Feb 20, 2011

Strategic Tips for New Managers

Whether you've just been hired into your first supervisory position or you've got years of experience and recently changed jobs, it's important that you spend time thinking about your plan for success. If you don't know it already, managing people is the hardest part of your job. The effort you make when you start in your new role will set the tone for months and years to come.
Regardless of the substantive work you do, how you manage your teams must be a priority. First and foremost, recognize that whatever management strategies you pursue, you and your team members need to learn from each other throughout your relationships. It's up to you to establish that sort of give and take, and the amount of experience you bring to the table does not matter.
If you aren't sponsoring a joint effort with your team to learn and grow together, you need to reassess your priorities. With any luck, you have employees who are smarter than you and know their jobs better than you do. Don't consider this to be threat; it is actually an opportunity. After all, your success is based on the quality of the work done by your teams.
Many a supervisor has failed for not recognizing the value in being educated by their employees. Authority or control was more important to them than recognizing what could be gained from a mutual and continual learning process. When you share the learning experience, relationships based on respect are easier to sustain. Work relationships based on respect lead to improved performance.
Your strategic focus should be on the quality of your communications and your accessibility as a manager. Here are a few ideas to consider as you design your plan for your first year with your team:
  1. Use and Teach Effective Communications. The quality of your leadership depends on the effectiveness of your communications. This may sound easy but it's not. Communication is much more than the spoken word. It's also about being able to convey an accurate message through tone and body language and to understand the real message you are receiving in return. Ongoing open communication, active listening, the ability to adapt your style to the audience, and the steps you take to be sure that everyone is on the same page are critical. If you spend time honing your communication skills, everyone will reap the benefit.
  2. Link Strategic Priorities. Make sure you communicate the company's strategic plan and how that is linked to your strategic priorities for your department. Articulate strategies clearly and often, and explain how each person's role is related to those strategies. The more your teams know about the bigger picture, the better able they are to shape their performance to meet those goals.
  3. Explain Performance Expectations. Open communication about your performance expectations and metrics for measuring performance is vital. All too often, the first time employees hear they are not meeting expectations is in a quarterly or annual performance review. This is counterproductive and disrespectful to your team members. Many employees who don't meet expectations were perfectly capable of becoming valued performers if only they had the feedback they needed. Your failure to engage in regular and ongoing communications about performance expectations and metrics can result in high turnover, decreased productivity, and ineffective relationships.
  4. Articulate Your Management Style. Employees need to know whether you are someone who prefers frequent status updates or you are only interested in timely results. They need to know, for example, your preferred method of tactical communications, what sorts of issues you consider to be priorities, and the level of reporting, detail, and documentation that interests you. They need to know what you expect from them at one-on-one and team meetings. These are just a few examples but the point is that while you are adapting to your new role, your employees are also adapting to you. Communicating your style and delegating effectively will help the process.
  5. Get to Know Your Teams. The more you know about your employees, the better you are able to communicate, support their work, and develop strong relationships. Find out about their career goals and the skill sets they'd like to learn. Assign work and establish project teams to support those aspirations. Show that you care about the quality of their work lives and value their input and feedback. Employees who feel valued are more likely to be creative in their jobs and motivated to succeed.
  6. Focus on Training and Development. In today's global economy, every employee must be able to turn on a dime to address ever-changing priorities. Ongoing training and development for you and your teams results in agility and prepares you to adapt to change more quickly. Look for training courses and development opportunities that prepare employees to meet future business needs. Instead of focusing on mistakes, figure out what you can learn from the mistakes and share that knowledge. If you take the lead to show you are dedicated to continual learning and development, your teams will follow suit.
  7. Engage in Transparent Decision-Making. You will need to make important decisions on a daily basis and you should be able to articulate the legitimate business reasoning behind those decisions. All too often, managers don't take time to think about how they would explain the decision-making process and therefore aren't capable of articulating it clearly. This detracts from your trustworthiness in the eyes of your team. If you truly have engaged in sound business reasoning, you should be able to explain your criteria even before you are asked. Sharing this information lets employees feel included in the process, even if they don't agree with the result. 
  8. Learn from Your Peers. Your colleagues are a great resource for you, regardless of whether they have more or less experience than you. Diversity of thinking, analyzing, and problem solving leads to creativity and growth. If you tap into that wealth of knowledge, you will learn more that can help you and your teams to succeed. And if you model this sort behavior for your teams, they are better positioned to emulate the same with each other.
  9. Be a Visible Leader. Don't let your own workload stop you from interacting with your teams on a regular and ongoing basis. Hunkering down in your office means that you are disconnected and unaware of the work environment of your employees. You need to be accessible, and part of that is being present in their work space. Make it a habit to walk around, stop by people's desks, have casual team lunches, and check in to see if anyone needs anything from you. Ask them for input and feedback and then give it appropriate consideration. If this sort of visible management is not a part of your personality, you have an opportunity to change for the better of your organization.
  10. Leave Your Ego at Home. There's nothing more frustrating than working for a manager whose ego is always present. You don't need to know the answers to everything. It's okay to acknowledge that you don't know as long as you take a constructive role in helping to get the answers. This shows that you value the learning process. You also don't need to take credit for all the good work done. Your teams need the recognition more than you do because it's a great motivator. And, in the end, their increased performance reflects positively on you anyway. If you can engage with your teams in a way that invites their participation, work can be accomplished in partnership with each other.
This article is targeted to help first-time managers or managers in new roles to consider some important management strategies. But as you can see, the content applies to anyone in a management role. Positioning yourself as a leader by using effective communications to enhance performance is appropriate for all managers, regardless of the length of your management career. It's never too late to be self-regulatory and figure out what you can change so you are more effective in your role.

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