Thursday 16 September 2010

New Managers - Baptism by Fire

Sometimes smart people make silly assumptions. If you can DO a thing really well, for example, it doesn’t mean to can teach it really well (my Maths lecturer at Uni springs to mind - brilliant, arrogant, and a monstrous teacher - a real destroyer of young souls). Similarly, if you can do a thing really well, it doesn't mean you can manage others who are doing it, really well.

If you're a fantastic phone support person, and you are suddenly made manager, you may well be in for a nasty shock. Management is a totally job, with totally different expectations and it requires a shift in attitude, the suppression of old behaviours, the emergence of new behaviours and the development of new skills.

This is where "Laura" found herself. I did an initial consultation for Laura yesterday. These 20-minute phone sessions are a way for people to try phone coaching cheaply. They can sound me out, see how it feels, and get some real help for £10.

Laura is a fantastic customer support agent but when she called me she was very tearful. Having been in her new managerial post for just a short time, she was already sinking in a sea of stuff that needed doing. She was not managing her 20 staff well; compliance with mandatory procedures was slipping, and there had been a complaint. She was working 12+ hour days, had no family life, and was massively stressed and miserable.

Firstly, I sympathised with Laura. What her company had inflicted on her was unreasonable, but I know from my work that it's very common. The "sink or swim" school of personal development may well allow a few type-A dictators to shine, but it's not fair on the rest, and in fact, it's not the smart way to get the best from your people - not to mention it's cruel. Anyway, having supported her emotionally in her plight, we looked as specifics.

The three issues which follow are very common and their solutions are, generically, widely applicable, so I thought I'd share them with you.

Paradigm Shift

For this exercise, think of any work situation as a machine, where the people in your team are components - cogs. I don't mean to de-personalise or cookie-cut people - but this view is useful. So, each cog must dovetail to another cog, so that they can turn eachother. All cogs must know what they're there to do, and be able and willing to do it. If two cogs are doing the same thing, then maybe one needs re-assigning. If there is a cog missing, well, then you'll need one. Sticky cogs need oiling or replacing. If a cog isn't doing anything, maybe it needs removing or re-engaging. This is the "company machine". You might think about your own organisation in this light. I bet you know a few sticky cogs.

Now, as an individual contributor, you're a cog in this machine, but as a manager you are OUTSIDE THIS MACHINE. You are not a cog within it. You walk around it, you watch the cogs, speak to them, keep them oiled and happy. You see where cogs are jammed and you fix them. You make sure you have enough cogs of the right kind for the whole machine to work well. This is the role of a manager - to build, evolve, and maintain the corporate machine. Good managers are smart, inspirational, people, creative, adaptable, honourable, approachable, hard-working, and more.

So the paradigm shift for new managers is to understand that they have a fundamentally new and different job to do. They must stop being a cog (or dramatically reduce their cog-work) in order to make space to start doing a whole slew of things they never used to do - most cogs don't just sit there turning - they need help.

Time Management

New managers must look very carefully at what they do with their time. As a cog, often time management is less necessary when the job is one dimensional and demand-driven. But as a manager there are more choices about what's the best thing to do, so time management becomes a critical factor for success.


Managers can only succeed through the work of others. This means they must clearly communicate the tasks to be done, get buy-in, allocate appropriate resources, check compliance and deal with issues arising. Effective delegation is a massively important skill for any manager, and one I'll probably write a book on at some point, but in the time I had with Laura yesterday, I had time to give her this one really powerful delegation technique.

If you delegate a task and it comes back not done, or done badly, do not ever, ever EVER top it up or do it yourself. If you do this, you are teaching people that commitments are not important, and that their poor performance will be rewarded by you making their work look great. Don't do it. Instead, almost regardless of the consequences, return the work to them, and have them try harder. You don't need to shout, to argue, to name-call, or to display anger - but be clear that compliance has not been obtained, and invite them to fix up their work. In this way, over time, you'll grow a professional workplace culture in which people behave like respectable adults. In this world, the management task is much better for you because you can leave the stick and the carrot in the cupboard, and work with great people doing great things in a great organisation - and loving it. Not a bad way to earn a crust, huh?

On the strength of her £10 initial consultaion, Laura's booked a 4-pack of coaching sessions with me, and I'm confident she'll come out of it a far happier manager with a wonderful team around her.

If you think an initial consultation like this one might help you you can book one here


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