7 Tips For New Managers

After reading my MBWA 101 post, a colleague asked me if I had ever compiled a list of tips for new managers. He wanted to provide some concrete recommendations for a new mentee who had recently become a first line manager. Other than my own management philosophy, I’d never written anything down before so I offered to follow up with some thoughts.

I came up with seven tips and added catchy phrases to help remember them:

1. “Hard on the issues, easy on the people”
Avoid trying to assign blame to individuals but rather focus on identifying the root cause of the problem. The error may have been yours for putting the individual in a situation that didn’t match their skills.

2. “Manage by exception”
When things are going well, leave them alone. When a problem occurs, intervene. Monitor outliers to identify anomalies (good and bad) rather than focusing on averages.

3. “People are your most valuable asset”
Employees are the only organizational resource that, with training, can appreciate in value. All other resources depreciate. Invest for the future, not for current needs.

4. “Actions speak louder than words”
Employees will mirror your behavior more quickly than they will follow your words. If you don’t follow the guidelines that you set for others, they are more likely to resent you and circumvent the rules.

5. “Good enough is good enough”
Being perfect all the time is impossible and it’s not worth the investment. Focus on doing a good job and learn from the experience, which will improve your performance the next time.

6. “Reward outcomes, not activities”
Don’t reward people for trying hard if they were working on the wrong things. Make sure reward systems are based on impact (how much change occurred) rather than output (how much was produced).

7. “Mindset matters
Be optimistic. If you think a project is doomed, it’s not likely to be successful. Smile. Your mood is contagious. Do people feel more or less energized after they talk to you?

These tips are no substitute for management experience but they are good reminders of how we should interact with our direct reports.

Anyone want to add their own tips?

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7 Responses to 7 Tips For New Managers

  1. Rohit August 23, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    “I do not know, what do you think?”
    My most effective managers have been those who have valued my input and suggestions while being open to their limited knowledge on a subject or topic. In turn I have found that when I am most open about what I know and most importantly what I do not know about an activity, my team has gone on to do fantastic things. After all if managers “knew it all” then why hire smart teams. Also, I find asking for input from team members first rather than imposing my own thoughts often leads to more open, diverse discussion.

  2. Craig August 24, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

    “Don’t trivialize your employees’ work.”

    When you yourself aren’t doing the work, it’s easy to fall into the habit of saying that a task or goal will be trivial. This can cause problems in at least two ways that I can think of. First, it devalues the work your staff is doing. All of us have uninteresting work to do along with the interesting stuff, so don’t make it more difficult for employees to feel a sense of value and accomplishment by trivializing their work. Second, there are frequently pitfalls to even the simplest task. Something that might only take an hour of hands-on work by someone on your staff might be the culmination of a long collaborative process with another department. The trivial work to add something to a database or project file is not the end-all of the work, so don’t undervalue the leg work your employees do to complete a project.

  3. Jeff Winter August 25, 2010 at 8:50 pm #

    Great post, Jonathan. In going through your list, I came up with two more tips:

    “Understand your team’s / organization’s history”
    Knowing the historical and present political landscape, personalities, and perceptions and attitudes of your people and team is critical for new managers to serve as change agents. Take ample time to understand where the team has been, what has worked well / not so well, and the status of the key stakeholder relationships. For any change agent – and aren’t we all – this type of foundational knowledge is critical.

    “Tell People how you work and what you want”
    Be crystal clear about your work habits, communication preferences, and expectations from your team. Don’t let people guess how you prefer to receive information (e.g. Powerpoint vs. Word) or communicate (email vs. instant message) or meet (frequent short meetings versus fewer, longer status updates). It may sound trivial, but many communication breakdowns, disillusionment, and frustrations results from simple lack of knowledge of “what does the boss want?”

  4. Jonathan August 26, 2010 at 11:45 am #

    Rohit, Craig, Jeff. Thanks for the additional tips. I like all four of them. The first is very similar to one that I left off the list:

    “Practice the Socratic method”
    Ask open-ended questions that encourage unscripted dialogue. Be sure to ask why people are doing things not just what and how they are doing them.

    As for “Tell people what you want”, do you think a blog can be one mechanism?

  5. Mark Yolton August 26, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    Well done. I like those on the list, plus those added by our astute readers.

  6. Brian Ellefritz September 1, 2010 at 8:52 am #

    Great tips for experienced managers, too, Jonathan, thanks for the refresher course.

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