The First Steps of Management

We’d all love to say that everyone has an equal chance to succeed, but let’s face it, the basis for succeeding as a new or experienced manager often comes down to relationships and politics.  But using the following four points will definitely put you out ahead.

The first three things you need:

This first is to take these steps within your first 90 days. The sooner you establish rules and authority – the easier your job will be!

The second is support from your team. Set aside plenty of time (especially during the first few weeks, but throughout your career) to have one-to-ones. Use this time intelligently, by asking for your team’s advice. Gaining buy-in won’t happen overnight, but trust and respect can be learnt during these valuable sessions.

The last is self-awareness. Be clear on what you can and can’t do. In the first phases of management it’s important to strengthen what you can’t do, rather than relying exclusively on what you can. This is the opposite of higher management, when you rely more heavily on your strengths.

Step 1: Understand how your role is changing

It doesn’t matter how close you have been to your colleagues, as you start moving up, it’s time to disassociate yourself. As harsh as this may seem, if you don’t establish professional boundaries, you won’t have the objectivity to manage properly – and your life will become more and more difficult. If you socialise with one or more particular colleagues at weekends – or even in the canteen – it could become difficult. You may find your friend begins coming to work late, dragging their feet and generally letting their standards slip. Not only will your friendship suffer, you will look weak and a pushover. So be personable, but not personal.

To avoid this to begin with, make sure it’s clear how you will evaluate performance. When it’s crystal clear, it’ll then be easier to say “This job requires x, y, and z. I’m not seeing z”. It’s also important to confront poor performance head on. If someone — friend or not — is failing, act decisively. Have ‘formal’ conversations and support your colleagues with how to remedy any problems.

Step 2: Master the unwritten rules

If you’re new to a role, department or company, the culture will be different everywhere. Try to learn the rational and irrational aspects of the culture. Listen carefully when colleagues explain the best times of day to approach the client, pay attention when they tell stories about the office (this is very different to gossip). At the same time, don’t get too inquisitive!

Step 3: Be loyal – to a point

Be careful about seeming too closely aligned with any one person. The best job-protection insurance, especially as a newbie, is to remain as neutral as possible on controversial issues. If your boss asks for a point of view, run through the pros and cons of a decision rather than answering directly.

Step 4: Build support

Showing your bosses that you’re ready to take on new projects isn’t just a matter of amazing performance or demonstrating initiative — though these things certainly help. You also need to prove to your managers that they can trust you in subtler ways. Many new managers over-explain to their team why they must take on a particular task and in doing so, pass along information from their bosses that was better kept confidential. To establish trust with your supervisor, err on the side of keeping your conversations quiet and, when in doubt, ask if the content is for general consumption.

It’s probably a good idea to meet with each member of your team individually to learn about their backgrounds, asking for advice on upcoming projects. It’s not flattery, but let them know you’ll be relying on their expertise.

You don’t have to necessarily act on the advice they give you; but listening carefully will go a long way toward building the good relationships you will need to succeed. This often means building support among long serving or more senior team members — possibly including some who wanted your job and didn’t get it.

Even with solid backing from your manager, you won’t be able to get anything done if your team isn’t behind you. With any promotion or new role, come new relationships. Even if you’ve worked with the team already, your relationships will change. You’ve made the first step, you’ve landed the job.

Once you master how to fill in the forms, it’s pretty much all down to relationships.

By Tom Robinson


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