when you have someplace else you want to get to. If there is no plan for you then it is time to get one developed. If your manager is unwilling to engage you in this then you should probably get ready to be looking for a new position.

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No matter what they are intending, you can use this situation to position yourself to come out well. If they are easing you out, then you should be preparing to present your skills well, which means collecting any quantitative information you may want to highlight on a resume. Not sure what percentile you were in as a "top performer?" Use your access to the performance figures to make some calculations so you can state not just that you did well, but that you were "in the top n% of peers" and so on. If the company offers any sort of training program or resource library subscription like Safari Books, ask for it. You can state, honestly, that you wish to "make the most of the growth opportunities afforded by your present flexible duty structure" or something of that sort. I think the suggestion to ask your bosses what their plans are is a good one, but always be thinking about it from their point of view. Don't give the impression you are trying to pad your landing if they chuck you out of the plane--even if that's the case. Instead, ask them "what do you envision for me in my next role? I want to make sure I am spending this time as productively as possible while I am in a transitional position." This shows that you are aware that they have their own needs and priorities and you are not expecting them to make your needs paramount. By using your time wisely you either prepare for success where you are, or prepare to succeed somewhere else.

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