It’s been said about 3 million times but it’s still true: Becoming a new manager is one of the most stressful roles in business. There are new responsibilities and new ways of relating to people. You get pressures from above (your own management) and below (your employees). It can feel like a chaotic environment. (Even though it was over a quarter century ago, I still well remember my own confusion today.) My goal in this article is to create a simple, concise map to help navigate these choppy waters – a list of 10 fundamentals that can help new managers succeed.
What am I including in this list? It’s a mix. A mixture of skills, behaviors and business functions – for lack of a better term I’m grouping them as “fundamentals.” Key areas to be cognizant of, and to focus on, as you first sail into management.
Management of course is a vast ocean of a subject and there are innumerable items that could reasonably be included on this list. But from my experience I believe these 10 are a useful launching point:
Know your business – As fundamental as it gets. It’s “table stakes,” as the saying goes, but still essential. I’ve seen new managers who didn’t have strong knowledge of the functions they were managing, and it was a surefire recipe for problems. Knowing your operation cold will enable you to focus your energies where they need to be: on managing others.
Take time to get to know your employees – Basic but surprisingly often overlooked. If you want loyal, productive employees, you need rapport and trust. If you want to be able to motivate your employees – to recognize what they respond to – you first have to understand them.
Communicate often and openly – A cliche but true. I never knew a good manager who wasn’t a good communicator. You’ll need to be available to provide guidance and candid feedback. Managers who really don’t like communicating with their employees in all likelihood will find they don’t enjoy the process of managing… and probably aren’t well-suited for it.
Make sure your employees’ objectives are clear and (to the extent possible) measurable – Well-conceived employee objectives are a new manager’s best friend. I write about this often, but only because it’s so important. For new managers (and experienced managers too), they provide a factual map to guide performance and measure results. They help take subjectivity and emotion out of performance management and turn it into a more rational undertaking. My own experience? Most managers don’t spend nearly enough time on objective-setting.
Get comfortable with conflict – If you’re in management for a while, you’ll find you have plenty. Best neither to avoid it nor steamroll it, but to learn to deal with it fairly and diplomatically. Think of “resolving” more than “winning.” Effectively managing conflict is a critical skill for successful managers to have.
Emphasize accountability – Studies have shown that many managers – even senior managers – are weak at accountability. Yet, in the end, holding employees accountable for results is the bricks and mortar of management. If you’re not holding employees sufficiently accountable, chances are they won’t be producing the results you need.
Maintain credibility – Simply put, credibility is an invaluable management asset. When I was in the business world, it always surprised me how frequently some in management would shade facts when it suited their needs – and think that the rank-and-file wouldn’t get it. Truth is, they almost invariably do get it. It’s just common sense: Employees will work hardest for those they believe.
Begin to think about developing your employees – It’s never too early. Just as you appreciate others taking a genuine interest in advancing your own career, others will appreciate it when you do the same for them. It can be an attitude difference maker. Employee development is a critical management function that’s frequently ignored but greatly valued when it isn’t.
Get help when you need it – There’s no shame for a new manager in reaching out when you need management counsel. To the contrary, it makes complete business sense. One of the benefits of working for an organization is that help is never far away. Throughout my career, but especially in the early years, in delicate situations I never hesitated to call HR, or my own management, or mentors, or trusted friends and colleagues. I never once regretted it. Added perspective when right answers aren’t obvious is always valuable.
Lead by example – Last but definitely not least, one of the surest ways to lose your employees’ loyalty is to not play by the same rules you ask others to. It alienates people. Quickly. “Walking the talk” and getting back in the trenches when needed… setting an example that’s easy to respect… is an excellent way to become the kind of manager others willingly follow.