Having started out my career as first a building site engineer, then a software programmer, all I really wanted was to become a manager. Managers have status. Managers get big pay packages with company cars. I took some time off, and enrolled onto an MBA. The MBA was intellectually stimulating and full of fascinating case studies about how supreme managers had steered their organisations to fabulous success. So I applied for, and got my first management job working for a large pharmaceutical company.
It was not a complete success.
Here are some of things I wish I’d known before starting that first management job.
1. Theory isn’t the same as practice
My MBA taught me a cartload of theoretical techniques for managing people, most of which turned out to be a load of rubbish when I tried to implement them! It’s one of the reasons that people with MBA’s have a bad reputation in some quarters. I think my team were really confused by all the theory I tried out on them. One or two worked well, and I still use them today.
I learned to be a bit more sceptical and a bit more selective about which theories I should use and I learned to discuss my ideas with someone else in the team before trying them out.
2. Don’t pretend to know more than you actually do
If you do this, the team will smell a rat very quickly. They will also lose any respect for what you DO know because they can never be confident that you actually know anything really. While you your bosses clearly think highly of your potential as a manager, it is unlikely that they will expect you to know everything immediately. Even if you suddenly realise several weeks into the job that you don’t understand something, don’t soldier on if help is available. Don’t feel bad about asking questions, especially at the beginning. Nothing will sound too silly, and the relief of knowing the correct answer will be enormous.
It’s a funny thing, but I learned that your team will respect you more for being human and asking for their help, than they will for lying to them about what you don’t know.
3. Learn to delegate
Another mistake I made, was to try to do everything myself. I was used to being the expert, and found it hard to take a step back. I forgot that I was now the manager and my role was to guide the members of my team into learning how to do things themselves. I soon found myself working nights and weekends, because I didn’t empower my team and delegate work to them.
I also learned that delegation means you have to train, inform and support your team members – not just dump tasks on them. Think ‘trust but verify’.
4. Not everyone does things the way you do
One reason I didn’t delegate well is that I expected everyone to do thing the way I would do them. Well they din’t. Sometimes they did it differently, sometimes they did it better and sometimes worse. I learned to focus on the outcomes and just give support to anyone who is clearly struggling. Otherwise, leave them alone. I always hate being micro managed and, guess what, so does everyone else.
5. Think like a faciliator
Although I had an excellent team, who were well trained and experienced, I didn’t take the time to get to know everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. I forgot that my job was to facilitate them to deliver the goods according to their abilities. In these modern times, where teams are increasingly made up of well-trained individuals, as a new manager, your role is to facilitate goal achievement, not to tell the team HOW they should do this.
6. The buck stops on your desk
When I was an expert, I always knew that my boss was there to catch any problems in the rest of team. I somehow forgot that as a manager, I now had responsibility for the whole team. If they didn’t get it right, it wasn’t just their responsibility, it was now mine too.
As a manager this means that you have to be aware of the problems, and make sure someone takes responsibility for resolving it. Ensure they have the necessary resources to resolve the problem, trust them but don’t forget to follow up. A good way to do this is to walk around your workplace and ask open questions of your team.
7. Say No sometimes
On the other hand, don’t feel you have to bend over backwards in solving everyone’s problems for them. If you do, you will soon have a desk full of ‘monkeys’ – problems your team has delegated to you! If you are conscientious, this will probably be difficult.
But I found that your team will learn better if they at least try and identify some possible solutions to the problem first.
8. Have a plan – and remember to share it
I like planning. You decide on a goal and then determine a series of steps necessary to get there. My boss usually gave me my goal, but if not, I would ask him for one. If you’re familiar with project management, you’ll know that the best plans have milestones. Milestones are markers and measures of progress on your plan e.g. all outstanding customers queries now answered within 2 days, 2 new customers on board this month, team training plans agreed etc.
I actually did all this. But I forgot that my team needed to contribute to the plan and understand what their role is delivering the plan was.
I like that think I eventually got better at managing people. At least other people tell me I did! But coming from an intensely technical role, where I was the expert, it was a complete culture change to having to manage other people.