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Leadership Development

A Planning Primer for the First-Time Manager

A manager’s debut means previously unseen challenges from new bosses, a varied workload and winning over staff. Here’s a seven-day outlook to keep management newbies a step ahead.

You did it! You’re a manager now.

Did you update your LinkedIn headline? Great. With that out of the way, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get down to business.

No surprise here, but being a manager is hard work. It doesn’t come naturally to many people, but the good news is with the right foundation you’ll be on your way to becoming a great leader.

While every week will present new challenges, the first week will be a deep dive into the trials of managing your employees as well as meeting the expectations of executives above you. With so much on your plate and you brimming with excitement and trepidation, here’s a seven-day rundown to help keep you focused as you begin your managerial journey.

Now, before you go into full TED Talk mode at your debut team meeting, take time to pause, breathe and assess the situation facing you. You’ll be onboarding for part of the day, but take time to mentally audit the tools and resources you have available and the ones you do not.

If you work at a large company, you likely have experienced and dependable human resources professionals there to guide you as you begin your managerial duties. But if you’re at a smaller company or a startup, it’s probably you against the world.

Some important questions to consider as you get through Day One:

• What does your company’s HR team look like?

• Who are the key people to get to know?

• What are the key processes you should be familiar with when it comes to management training and team development?

• When are performance reviews?

• What’s the process as a manager?

• How are bonuses paid out?

• What is the manager’s role in that process?

• What is the process for when an employee is failing to meet their objectives?

Once you assess and get a full grasp for what your department is like, you’ll be able to have a deeper understanding of your team and know how to communicate with them more effectively.

Whether you were promoted up from within a team or are starting a brand-new job as a team lead, you’ll want to get acquainted with their personalities as well as their dynamics with each other, early on.

Don’t wait to schedule one-on-ones with all team members to get a sense of their overall engagement and job satisfaction. Set the tone early by transparently and candidly getting to know them as individuals: What motivates them, what frustrates them and where do they see their career going in the future.

The best piece of advice for the early conversations: Clearly communicate to your team members that you’ve got their back from the outset. Establish a foundation of transparency and trust early on that will carry through your relationship. Here are some things to explore during these get-to-know-you meetings:

• Career journey: How did you get to this job?

• What is your favorite thing about your job now?

• What do you wish there were more of?

• How do you feel about senior leadership?

• How do you feel about the team’s overall dynamics?

• How do you feel about the office environment?

Tiffany Pham, CEO and founder of Mogul.

• What are your personal career goals and how can I help create a plan to get there?

And here’s a meeting tip from a pro: Tiffany Pham, CEO and founder of Mogul, says she prefers to schedule one-on-ones with her team members outside of the office. “I never eat alone,” she told me. “By getting your team members out of the cube and into a more relaxed setting, you’ll learn more about them and how their work and their lives intersect.”

So find alternative ways of connecting and getting to know your team and start setting up time in your schedule to make it happen. Set up a quick lunch, coffee or even walk around the office, as they can all be healthy ways to connect with your team.

You can read blogs and advice books until you’re blue in the face, but know this: The single best way to become a better leader is to watch a great leader in action. Whether your company is 10 people or 10,000 people, strong leaders will stand out. Identify a leader who matches with your own leadership style or personality and invite them to coffee to propose a mentorship relationship to them.

When setting up these meetings, avoid vague phrasing such as “I’d like to pick your brain.” Explain exactly what you hope to benefit from the relationship, and set expectations for the mentor so they know exactly what to expect.

For example, perhaps you schedule a standing 20-minute coffee break, where you stroll out of the office and tackle one question or topic at a time. This makes the ask much more manageable for your mentor and also gives you a framework for guiding actionable conversations. Some topics to address with your management mentor:

• What do you wish you knew when you first became a manager that you know now?

• What is your advice for giving tough feedback?

• How should I celebrate wins within my team?

• What’s the best way to motivate the range of personality types on my team?

• How can I better collect feedback on my management style from the team?

• How can I lead by example when it comes to work/life balance?

Since you’re new to managing a team, you might think delegation is simply a matter of forwarding emails or assigning tasks that you might not want to do with others on your team. If you’ve had a bad manager at any point in your career, no doubt you’ve been on the other side of this equation.

Effective management is as much about scaling your talents across your direct report or team as it is about developing that person in their own role. Effective delegation involves pairing the right individual with the right tasks, and creating a framework for which types of tasks you delegate to whom.

One of the most important pieces of delegation involves providing context — that is, clearly communicating to your team what the objective of the task is and why it’s important to the team or company mission. Here are some additional best practices to consider pre- and post-project:

Project communication. How you communicate the tasks you delegate will set the tone for the project ahead. Phrases like “I would like you to own this project end to end” and “Handle this ASAP” will have drastically different effects on your team.

Providing support and micromanaging are two very different things. Offer help or step in as needed, but create timelines that allow your team to learn and do with some breathing room for bumps along the way.

Give feedback. After a task has been checked off or a project wrapped, give praise for the positive and offer up ways to improve if critical feedback is needed. Always close the loop on the conversation.

You made it to Friday. Congratulations! There’s still work to do as a newbie manager.

Within the first week of being a manager, you’ll notice that the hours seem to slip by quicker than they used to. At many companies, managers operate as player-coaches, tasked with their own responsibilities while also being in charge of the performance and ongoing development of their teams.

With more on your plate, efficiency will become exceedingly important to maintaining a healthy work/life balance.

A 10-second Google search will yield hundreds, if not thousands, of time management tips. As a manager, it’s on you to develop processes that work for you and your unique work habits. Here are some hacks to test out in your first weeks:

Know your “top three”: Each morning, write down the top three priorities you want to advance on that day. Set clear and realistic milestones and hold yourself accountable.

Block your calendar: Instead of creating to-do lists, block windows in your calendar to complete specific tasks or projects within a given window.

Stop multitasking: Interruptions are the enemy of efficiency. Establish discreet windows for checking email and hold “office hours” so your team knows when you’re available for questions (and when you need to focus your attention elsewhere).

Prioritize and say no. Savvy managers know how to rank the projects that are most important to the team and company objectives. They also know when to say “no,” or push things off to a later date.

OK, so technically Day Six is Monday.

But it’s a continuation of your first-week indoctrination in your new role.

Giving and receiving feedback is one of the easiest ways to create stronger relationships with your teams, yet too few managers have feedback systems in place.

The real-time nature of work means that communication has become instantaneous and ongoing, and yet most companies still rely on annual reviews or infrequent employee engagement surveys.

By the time managers receive the data, it’s no longer timely and probably not actionable. Whether you rely on technology to collect and give team feedback or not, the most important step to take is to formalize feedback loops early.

Continue setting the tone in your first week by reinforcing that you welcome open and transparent communication. Clearly communicate to teams how and when they can provide feedback to their manager.

A common pain point for new managers is the pressure of having other individuals dependent on you for success. While your team is ultimately supporting the priorities you set as the team leader, your support of them is perhaps even more important.

You might be familiar with the term “servant leadership” coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970. Within this philosophy, managers focus on team development as their top priority, tirelessly working to “serve” their teams in this capacity.

Servant leadership requires a tangible presence of the manager in the lives of their team members, one that emphasizes support and guidance as opposed to micromanagement. Here are some quick ways to exert yourself as a servant leader:

Be an active listener. Give your team members a platform for providing feedback and make that feedback actionable.

Demonstrate empathy. Make it a point to gauge how your team members are feeling not just at work, but in their lives more holistically.

Work on your self-awareness. Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses will allow you to serve your team better.

Do You Want to Be a Better Manager?

It obviously takes longer than a week of self-reflection to be considered a great manager. It’s a long process that will require you to get to know your employees, your company, and most importantly you’ll have to make sure to know your own strengths and weaknesses.

If you want to be a great manager, it’s important to be curious and keep a growth mindset. You’ll always have to learn and do a little more to understand the needs of your employees.

As a manager, you’ll have to know what to do in order to push your employees to be successful individuals who will shine at your company and beyond.

David Mendlewicz is the CEO of Butterfly.ai, an AI-driven software that harnesses employee feedback to create a customized learning experience for managers. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.