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Returning to a Staff Position

What can senior managers do when outstanding staff members are moved into a management position and dont do well?

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What can senior managers do when outstanding staff members are moved into a management position and don’t do well?

The first step is to work with each manager to determine the causes of his or her poor performance and design a program to rectify them. However, often the problem is due to deeply held attitudes that the junior-level manager is unable to change. In this situation, many managers are allowed to remain in place. This can reduce the productivity and morale of entire research groups or departments.

Another option is to assign the manager to a lab bench or other staff position. If this is done, it is best that the manager not be assigned to the group he or she once supervised. This can contribute to an air of failure that could lead to a valuable employee leaving the company. Options to avoid this include creating a new position for the manager or assigning him or her to a different laboratory location or a nonlaboratory position. For instance, some with good interpersonal skills move into sales and marketing positions. Others have become liaisons between the laboratory and the patent department, working on various projects to maximize the value of the laboratory’s intellectual property. The growing phenomenon of open innovation1 may offer such positions. Former managers can become schooled in the patent process and work on facilitating the patenting of laboratory staff members’ inventions.

Some former managers returning to research staff positions worry they may have lost the creativity that made them outstanding researchers in the past. This author’s observations of and discussions with several former laboratory managers who have returned to the lab bench indicates that while some have performed very well in their new staff positions, others have not and have become quite unhappy. This unsatisfactory outcome emphasizes the importance of making very careful choices when assigning staff members to management positions.

One key factor in making a successful transition back to the lab bench is how long the individual has spent as a manager. Those who return fairly quickly to the bench generally do better than those who are away from the bench for a long time. This indicates the importance of senior managers not letting an ineffective manager continue in his or her management position for very long.


  1. J.K. Borchardt, “Open Innovation Becoming Key to R&D Success,” Lab Manager Magazine, January 2008 ( articles.asp?ID=28).