Progression from individual contributor to manager can mark a major accomplishment in your career. New responsibilities, accountability, and decision making requirements provide great opportunities to enhance your professional skills and experience. The change does require a new perspective and to approach your job differently. In fact, research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership and Manchester Partners International found that approximately 40% of new managers and supervisors fail within the first 18 months.
If you are transitioning from a peer to the manager of your peers, however, the additional step of shifting the dynamic from team member to leader can be challenging. Your success will be based on your ability to engage your peers as a new team and get them comfortable collaborating with you as the boss. To get off on the right foot, both as a new manager and as the supervisor to your former peers, the following tips can help guide you through a smooth transition.
- set expectations about roles
- establish a pace for change
- remove the roadblocks for your employees
- keep focus on the work at hand through the transition
- keep the feedback loop open
- confuse the boundary between friend and boss
- hide behind email and forget to maintain a personal connection
- assume everyone responds well to the same treatment
- forget you are ultimately accountable for your people’s actions
- fail to recognize good work
How you plan on changing the ways of working is a key point to how you establish norms of behavior with your team. Arrange both 1-1 and group meetings to talk about how you like to work as well as to listen and learn about the work styles of others. Decide how you want to receive information, how hands off you want to be and what the team can expect in terms of your ability to block and tackle on their behalf when there is a crisis, conflict, or during stressful moments when problems arise. The clearer you are in terms of how everyone should communicate, execute, and connect, the easier it becomes to create boundaries of personal and professional accountability.
You might have plenty of ideas, but it’s important to take the time and assess the situation and people’s ability to adapt to you as the manager. As an individual contributor you may have noticed many things you wanted to change, but now as a manager you have to embrace a broader view. And that takes time to plan properly. It also means you have to listen, and engage your people to create a realistic set of goals that everyone can become comfortable with so that the transition feels balanced and not rushed.
One of the key fears employees have with a new manager is whether or not you will have their back when issues arise. As a manager you should err on the side of your employees in most cases depending on the situation or feedback received. Providing an appropriate amount of air cover also means that you work behind the scenes to help get in front of issues before they happen that might put your employees in an unfavorable position. Sometimes a policy change or easing of guidelines or regulations is all it takes for employees to feel you are in their corner removing barriers to their success.
It is easy to get distracted during a change event like becoming a new manager. Both you and the team have to continue getting work done while at the same time feeling free to ask questions or discuss new ways of working until things settle. The quality of your deliverables should never be sacrificed, however, and you need to ensure your team doesn’t let their guard down. Weekly meetings, progress check-ins, and impromptu hallway updates are great ways to keep an organized eye on output and avoid dropping the ball.
Probably the most important aspect of management, especially for a new manager, is feedback. Balanced feedback means you highlight both the good and the bad of someone’s performance. And you deliver just enough information to allow the person to have a plan to address issues as well as know that you are paying attention to meaningful accomplishments. Both you and the team will need to adjust style and delivery in the first 90 days even if you all have worked together as individual contributors before.
When you have to take an authority position over peers, a natural reaction to this change is to keep everything the same and stay ‘one of the gang’ like nothing really happened and nothing will be different. Unfortunately you do have to take a step back and become more sensitive to what you say and how you interact with team members. They need to know that your perspective will be different but that you will remain fair both in work processes and reviewing their performance. The worst thing you can do is give people the impression that you are still a peer, not a boss. And when the time comes to exert your authority, opaque boundaries will create stress and conflict.
A new manager must take a concerted effort to make people feel connected and engaged. You can’t build loyalty and commitment through email – you have to reach out and see people face-to-face. Even if you are a remote manager, it’s a must that you spend face time in the beginning to start the process of building rapport and trust. While business demands and lack of time might make you feel like you can’t get away from the convenience of communicating mostly through email, schedule your time so that to log out, sign off, and talk to someone directly.
One of the more frustrating aspects of being a new manager is that not everyone responds to the same direction, motivation, or discipline. It would be great if you only had to deal with people in one dimension and have everything work out, but that’s just not human nature. You need to find out what makes people tick both in receiving negative information as well as positive. Find out the motivators. And find how to leverage individual capabilities rather than lump everyone into one narrow view of how people should work and act. You will miss exploring the diversity of your staff and unintended effects like groupthink could set in.
Even if your employees are fully accountable for a major mistake or creating a big problem, as the boss, you are still responsible for the performance of your employees. There is no luxury in blaming your people on failed business results alone – your boss will not care about that – he or she will only put the blame squarely on you. For this reason it’s so important to understand how each individual ticks, how they work, what their strengths are, and to check in regularly. Don’t be left holding the bag. Know your team and what they are working on so you can provide the coaching needed to make them successful.
People work hard and all too often managers don’t say anything when times are good. They only take the time to deliver negative or improvement oriented feedback. Employees will feel discouraged and become withdrawn if the only time they hear from you is when you're delivering something bad and not noticing when they do something they are proud of. Pay attention to people’s positive accomplishments and spend more time finding ways to recognize how great your people are not just the gaps.
Becoming a boss can provide a great opportunity to influence people and process in new and exciting ways. Remember you are the same professional you were before but now with a bit more responsibility and power. It may be tempting to make the changes that you always wanted or to delegate, but success involves a team of which you must gain respect in order to have a chance to be successful. You don’t have to be perfect. And you will stumble. But if you keep an open mind and handle challenges without stressing the team out, everyone will benefit and produce great results.