Removed as Manager? 5 Ways to Handle It

Amid restructurings, many managers are ending up without direct reports. How to handle the transition.

It’s an axiom of business that your status in the organization is directly correlated with the number of people you manage. The more direct reports you have, the higher up you are likely to be on the company’s org chart.

But that’s not the case anymore. More and more companies are turning to restructurings, reorganizations, and reassignments to address the economic downturn without exacerbating the labor shortage. Mentions of reassignment, or similar terms, during company earnings calls more than tripled over the last year, according to data from AlphaSense, a financial-research platform.

After a corporate reshuffling, it's not uncommon for managers to suddenly find themselves without people to manage, says Frances Weir, associate principal at Korn Ferry Advisory. “Sometimes the organization decides to move in a different direction and removes your team overnight,” she says matter-of-factly. Other times the reason is more direct—the person wasn’t cut out to be a manager, and either they know it, or their manager does.

But being moved out of management doesn’t have to be viewed as a demotion or a career derailer. With that in mind, we asked our experts for tips on how managers can handle the transition. Here’s what they said:

Embrace the work, not the title.

For generations, workers defined success by reaching ever-higher rungs on the corporate ladder. But in the wake of the pandemic and purpose movement, the focus has shifted to meaningful, impactful work, says Stacey Perkins, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach. “A lot of my clients are voluntarily asking to move out of management and into individual-contributor roles where they feel they can have more impact,” she says. Whether the move out of management is voluntary or not, focus your attention on where you can have the most impact in your new role.

Ask for feedback.

Let’s face it: Not everyone is cut out for management. Only one in 10 people possesses the skills to be a manager, according to Gallup. But the reason you were moved out of management may have nothing to do with your people-management skills. “Find out the ‘why’ behind the move,” says Perkins. If getting back into management is a goal, talk to your manager about where you need to make improvement to get there and if that is still a possibility in the organization. “Keep in mind that if you want to get back into management, it may mean looking for a new job or company,” says Perkins

Lead without managing.

Weir says there are lots of ways someone can lead without technically being a manager. Indeed, she says organizations are hungry for talent with those traits and characteristics. “Think about how you can show up as a leader,” says Weir. “Maybe it’s becoming a subject-matter expert, maybe it’s managing projects instead of people.” Of course, being a mentor, coach, or even heading up an employee-resource group or philanthropic activity are all avenues to leading and helping develop people. “Map out your formal and informal people-leadership activities before and after the change,” Weir advises.

Explore other paths to advancement.

The move to skills-based hiring means management isn’t the only way to advance anymore, says Maria Amato, global leader of Korn Ferry’s employee experience and EVP solutions. “I’m hearing more and more about companies creating ‘technical’ career paths into leadership that don’t necessarily have direct reports,” Amato says. For talent considering going that route, she advises understanding the unspoken norms of leadership at the organization. “Be sure that you can articulate the impact of your work and the span of your control in other ways,” she says. 

Keep building relationships.

While moving out of management may mean an end to duties like performance-review processes, overseeing payroll budgets, and holding career conversations, it doesn’t mean you’ll no longer get any work done through people. In fact, if you’ve been reassigned, it’s likely you’ll be working with an entirely new team or department. Stay positive, professional, and engaged in your new role and with your new colleagues. "Use the new role to work on critical management skills like collaboration, communication, and conflict resolution,” says Weir. Once you are moved out of management, it takes time to rebuild the trust and credibility you’ll need to lead people again. Strengthening relationships and building your network can go a long way toward accelerating that process. 


For more expert career advice, connect with a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.