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Words of advice for a new manager

Monday, March 25, 2024

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It can be overwhelming when you're promoted to "manager" for the first time. Being responsible for people and their work is daunting, and you can feel a little out of control. After all, your success now relies on how well other people do their work.

Over my thirty-odd-year career, I've helped many new managers settle into their roles. There's no definitive process that helped them become effective managers. Some slipped into the role like it was a well-worn glove, while others had to work hard to "get it right."

These are the common themes I've seen and have mentored new managers to pay attention to. Think of them less as "things you must do" and more as "things to reflect on."

Know the people.

Get a sense of the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of the people in your team. Talk to them as a group and as individuals. Find out who the power brokers are, the informal leaders and those with potential.

Be wary of relying too heavily on performance reports from your predecessor as they may be infused with bias and personality conflicts.

Know your processes.

Take time to understand how your team does its work. Documents produced by others will be well-meaning but biased towards the purpose and people for whom they were created.

Create simple process flowcharts as a start. As you learn where there are bottlenecks and inefficiencies, you can add times and costs to each step and layer in more detail.

While your team should know HOW they work, you should understand WHAT they do.

Know your data.

Take time to understand where the data for your management reports comes from and how it relates to the work people do. Do the same with reports you receive from elsewhere.

If you don't have the data you need, find the report with it or create it.

Talk to people.

Talk to people inside and outside your team. Listen to the anecdotes and complaints, as folklore often has hints of truth hidden inside or might guide your understanding of what the data and process maps are saying.

When you talk to these people, be patient with them. What they say may be hard to hear, but resist the urge to defend or argue. 

Remember that the people who manage teams around you are your peers, and you are part of the Management Team. Treat them as such.

Avoid casting blame.

Focus on the issues present within your team at the start of your journey. Resolving these will likely be easier than getting other people to change. Moreover, you might trigger a political battle that you will surely lose.

If you identify problems from other areas that affect your team, discuss them with your management colleagues in neutral, non-threatening ways.

This will become easier as you are accepted as part of the Management Team.

Prioritize.

Tackle what is achievable first. While it might be tempting to fix a big problem with high prestige and visibility, you're likely to fail until you have experience, credibility, and a support network.

Start with the small problems you can resolve within your team. As you build your reputation, you can more easily discuss the bigger ones.

Take your time.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and you won't correct your team's problems in the first week. The general rule of thumb is that a new manager has 100 days to identify the key issues they need to tackle, create a plan, and see the first results.

Plan to this timescale, and ensure those around you know there is a plan and can see it happening.

Above all, to thine own self be true.

Act with honesty and integrity insofar as you are allowed. If there are confidences you have to keep, keep them. Sometimes managers have to keep things from their team, so never promise complete honesty with them.

Accept that your team knows more about their domain than you do, and embrace this knowledge with humility.

Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses, though don't confuse arrogance for strength. If you need help (and you will), ask for it.

Management is a rewarding career step and shows confidence in your potential. Remember that this is your first step, and you will need the help and support of those around you (especially those you manage) to grow.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction.

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