Knowledge Centre for recruitment

Making a success of your first management job

There is nothing quite like your first management job.  The changes are that you will have been promoted based on your performance in your previous job which will have been totally different.  You will be used to knowing what to do, to being good at what you do and suddenly you will find yourself responsible for other people where you have to know what they should do and most of the things that made you good at your last job will just get in the way of your success in your new job.

This guide to being a success at your first management job aims to help you translate your current skills and practices into new skills and practices.

Your Colleagues

Your peer group will effectively change over night.  You will now be one of ‘them' and have to start to build relationships with a lot of new people within the organisation.  This is a critical first step and one you need to manage effectively.  Remember, just because you have the job title, you have not necessarily yet got the credibility and so avoid being over presumptuous.  At the same time you need to look confident - that the promotion decision was the right one - and not too subordinate to what are now your peers. 

Asking people for help can be a very effective strategy for getting them on your side.  But think this through carefully.  Focus on asking for opinions on areas such as ‘how the boss likes to be kept informed', how the meetings tend to run and stuff like that.  Things that show you are keen to learn ‘the way to do things around here'.  Keep your more developmental needs (such as how to do the job, how to manage people) to your one to one meetings with your immediate manager.

Your Team

These are the people that you used to work alongside.  Your relationship with them has got to be different.  Two things are different.  You are now the boss and they might not feel quite so comfortable ‘palling around' with you.  You are the boss and thus the power has shifted in your relationship with them - you have more power than them (unless you do something that gives them power over you). 

Also, and whilst we do not want to over emphasise this point, some of them might be a bit miffed that you got the job and not them.

So once again, you need to earn their respect and build your credibility.  Getting the job was the easy bit.  Doing it well is the real test of your capability.

Looking at the power thing in more detail.  As the boss, generally it will be assumed that you are in the know (even if you say that you are not - which may not as it happens be the best strategy in any case).  Therefore wild speculation about the company or your peers could be seen as the truth.  Indiscriminate jokey threats about firing people or poor performance have to stop.  Gossiping about others also needs to cease - you must not talk about other members of the team except in the appropriate context. 

And think about how politically correct you are - because now is the time to clean up your act.

It does sound a bit like we are advocating a personality bi-pass but in reality what we are saying that that your position of authority means that things you say may be construed either genuinely or not so genuinely with fairly disastrous results. You do not want to end up in an employment tribunal.  In the mid term, once you settle into the new role you will be able to relax a bit more.  You will know amongst your peers whom you can trust, whom you can relax with.  But with your team you need to take care to not have favourites and also to ensure that remember that what you do and say to one will be heard (or heard about) by the others.

Your Induction

In an ideal world you will have been on some training in advance of the promotion which will at least give you some insights, some tools and techniques and a group of colleagues you can chat through your learning with.  In the real world this training sometimes comes a few years later.

Hopefully you will find that there is a clear induction programme for you - covering the key areas of your new responsibilities. If this does not seem to be the case one of your first management tasks is to take personal responsibility for your own induction, develop a plan, talk to you manager and get his/her input and overall agreement/support and then go for it.

When developing your induction programme think about the new areas to your role and what you need to know to make a success of them.  To give you a start here are a few:

Finance

What will your financial responsibilities be in the new role?  Having identified this consider how you can become proficient in these areas and understand the company policies and practice. For example:

  • Approving staff expenses.  Find the company policy and read this so that you only approve appropriate expenses and know how to do so using the correct forms and system
  • Team budget.  Are you responsible for a budget?  If so find out what it is, establish how you get monthly reports and what you have to do to provide monitoring information
  • Annual budget process.  Establish the company timetable so that you are prepared and ready to provide the necessary information at the right time

Human Resources

You now have responsibility for people so need to ensure that you are fully up to speed with the relevant HR policies and processes as well as the annual calendar of events.  Some areas to consider include:

  • Recruitment, Promotion and Induction - what is the approval process, what authority do you have to recruit, what induction programmes are in place for new hires, what is the company policy on promotions
  • Performance Management.  Find out the policy, ensure you have the key dates in your diary.  Set up regular one to ones with staff and ensure that you have a formal appraisal at least once a year (or more if this fits with company policy). 
  • Managing your team - ensure that each team member has a job description or role profile and also some key objectives.  Individuals who know what is expected of them tend to perform better than those that do not
  • HR practice - find out any key areas of people management that you have responsibility for.  Including holiday approval and recording, overtime, sickness, absence etc.  Ensure you are fully up to speed with the company policies so that you can manage staff fairly and in line with the company practice and their contracts
  • Reward and recognition.  Establish your role in determining each of your team member's pay including the company approach to bonuses and non financial reward/recognition.

Things that used to work but not any more ...

Doing other's work for them - just to help out.  This can be a good thing to do when a member of a team - it shows team spirit, that you are supportive and so on.  However as a manager you need to put time and effort into helping the individual do their own work rather than taking it on yourself.  This can be quite challenging since doing the work yourself for them is actually, in the short term at least, a whole load easier.  And if you are feeling under pressure to demonstrate that you team is performing well this can be an easy hole to fall into.  However, being a good manager is about taking time with the member of staff to discuss the problem and find a way through it.

Best Practice Tips

Be Authoritative.

It may feel slightly strange and you may worry that you are acting ‘too big for your boots' but your team will be looking to you for clarity and direction and if you appear to diffident or unclear they will worry and it will damage their effectiveness. You need to ensure that everyone has clear objectives and know what timescales they are working to and how their work fits the business strategy

Delegate

This is perhaps the hardest thing to learn.  Suddenly you are expected to let others do things that you know you can do better and yet you will be accountable for overall performance and delivery.  Difficult.  There are some techniques which support delegation - having a clear plan, not leaving things to the last minute, ensuring your team know not just what is needed but why.  Personally I find, however, that it is about taking a deep breath, closing your eyes and letting them do it.  It does become easier and good delegation with some coaching and support will enable you to focus on your own areas of accountability, and develop your team members at the same time.  When you delegate work you do need to ensure that any corrections or suggestions you make are for the individual's development, not just to recreate a replica of what you would have done had you not delegated it in the first place.  So, for example, when checking letters comment on tone, impact, clarity etc but do not tinker with individual words or minor punctuation (help your team member develop a strong communicative style of their own, do not seek to create a clone of yourself).

Manage Poor Performance

This may be work quality or quantity; or it could be attitude and the way they go about things.  You need to focus on the impact of their actions and help the person identify ways to develop and improve.  You should avoid making it personal - and making assumptions.  So if, for example, someone keeps making errors you should ask why this is the case and work with them to identify ways to improve things, not tell them that they are not paying attention. Also avoid pulling the ‘emotional' card.  Managers who over emphasise how disappointed they are, or how let down they feel, are not playing it fair.  Your job is not to emotionally blackmail your team - it is to ensure each individual is contributing appropriately.

Recognise Good Performance

Take time to let someone know if you think they have done a nice job, or been particularly helpful to a colleague.  Take the time to explain what it is that you valued - it is more powerful than just saying "well done, that was brilliant".  So instead, for example, say I particularly valued it when you stayed back during your lunch break to finish that report, it meant that we were able to meet the Department deadline without a last minute panic.

Share the credit, take the blame

This is something to be quite careful about in the early days when you are trying to impress your boss and prove that promoting you was the right thing to do.  But it will come back and bit you and is something you must never do.  Not only will your team resent this but experienced, half way competent managers will spot this behaviour and not value it.  Taking the blame can be hard especially when you are knew.  It does not mean you have to pretend that you made the actual error but it does mean that you need to take responsibility and not pass it onto the individual.  So do not say, I will speak to Jay about that, you say ‘I have to take responsibility for this, and will ensure that it does not happen again'

Prioritise

Your new role means that not only do you need to ensure that you spend your own time doing the right things but also that each member of your team does the same.  As well as being planned and organised this means that you need to know what is going on within the company.  Take opportunities when meeting with your manager or in team meetings to get an update on the company position and performance and to seek input on what is really important.

Be a Team Player

As mentioned at the beginning of this article you will need to form new working relationships.  Part of building sustained relationships is being a team player.  If you plan to do something thing about the impact it might have on others and perhaps you should check it out first.  So, as an example, if you plan to give your team a reward, or take everyone to lunch, share this as a department meeting so that your peers can think about doing the same and do not feel that your actions have in some way disadvantaged them.

Decision Making

We have talked a lot about being ‘in charge'.  Clear, reasonably speedy, decision making is a fundamental element of leadership. As a manager you will be required to make innumerable decisions every day, some trivial and some very significant, often in areas which are new to you.

Given this and the need to be relatively assured in your decision making process it is sensible to take a systematic approach to decision making, which will help avoid the paralysis that big decisions (or an endless stream of small ones) can sometimes cause. Remember to take advice as well, as broadly as is feasible, but don't forget that in the end decisions are down to you. There may be no right answer but as the manager you are responsible for making one.

Suggested steps to a systematic approach to work and decision making are:

  • identify and confirm the issue or problem;
  • identify its causes (or root cause) rather than just the symptom;
  • establish a number of possible solutions (including consulting with your team and peers where appropriate);
  • look at the pros and cons and consequences (short and longer term) and select one;
  • communicate the decision (with reasons where useful);
  • take or delegate appropriate action to put the decision into practice.

Over time this process will become second nature but initially it is good to mentally check off each step.

Sometimes you will make a decision which with hindsight proves to be less than brilliant.  Acknowledge this, learn from it and move on - just don't stop making them.

Team Management and Motivation

The essence of a leader is being able to ‘get more from' the team than would be got were you not there.  The essence of a good leader is to achieve this with the minimum of effort - so you do not drive (or push) the output but you engender an environment, the motivation and the skills and capability so that it flows naturally.

Motivating individuals is about working out what makes them tick, what keeps them going, and building this into their working day.  Different people are motivating by quite different things.  Also you need to get under the surface.  An unhappy employee may complain about their salary, but quite often this is not the real issue.  Think about it - their salary is relatively static so what is it that has changed that is causing them to focus on it.  It could be just something they can moan about because they are bored with the work; it could be that they thought that would be promoted by now and earning a higher salary; it could be that some personal changes have made money more important.  Work out the cause and you can help.

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