Welcome to the fifth and final post in my New Managers series! I’ve talked about creating a supportive culture, tips for self-care, and what your responsibilities might look like as a new manager. For this last post, I want to talk about how to manage people effectively so that you and they can succeed!
The tl;dr of effective management is to develop your core skills (also known as “soft skills”). It’s a somewhat common fallacy that core skills are innate - e.g. you either have them or you don’t - but as a former early childhood teacher please believe me when I say that core skills are 100% learnable throughout your entire career. (If you’re interested in a broader exploration of this topic, I’ll be speaking about it at Test Leadership Congress this summer!)
But let’s dive a little deeper into this! When I asked for feedback and advice about being a new manager on Twitter, here are some of the responses that fell into this category of effective management:
- Know your folks as individuals and treat them as such. There is so much value in what an individual brings when one can see it and pave the way for that person and what they have to offer.
- Don’t think of yourself as “the boss”, but someone who is responsible for supporting, developing, and enabling my people to do their best work and love what they do.
- Help them establish both career and personal development goals.
- Be overly clear on expectations. People are more happy/productive if they don’t have to guess about their day-to-day work. Be transparent on the why behind priorities.
- Learn everyone’s preferred communication style and how they’d like to be recognized for doing well.
- Avoid fixing people; channel your energy into getting them into a position where their weaknesses don’t matter and their strengths can shine.
- Small early feedback is gentler and more successful than waiting till the problem is a large problem.
- Ask people to solve problems and deliver a capabilities rather than to do tasks. You want to engage their ownership and creativity.
- Don’t try to scrap everything broken in your first month. Pick the key hill to die on.
- Effective delegation can help to up skill team members.
- See reports as appreciating assets, not an operational cost. The more you invest in wellbeing and development the more you gain in return. Set expectations and shared objectives, then support with coaching and opportunity to grow.
- Learned to manage up & down. Understanding personality types & how they respond to stress. And protecting teams at all costs.
- Don’t assume we have the same weaknesses/strengths. Don’t assume we make decisions the same way.
- Set them up for success and make expectations (yours or from above you) transparent so they can hit them and know it.
Looking at that feedback, you can see that effective management depends on communication, curiosity, empathy, leadership, compassion, change management, adaptability - core skills, every one of ‘em.
Know your folks as individuals and treat them as such. Get to know the people you’re managing. Your people are different from each other, and they’re different from you. How do they like to communicate? How do they celebrate wins? What stresses them out, and what does that look like? What are their goals? How do they like to learn? What are their past experiences and how does that affect how they work?
Find out when they need coaching and when they need mentoring. Understand how they receive and share communication. Take the time to know what gets them excited about work! As you build trust and rapport, get to know them as a whole human - help them achieve the work/life balance that meets their needs, anticipate when they’re starting to burn out and need a break, ask what their core needs are and what they need from you to support those needs.
People bring their whole selves to work. Ignoring that fact means that you won’t be able to effectively coach or connect with your people.
Small early feedback is gentler and more successful than waiting until something is a large problem. YES. This is really hard for lots of people - we don’t like giving negative feedback and we often just don’t know how to do it. This is where the “feedback sandwich” happens, or where managers just avoid giving the feedback at all until they absolutely have to, at which point the employee is surprised by something critical that they’ve never heard about. But it’s literally your job to give feedback, so you need to understand how to do it effectively.
The first thing to know is that “effective” and “kind” are not mutually exclusive - you can give effective feedback without being a jerk. The second thing to know is that it’s hard to give negative or corrective feedback. It just is! Accept that and do it anyway. I really like Lara Hogan’s equation for feedback: observation of a behavior + impact of behavior + a question or request. There’s nothing wrong with doing it in a formulaic way, as long as you do it with kindness.
The third thing to know is that feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, should be given early. If it’s praise, share it freely! Build up your people’s confidence, show them that their work is noticed and valued. If it’s corrective, bring it up as soon as it’s relevant - in your next 1:1 or ad-hoc if it’s something more urgent. I’ve seen managers wait until a quarterly review, or until it’s something that becomes more of a blockers. In both cases, you’re not giving them a chance to address the feedback in a timely and useful manner, which is unfair to them and detrimental to their progression. Kind, honest, timely are the watchwords for effective feedback. Take it to heart.
Don’t try to scrap everything broken in your first month. Pick the key hill to die on. 🙋♀️ Hello yes, this is me. I’ve always enjoyed finding the operational gaps and figuring out what sort of solution is needed. But I can have a tendency to look at the next several things instead of just the next thing, and try to tackle all of those things at once. This isn’t great for a couple of reasons. One, it stretches my efforts thin across too many things instead of being able to give effective focus to one important thing and see it through to the end, being able to adapt to changing needs or perspectives along the way. And two, it probably means that I’m not practicing effective change management.
If I’m trying to solve an operational or process challenge, I’m connecting with different people and teams and needs and opinions in order to understand the context and help create a solution or change. If I’m trying to solve multiple challenges, those connections are also multiplied, which means I’m increasing the amount of churn and change - and people don’t like change. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that change is hard. So being effective here means choosing your battles, picking a couple of trees in the forest to focus on, and work on those until they’re done (whatever “done” might look like.)
Be overly clear on expectations. People can’t succeed if they don’t know what the definition of success is. Whether it’s yours or the company’s, make sure you understand and communicate what the expectations are - from low-level day-to-day to high-level promotion readiness. If people have to guess or continually ask, they’ll feel unsupported and unsafe. Some of the times that I’ve felt most unsatisfied at a job is when I know I’m doing great work, but I have no idea whether it’s contributing to the expectations for my role. In those times, I wanted my manager to coach me, to explain what their expectations or the org’s expectations of me were and whether I was meeting those expectations. It absolutely killed my morale to see my hard work go unrewarded with raises or promotions because I wasn’t meeting unknown expectations.
Make sure you’re proactively level-setting with your people. This feeds into your communication and feedback skills - are they on the right track? Do they need coaching? If there are expectations being handed down from above you, are those expectations attainable?
Engage people’s ownership and creativity. I think this is such an important reminder. As a manager, it’s easy to to just give someone a challenge and a solution - but that doesn’t do anything for your people’s growth or trust. Give them a challenge, but let them figure out a solution. You can even start with a high-level desired outcome to inform their choices without hampering their ability to solve it themselves. They’ll come away feeling pride and ownership over something, and you’ll come away with a solution - and show that you trust them and their expertise.
Thank you for joining me on this journey! I have thoroughly enjoyed thinking and writing about these “new manager” themes! It’s helped me reflect on the kind of manager I want to be, and understand what different people look for in their managers. I hope this series helps you in the same way, New Manager (or Future Manager!). There’s no One Right Way to be a good manager, but there are some common themes and things to think about in order to inform your manager self:
- Creating Culture: What kind of culture will you choose to create as a manager?
- Support & Self-Care: How do you get support and take care of yourself so you can support your people?
- Being a Manager: What are the shifts in responsibilities and strategy that you’ll need to make when you transition from an IC to a New Manager?
Feel free to leave a comment here or chat on Twitter if you want to explore any of these topics further - I’m always happy to have a conversation!