I have a particular soft spot for anyone and everyone stepping into the role of manager for the first time. I suspect this is carried over from my own less than outstanding start-up as a new manager earlier in my career. The overwhelming feeling of awkwardness and disorientation linger in my mind and gut to this day. Here’s some guidance to help you move beyond that early feeling of disorientation and start strong as a new manager.
Four Approaches to Help You Start Strong as a New Manager
There’s a lot going on when you start out as a new manager, however, these four actions will give you a strong foundation to build upon as you navigate the first 100 days.
1. Give Yourself a Break on the Pressure
Your inclination at the time of promotion to first-time manager is to feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Unless you’re in a start-up function (unlikely that they would provide this to a first-time manager), you’re surrounded by individuals who know their jobs and can execute on their tasks regardless of who the manager is at the moment. Resist the urge to seize command and start telling people how to do their jobs.
Also, know that your boss doesn’t expect you to reshape the world or your department in your image anytime soon. Relax your mind and focus on striving to figure out how you can help these people and your boss.
2. Listen and Observe More and Talk Less to Break the Ice
As an experienced manager, I learned to listen and observe more than I talked. Listening is particularly relevant for you as you become immersed in the daily lives of your new coworkers.
Listening is a high-performance power tool. It shows respect, it portrays empathy, and people will naturally open up to someone who is a great listener. Spend time asking questions, learning what goes on in a day-in-the-life of each team member, and importantly, asking how you can help.
Resist the urge to make meetings and discussions about you and your agenda. People will grow curious and start asking soon enough.
3. Ask and Involve
While I’m giving away my favorite start-up power tool here—it works for new managers as well as executives, this is part of my do-over, so use the idea in great health. I run what I describe as a 3W’s process.
I pre-announce that I plan to meet with and listen to each team member individually where the agenda is focused on three questions: What’s working? What’s not? What do you need me to do to help you/us succeed?
The meetings are confidential although I indicate I will roll up the key themes I hear and share them back with the group for further discussion and action planning.
I remind myself to listen and not talk during these sessions, and I take voluminous notes. It’s inevitable to hear some immediate needs, which I commit to or sometimes fix on the spot.
Once all of the meetings have been completed, I set up a group session and share the key themes I heard during the sessions. We discuss the issues, and I ask the group to clarify each one and then prioritize them.
Where relevant, we create project teams with clearly defined project scopes and team member roles to tackle the initiatives. I serve as the sponsor responsible for gaining support, funds, resources essential for success.
While there’s a bit of finesse involved in this process, I’ve never failed to break the ice and get the focus off of me as the new manager or executive and on to the changes and improvements team members want to make to succeed as individuals and as a group. Importantly, I gain insights into the thinking and abilities of the group members, and I gain critical context for where I can add value immediately.
Note: if you would like my longer set of instructions on managing a 3W’s process, drop me a note, and I will pass it along.
4. Mind Your Boss
While this seems to go without saying, I find that many new managers in the drive to prove themselves don’t pay enough attention to their boss. Remember the boss selected you and is accountable for your success or failure. I counsel new managers to establish a regular communication cadence and protocol (when, how much detail, how frequent, what format, etc.) with their boss and to do everything possible to understand and align on priorities. The better you as a manager can tune-in to your boss’s priorities, the better able you are to support their success.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
In my workshops and online programs for new managers, I provide a checklist of priorities and actions for the first day, week, month, quarter, and 100-day marks. There’s a lot to do in this job, and there are more than a few ways to get it horribly wrong as I can attest to. The great news is you can move a long distance toward start-up success drawing on the four actions suggested above. Use them in great start-up health!