You've finally done it. After years of hard work, you've been promoted to a position managing a team of people and can call the shots. Your first job as a manager can be exciting, and also a bit overwhelming. And it's important to do it well. Managers are the cultural linchpin in the organization - they set the tone for the work experience. The rest of the organization could be fantastic, but if your boss isn't up to snuff that will cloud all of the good things happening. There's a reason people say "you don't quit your job...you quit your boss."
To get off on the right foot, here are ten tips to help you get the most out of your team and create a work experience they will thrive in.
1. Being a manager is not an elevated version of being an individual contributor.
I was once coaching a new manager who told me "well, I've got to play the game that brought me here." And I replied, "you were playing basketball before, but you're playing football now." It's a fundamentally different game. Playing by the rules of the old game instead of adapting to the rules of the new game just sets you and your team up for failure.
You likely made it into a manager position because you proved you could be successful at the job you were doing as an individual contributor, but not because you proved your ability to manage a group of individual contributors. Those are two very different things! Just like you can't wake up one day and play a concerto on the piano if you've never played before, you probably won't wake up and automatically know what to do to be the world's best manager. It's a skill that must develop in its own right, just like any other skill.
So, consider yourself an apprentice. This is a time to learn how to step into the leadership role your team needs you to take, how to delegate effectively, and how to inspire your team to put in their best every day. If you make a mistake or two along the way, own it and then promise to do better.
2. Adaptation is your magic bullet.
Want your people to be highly productive? Motivated? Creative? Innovative? Then you need to learn how to adapt your work style to theirs.
Everyone you're managing will bring a different natural work style to the office, which means they all have different things that are going to inspire and motivate them, or hold them back from doing their best work. Sometimes you get lucky have employees who have a very similar working style as you and you gel immediately without much fuss. More often, the opposite is true and you end up with employees who just approach work differently. You must keep in mind that "different" is not necessarily bad or wrong. Each work style has its own set of strengths and challenges, and no work style is fundamentally better or worse than any other.
In an ideal world, we would all understand the work styles of our colleagues, and proactively adapt to meet somewhere in the middle. However, most of the time someone needs to take the first step. As a manager, that's your job. You are the one in the power position, and if your goal is to support your team in performing at their highest level, you have to work to understand their needs and adapt your work style to them. Remember, when they are successful, that means you've been successful.
3. People like structure and guidance.
Zappos made headlines several years ago when they restructured to a holacracy and effectively eliminated manager positions. The result? 18% of their workforce left the company, a huge turnover rate by any standard.
The idea of getting rid of managers and allowing lower-level employees to be more entrepreneurial sounds great, but rarely works in practice because from a psychological perspective, most people seek out structure and guidance. We've been trained to do this from the time we're small children - we look to our parents, our teachers, our extended family, and our friends to know what to do and what not to do. When you enter the workforce, you can't turn off 20+ years of programming - people want ongoing feedback.
Someone has to be in charge of providing that guidance and saying it's everyone's responsibility isn't good enough. When something is everyone's responsibility, it's really no one's responsibility. So, it rests on managers to do it. In fact, 65% of people say they want more feedback from their boss than they are currently getting, even in traditional structures. As a manager, your job is to provide the structure and guidance your team members need to do their best work on an ongoing basis.
4. But people will sink under too much structure and guidance.
All that said from the last point, it's important to know that managers need to walk the tightrope between providing guidance and micromanagement. Here are some critical differences between effective managers and micromanagers:
- Effective managers lead through influence. Micromanagers lead through control.
- Effective managers know that experience (and the occasional failure) is the only way to learn, grow, and push beyond business as usual. Micromanagers fear failure of any kind, no matter how small or insignificant.
- Effective managers ask questions that guide their team members to a solution. Micromanagers dictate a solution without exploring different options or opportunities.
- Effective managers empower their team members to do their work on their own, as long as they provide updates and ask for help when needed. Micromanagers need to be involved in every meeting and CC'd on every email.
- Effective managers keep their cards face up at all times. They share information openly and transparently. Micromanagers keep their cards very close to their chest as if they are in competition with everyone they work with.
- Effective managers remain open to new ideas, willing to explore them if they seem reasonable. Micromanagers default to doing the things the way they've always done them before.
Managers get a bad reputation because of all the micromanagers out there who refuse to let go of the control and empower their employees to succeed on their own. But remember that it is your job to delegate because that is the only way for your team members to learn and grow in their own right.
5. Let your people lead in their area, even if you don't always agree with where they are going.
If you want your employees to be empowered to do their best work, that requires taking a step back. Remember, your role is to provide guidance, you can do this by asking questions to make sure your team member has fully considered their approach. But if their ideas are different than the way you would have done it, most of the time the best way to go is to let them go try what they want to do and see what happens. There's always more than one way to meet a goal, and very few of us work in jobs that are truly life and death. If they fail, it's a teaching moment and an opportunity to iterative f. And if they succeed using a strategy that you wouldn't have picked, that's still a win for you!
6. Schedule regular, consistent, frequent one-on-one meetings.
Very few people want more meetings in their lives, but for managers, a weekly one-on-one meeting with every direct report is an absolute must. Yes, I said weekly. Think about it: If you can't give each of your direct reports 30 minutes of your time every week, then you either have too many people reporting to you (and need to add more hierarchy), or you haven't fully embraced your role as a manager rather than an individual contributor.
In those one-on-one meetings, you want to hit on three things:
- Their update of the things they've been working on, and what they need from you to help them succeed.
- Your update for them of all the information they need to know to do their job well.
- A quick brainstorm of future goals, ideas they have and development they might need. This is also a great place to integrate coaching.
Frequently, one-on-one meetings are the first meeting to be canceled with the excuse of "I have nothing to talk about." What have you been doing all week - twiddling your thumbs? Let me be blunt: Unless you have fallen down the stairs and have a bone sticking out of your leg, you should not cancel your one-on-one meetings. This face time is a critical component of building a relationship with each of your employees that is grounded in trust. It's one of the most important things you can do to drive their success.
7. Listen actively, and default to trust.
When you have your sacrosanct weekly one-on-one meetings, the most critical component is not what you have to say - it's what your team members are contributing to it. You're going to hear the good and the bad because that's what happens when you have open communication. It's essential that you hear your employees out and always assume they are coming to you with positive intent - they are complaining about the problems because they want your help in solving them. If your boss approaches you from the vein of distrust when you're making a good faith effort to do the right thing, that can be incredibly demotivating.
Your goal should always be to have them leave that one-on-one meeting in a better, more empowered place than when they arrive. Listen carefully to what they're asking for, read between the lines to get to the core of what's going on, and then do your best to provide the support they are looking for.
8. Never give critical feedback on people's emotions. Instead, focus on behavior and impact.
Here's an actual conversation I had with a former boss:
Her: "You’re obviously angry."
Me: "No I’m not. I’m frustrated with a few things, but I'm not angry."
Her: "No, you’re obviously angry."
Me: "I’m really not."
Her: "I disagree."
Me: "Look, I wasn’t angry before, but now you’re actually starting to piss me off."
Needless to say, she didn't follow many of these tips! You'll never eliminate the role of emotions in the workplace, but that doesn't mean you need to provide commentary on them. Ultimately, people can think or feel anything they like if they are showing up and doing what they need to in order to achieve their goals. That's why it's critical to focus on things you can see when you are giving out critical feedback. Your goal is to change someone's behavior - get them to stop doing something that isn't effective and to go down a different path. To do that, you have to be crystal clear about what they are doing, and why it's important to change.
A good rule of thumb to follow is this: Behavior + Impact + Expectation. You state the problematic behavior, explain why it's a problem, and set the expectation for future behavior. For example: "When you come late to the staff meeting (behavior), you throw off our agenda and it takes 10 minutes longer than it needs to (impact). Please make it on time in the future (expectation). And then, to the next point, thank them and provide positive feedback when they meet the expectation!
9. Be unapologetically optimistic.
The above example explains how to give critical feedback well, but the reality is that you should give out much more positive feedback than you are negative feedback for one simple reason: Positive feedback is significantly more motivating than critical feedback. In fact, every single business outcome that can be tested for rises when your brain is in a state of positivity.
And the fact is that most employees are doing most things right on any day, but they only get feedback when they are doing wrong. The way you give feedback with set the tone for your management style. If you're consistently looking for reasons to offer praise, even with the little things, that will keep your team in the right headspace to give it their best.
10. Your job is to make your people successful.
At the end of the day, you will be judged based on the success of your team. That means that they are your first priority. The minute you start deviating from that path is the minute you wander into "bad boss" territory.
It might be helpful to do quick exercise at the end of every day and make a list of the ways you set your employees up for success that day. It will help you to take stock, hold yourself accountable, and make sure you are focusing on the things that matter most.