I had an interesting conversation recently with a business leader about employees taking up people management roles for the first time. Individual contributors who do well in their roles, get promoted to people managers as a natural career progression in most companies. His concern was well founded – how do we promote people without measuring their ability to manage people?
Someone might be a great individual contributor in say a sales role, but leading a team of sales people is a completely different ball game. Yet, this seems to be the career path open to most people who are doing well in individual contributor roles. How do we address this gap? The first step for organizations is to have multiple career paths available for individuals – for example, I know quite a few successful individual contributors who are very happy doing what they are doing and do not want to take up a people management role. We are slowly seeing more and more companies trying to create such lateral movement options available for such people by opening up more global roles and larger portfolios to manage instead of people.
Having said that, majority of people still aspire to manage teams and be people managers in the long run. We have had some experience in designing and delivering new manager training interventions for clients, who have sought our assistance in equipping new managers with the right skill sets in their journey ahead. If you do get an opportunity to lead a team of people, below are a set of 5 tips which could come in handy for you.
1. Share your values – Values based leadership is slowly gaining popularity in the business world and for good reason. It is important for the team to know what are the unshakeable values that their manager stands for. Comparisons with your predecessor are also to be expected – one of the common laments we hear from new managers is “It is so tough because my predecessor was an amazing manager. They compare everything I do with what he/she did!” Yet, the other way to look at is, if your predecessor was a great manager, chances are you would have inherited a good team and that is the best start you could expect. In the initial period, when the team is getting to know and evaluate you as a manager, there is no harm in re-emphasizing these values frequently and demonstrating them in day to day situations. For example, if you say timeliness is one of the Must-haves for your team, and then turn up late for every team meeting – your credibility is likely to take a nose dive. Consistency in behaviors is key in this aspect. While situations might change, the values you stand for should not.
Secondly, it is important to articulatebehaviors associated with these values – otherwise they remain very abstract (as unfortunately happens to many companies’ core values!) and the team might not be able to grasp the essence of the behaviors that contribute to those values.
2. Say Thank you as often as you can – Seems simple, isn’t it? Yet, most new managers get so caught up in day to day transactions that they forget to take a moment out to say Thank you to the team for a job well done. It could be through an email note sent after an especially difficult month, where team has pulled out all stops to d
eliver a tough sales target or a challenging production cycle in record time. Picking up the phone and saying thank you with specific mention of instances where the team has gone the extra mile is even better. Celebrating team successes is the next step in this. Too often, we find that new managers start initiatives like a regular team dinner(with the noblest of intentions!), but they soon fall victim to time pressures and slowly die out as a practice.
I remember working with a motivated and driven sales team, who after giving their best every month used to go out for a “Let down your hair” dinner session with their manager. On more probing, many of them confessed, that the team dinner was one thing which they looked forward to pull them through some of the more difficult months.
3. Do what you say you would do (DWYSYWD) –
Most new managers lose credibility with their teams in this aspect. People like working with managers who are predictable in their behavior, rather than ones which spring surprises. We have interacted with managers who complain – “What is the big deal if I forget to return a phone call?” The answer is simple – it shows you don’t care. Imagine this scenario – One of your team members calls while you are in the middle of an urgent meeting and you (the manager) do not answer his call. You send an auto response from your phone –“I am busy. Will call back”. Later the call back unfortunately gets missed out due to your busy schedule. What if the team member had been extremely disappointed with the yearly appraisal and wanted to schedule a discussion for that. The message he gets is – this is not important for my manager. No wonder then, that the new manager’s credibility takes a nose dive after a few such incidents! DWYSYWD should be your mantra in all your team interactions, be it as simple as returning a team member’s phone call or more complicated aspects like annual appraisal discussions and setting team policies.
4. Be honest and open – Sounds simplistic? It is easier said than done. The team-manager trust is like a bank balance, when you as a new manager do something to reinforce the team’s trust, it is a deposit in the trust account. However, when you do something which breaches the team’s trust, it is a withdrawal on the trust balance. The best way to avoid trust balance withdrawals is to be as open and honest as possible.
One of the common breaches of trust we hear from teams is about managers asking teams to work in one particular fashion at the start of a quarter or year and course correcting mid-way without any explanation. The team naturally feels let down as they have to adjust to the new processes/directions without even knowing the reasons behind the decision. Being open also includes the aspect of listening to the team’s inputs and ideas on issues and critical aspects of their work. Sometimes, the feeling of not being heard can bring about huge dissatisfaction within the team.
5. Know when to step back – New managers are usually guilty of adding their inputs to every idea they hear from their team. Sometimes in their zeal to add value to a discussion, they cannot help adding their two cents to every idea they hear.
One of the common complaints we have heard from teams is – “We never feel it is our idea after a team meeting. Regardless of how good the idea was, our manager would always add – This is a good idea, but why don’t we add this bit as well?” Knowing when to step back and listen is a crucial skill for a new manager to master – the common refrain we hear from managers is “But if we don’t step in, things don’t get done right!” However, the bigger problem is that if you keep stepping in all the time, the team never would have the chance to make mistakes and learn from them.
Do you have any tips for new managers that you would like to share. Join the conversation….