Your Great Leap – from Individual Contributor to Manager
The oft. neglected step in an organisation’s succession planning is an adequate preparation program for a new manager. There is a lot written about the importance of leadership and the differences between a manager and a leader. However, a reasonable and challenging first step is for you to step up from individual contributor and manage a team.
The typical characteristics of you in your previous life is quite often one of a high performing individual contributor and a rising star with relative independence. However, the transition to manager is contrasting in many ways. I have seen this cause much stress and consternation and so I want to share some of the coaching points to ease your pain, minimize the “crash and burn” outcome as a possibility and help set you up for success in as short a period as possible.
The transition period
An organisation that has any semblance of a succession plan should have the capacity to ease a new manager into the role. One example of this is to give you one or two members to soft manage. SMART goals, daily activity and problem solving are good warm up activities. Of course your current manager should be on hand to brief and debrief so that the transition is as smooth as possible and the learning is optimized.
Another important feature of the transition period is new manager training. Some training I have seen focuses on the operations piece related to internal administration but, overwhelmingly, the soft skills and the associated people skills are those that need early focus.
“A new manager has to become selfish….”
At coffee sessions with new managers I hear the loud wailing about “not enough time” and the need for “a more structured day”. The standard fix for this is selfish behaviour. A new manager has to become selfish by treating her time as a valuable currency and trading the currency at pre-arranged times as much as possible. Being available whenever, and at the whim of sub-ordinates is not a good message to send. It is inefficient and a recipe for failure. Develop systems and processes that work for you. Get control of your schedule.
The balancing act occurs because you will probably still have individual contributor responsibilities as part of your new role. Up until the new role the idea of scheduling a day, week, month and year was limited to your individual requirements. As a new manager you need to allocate team time, 1:1 time and also time to do their own job.
“show me your business plan and vision”
Where are you taking your team?
Another popular coffee topic has been the team morale and leadership aspect of the role. “My team does not seem to be as excited or motivated as me. They are not engaged.” My response: “show me your business plan and vision”. The usual response is “I have not had time to think about that.” If you do not know where you are taking the team and what you want your business unit to look like in 3 years how are your subordinates to motivate themselves and function?
Get some alone time at home and map out what it is you want to achieve with your business unit. You have a huge responsibility. Your team is relying on you. Work out what success looks like and why you are excited to get out of bed each morning and turn up to work. Make sure you do this with due consideration of the overall company Mission, Vision and Values as well as your short term and annual business objectives and goals.
Once you know this communicate it to the team and get them to make their own plans within that context. This is probably the first and most important lesson in leadership for a new manager.
KPIs and clear direction
Once you have a clear vision for the team, setting KPIs for the team and the individual should be a collaborative exercise in the same context. It does not have to be top down and controlling as was the traditional management style and often used by inexperienced or low skill managers.
“setting KPIs….should be a collaborative exercise”
Ideally, your goal should be to have each member own their own performance targets and come to meetings with serious problems to solve rather than low level “carrot and stick” methods. This type of outcome does not just happen. It requires a manager with a vision and a purpose that is well communicated and adopted. It requires recruiting “A” players into the team and setting all members up for success.
Focus on the team and Celebrate Success
If you have a person in your team, then they are important. If they are not, you have a duty to them and the team to manage them out or find them another role. As such avoid having favourites or spending time with one or two of the members. This will be observed by other team members and reflect badly on you as a manager. If you have a diversified team then a tolerant, inclusive and accommodating approach is required.
Take opportunities to celebrate wins and success. Recognize individuals and the team. Keep the celebrations in proportion. Make the recognition meaningful and not just a process.
One last thing: Remember to have fun. Becoming a new manager is a wonderful career development stage for you. Something to look back on in future years with fond memories. Use the time to learn as much as you can. Use the period to get to know a diverse range of people. It will serve you well in life and the work place.
The component skills for a manager:
· Time management
· Business Planning
· Critical thinking
· Project Management