Help for a new manager - ideas to help with that fist management role

Feb 24 11:48 2011 Alison Miles-Jenkins Print This Article

This article is aimed at those new to management.  When taking up that first line management role there are many new challenges to overcome.  This article gives some hints and tips to make that new role easier.

Ideas to help someone new to management

This article is focussed on providing help to assist someone new to management.  Whilst aimed at those in their first management role,Guest Posting it will also be a useful refresher to those who have been in management for some time.

When preparing to write this article I have drawn on a range and depth of personal experience in management.  My first management role was 26 years ago now and I’ve not stopped developing my management and leadership skills since then. After all, leadership is a journey not a destination. As I developed my training and management consultancy, the dynamics and nature of management and leadership are an area in which I have specialised.  Today as well as managing and leading my own business, I help management teams, executives and leaders with their own management development.

Your new management role

As with many things in life, the first step is often the hardest which is why I wanted to offer some help to those who are starting off on their first management role.  The first time manager will often be faced with a variety of emotions and feelings ranging from excitement and eagerness, to anxiety and apprehension.  We all feel the butterflies in the stomach on the big occasions in life and my aim with this article is to help the new manager to get those butterflies flying in formation, heading in the right direction and at the right speed.

The excitement of a new management position can be accompanied by a feeling of uncertainty. If you are new to the organisation you may also be faced with trying to establish what the culture and style of the place is like.  You will also want to get to grips with the objectives and expectations of your new organisation.  Whether you are new to the organisation of not, the first time manager needs to understand what is expected of them.

Before we start here is some encouragement. There is some good news for the new manager: those who appointed you believe you are the right person for the job.  You convinced them during the recruitment process of this.  They have confidence that you can do the job otherwise they wouldn’t have given you this opportunity.  Your own line manager will want you to succeed otherwise you wouldn’t be in the job.

The new manager’s organisation

So where do you start?  A good place to begin is to review the information you have gathered through the recruitment process.  The research you did to find out about the organisational objectives and priorities will be very helpful in giving you a steer for what is expected.  Even the job advert can be a list of tasks, objectives and challenges that the new manager needs to tackle.  So take a look at the information you have and look too at the organisation’s website. Somewhere there, hopefully easy to find, will be statements about what the organisation is there to achieve and why it exists.

What are the objectives for a new manager?

Having understood the wider organisational strategy, the next step is to apply that to your role. Whatever level you are appointed to, you must make sure you have a clear understanding of the objectives for the role.

We all have a boss, sometimes more than one.  We are all accountable to someone so the first time manager needs to quickly get to grips with what the expectations are.  A good boss will be clear about that, but it is not always straightforward.  An early discussion with your boss about priorities and expectations will get this out in the open.  You should have your own ideas gained from the recruitment process and now is the time to have that discussion to check understanding and be clear from the outset.

Some organisations have a cascade of objectives in the form of a Balanced Business Scorecard. This identifies the organisational objectives and cascades these objectives throughout the organisation.  The concept here is that ultimately your objectives add to those of your department, which with the objectives of other departments will add up to the achievement of the corporate goals.  All perfectly logical.

In reality this wonderful logic may be not quite what it seems.  The setting of objectives is a complicated business in its own right.  Often a desired outcome can be obscured by a poorly framed objective.  Take for example a Contact Centre I worked with who had a target to answer all calls in 15 seconds.  Fantastic customer service was the driver behind this.  However, without a measurement of quality, the target could be achieved by simply answering the call and rushing the caller off the phone so that the call handler can get to the next caller. So this one dimensional approach resulted in a rather skewed and disappointing result.  It had the best of intentions behind it but it was poorly framed. It led senior management to focus on why service performance was deemed to be so poor. The contact centre manager was under pressure for achieving the objective set but criticised for not thinking more widely.

So get clear about your objectives but think about and ask about why these objectives are there. What are they trying to achieve?  Asking why is one of your key tools.  Be careful here though because you can have too much of a good thing!  If you ask “why?” repeatedly you can come over as aggressive, so ask why in different ways. Taking my contact centre example, you might explore this as follows: can you explain why the focus is on speed of answering?  What about call handling quality? Are our customers asking for speed as the first priority or is there more to it?

Managing people for the first time

The good news is that one group of people who will also want you to succeed is your team.  This might not at first appear obvious, but few people want to work in a team that is not performing well.  So your people are likely to want to be part of a successful team and so will want you as the team leader to succeed. Of course, human nature being what it is there might be some who don’t want to be there but on balance people prefer success to failure.

It can appear daunting to be managing people for the first time. So why not start by considering your team as a social group?  When meeting people for the first time socially we often look for areas of mutual interest. One other aspect is that we instinctively assess people based on whether we see them as a threat to our interests or not.  This instinctive social behaviour should not be forgotten just because we are starting off in management.

Using this knowledge leads us to consider how we come across.  It is a mistake to put on the cloak of management and then to immediately think we have to come across as decisive and full of initiative.  These are laudable attributes but no-one will be impressed by poorly thought through ideas and initiatives, presented simply because you want to be seen as decisive.  It is often better to gather information and develop well thought through ideas.  Our people, peers and those around us in the organisational hierarchy will notice what you do and what you say.  You want to be remembered for thoughtful anecdotes and statements not random ideas.

It is often a good idea to treat people courteously, to keep your emotions in check when passions are raised.  You need to accept responsibility for the performance of your team.  This includes defending them even if things get tough.  You might not be facing performance challenges but it is likely that if you are not now having that experience you will at some point in this new management role.  Of course, you need to manage performance and should do so. Even when doing this you need to publicly be presenting yourself as acknowledging that there are issues but state what is being done to put things right, rather than dwell on what is wrong. Clearly personal performance issues are confidential but if team performance is weak in an area you need to be seen to be addressing it.  As a leader you need to instil a sense of direction whilst on an individual basis tackling any poor performance.

Your action should be guided by thinking about what your team would say about you when you are not there.  Aim for words like: honest, open, performance focussed, reasonable, high expectations, fair, integrity, decency.

Your new management colleagues

Amongst those who will be interested in you and your plans are your management colleagues.  Amongst this group you will find yourself in the midst of the organisational politics.  This can be an opaque area and take some time to understand.  The informal linkages and hierarchies of any organisation are not always apparent at first glance.

So in this area you need to be thinking about how you come across. There may be some who are your detractors.  With these individuals you should use reason to explain your viewpoints.  Keeping your self-control is important and logical reasoned discussion should be your aim.  It is also important to show that you are not a threat.  Keep discussions away from personality.  You need to stand up for your team and your objectives, whilst keeping in mind the overarching corporate goals and objectives.

Managing upwards

Your relations with your new manager or director will be very important.  Your boss will want you to succeed and to support the departmental and organisational objectives.  If your relationships with your boss and colleagues are going well and the team is performing then that is great news. Life is not always like that so a few points here might help just in case the situation is not going quite as well as it might.

If you ever come across bad-mouthing of colleagues do not join in but be prepared to stand-up for your team.  If you cannot square that with your own values at least maintain a dignified and diplomatic silence in such areas.  Think about how wary colleagues will be to confide in you if you are ready to take part in organisational gossip.  You need an open approach from colleagues to make sure that the information you need to perform comes freely to you.  Any questions about your integrity will only reduce this flow of information.

Understanding the pressures and demands on your boss will get you a long way forwards.  You can use this information to provide the right support and make yourself indispensible to your boss.  You want to be seen as an asset not a liability.

If you think you might end up in a place where you and your boss are totally at odds, you might remember that in these situations 99 times out of a 100, the boss wins.  There might be very good and proper reasons to hold contrary views and to articulate them.  Your responsibility to the organisation and your team demand that you don’t shy away from difficult issues, but if you are not able to adapt to the style of management of your boss, then your tenure might be short.  If that is the situation then keep your CV polished and make sure that your networking is focussed on finding a new role.

One great piece of advice that has stood the test of time is one I received from a Director I once worked for.  It was that he wanted no surprises. This means advanced warning of when things are going better or worse than expected.  The Director was working at Board level and his own integrity would be called into question if he gave assurances about performance only to find I had some bad news lurking and he didn’t know it was coming.  It is not confined to bad news though; an unexpectedly good performance he didn’t know about could prove an embarrassment if sprung upon the Board.  Even risks that you are running should be alerted upwards. That way you can demonstrate what you are doing to prevent them, whilst preparing your boss for the chance that the risk might change from a risk to a reality.

All of this points to having an open discussion about priorities and ways of working with your boss early in your new role.  Then all you have to do is to keep refreshing that discussion periodically.

You as a new leader

An important aspect of your new role is that along with “management” comes the expectation of “leadership”.  You may be one of those leaders who colleagues identify intuitively as a good leader. You may have shown those skills in previous roles or even outside of work.

Defining what leadership actually is has occupied research for years.  Throughout history leaders have come and gone and military history is full of stories about great leaders. Management studies often have picked up some of these themes and early management studies were replete with lessons learned from military leadership and strategy. This is not the place for an academic work on leadership but my aim is to give you some pointers to think about in your new role.  As a new manager you might want to exhibit, and be expected to exhibit, leadership.

Sticking with often quoted military example for a moment, the roman invasion of Britain nearly faltered on the beaches. It would have done so had not for the standard bearer of the legion jumped onto the beach and urged his colleagues onwards.  Clearly in today’s office such gestures are not called for but some of the essence of leadership is contained within this story.

Leadership in your first role seems to me to embrace a number of things:

  1. Communication of expectations and goals – your people need to know what is expected of them, where the team is going and how it is going to get there.  We ask teams in many organisations what they want more of.  “Communication” is often in the top three.
  2. Communication of objectives – whilst the end goal may be made clear, short term objectives are needed. Think of these as mile-stones on the journey if you like.
  3. Lead by example – your own example is important.  It sounds clichéd to lead by example, but remember that your colleagues will be looking as much at your behaviour as your results.  The way you conduct yourself is important.  I’ve seen the board of a PLC encourage their staff to value each other, work together and pursue common goals, only immediately afterwards to be seen publicly squabbling with each other over resources, forgetting the values they just championed!  You can imagine what the staff thought of this…
  4. Support your team.  They want to see you are there with them if things are proving challenging.  This includes genuinely thanking them when they perform as well as highlighting challenges that might appear.  When presenting challenges frame them as goals you are travelling towards rather than simply away from.  Instead of saying: “Things are going from bad to worse”, say something like: “Things are challenging and here is what we are doing to get from X to Y”.
  5. Be tactful and confidential – leaders do sometimes have to keep matters to themselves.  You must be seen to be reliable and trusted and that means not leaking confidential information.  Don’t even drop hints or be indiscrete. No matter how tempting.  If you have information you cannot discuss then you mustn’t lie as that will undermine your credibility.  Simply state that the matter is confidential and that you must respect that confidentiality.
  6. Have fun too!  Don’t forget that your people are human beings first and staff second so try and find a way to have fun in what you do.  A high performing team can work hard but also have fun doing it.
Developing yourself as a new manager

Part of the attraction to you in this new management role will be the opportunities it presents.  There is the challenge of succeeding as a new manager of course.  In addition you will probably be looking towards the next promotion.  That means that you must not neglect your own development.

A great way to do this and to help with the challenges you experience is to get yourself a successful coach and/or mentor. A mentor can provide a confidential and trusted sounding board which will help you develop into your new role.  I’ve also coached many managers and senior executives through various challenges in their careers and one common thread is that they value the opportunity to gain a perspective from outside the organisation on the challenges faced in the role.

To continue to develop you might also want to think about developing a skillset as a “reflective practitioner”.  As we develop in our careers we all gain experience.  However, turning that experience into something useful comes from a reflective approach.  An experience of a given situation is more use if it is: observed, reflected upon and analysed.  Developing an internal discipline to analyse the situation, explore what worked and what didn’t, consider options and to store up lessons for next time is invaluable.  It will give you great insights.

When you experience something that appears similar to a problem you have encountered and solved before take a step back and pause to reflect. Don’t assume that just because you have seen this before it will need the same treatment as last time.  Things aren’t always what they seem.  Situations may appear similar but can be subtly different. Observe, gather information, analyse, develop options, and weigh them up by looking at the pros and cons of each, before deciding on what to do.

Finally, here is our last piece of advice to the new manager

Being a new manager is exciting, challenging and sometimes may be stressful.  Think about your first 100 days and what you want to achieve in them. Think about what you want people to say about you to their colleagues, think about what you, your organisation, your boss and team want to say about you.  These first 100 days will often set the tone of how you are perceived in the role.

You will experience challenges and some of these will be new and sometimes unexpected.  Take a tip from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  Knowing that any hitchhiker will be facing new challenges on the front cover of this book two reassuring words were written. These will be of great help to you: Don’t Panic!

Panic is an emotion that prevents rational thought.  Panic diminishes your analytical functions. You want to run away when you panic.  Instead try and focus on a rational logical approach.   Think about the qualities of leadership, the approaches to problem solving and your leadership and management style that I’ve talked about in this article.  You want to be seen as a cool head with a safe pair of hands.  No matter how tough it gets: “panic” should not be in your vocabulary.

Good luck in your new role.

Alison Miles-Jenkins

Managing Director

Training To Achieve (UK) Ltd

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Alison Miles-Jenkins
Alison Miles-Jenkins

Alison Miles-Jenkins, described as “inspirational and aspirational”, is Managing Director of Training To Achieve an award-winning training and management consultancy which she set up in 1990. Since then, she has been at the forefront of helping individuals, teams and organisations become the best they can be.  A staggering 36,000 employees, managers and business owners now perform more successfully as a result of being trained by Alison.

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