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A promotion at work is cause for celebration. For those who are now first-time managers, the celebration may be met with equal confusion surrounding the often confusing duties of the new title. After you meet your new team or re-introduce yourself to former colleagues who are now direct reports, the next step is to put together a plan of success. Unfortunately, a recent survey conducted by employee learning platform Grovo found 44 percent of respondents felt unprepared for their new role as manager.
While some organizations have formal training programs, others do not. Regardless of the resources are available in-house, here’s how to jumpstart your management career.
Wait, you need to manage your direct reports and your boss, too? Yup, that’s the squeeze. The first thing you should do after landing your new role is schedule time with your boss. “It is critical to learn how to manage these relationships [with your bosses] effectively so that you can secure the resources you need to be successful in any situation,” says Roberta Matuson, author of "Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around."
Take note of what’s important to the person you report to, and what kind of challenges they face. For example, if they are often called into someone else’s office at the last minute to answer questions about a project, be sure to be proactive and keep them in the loop about progress so they don’t need to ask. In addition, be sure to work with them to define your role and how the two (or more) of you can work together as a unified leadership team.
Understand what makes your team tick
Now that the relationship with your boss is defined, it’s time to meet with your new team on an individual and group level. Schedule weekly check-ins to show your support and signal that you’re invested in their performance and you’re paying attention. While you’ll need to settle in on a management style that suits you and works within the organization, you’ll also need to be flexible and personalize interactions with team members – to a point. Understand what motivates and alternatively what fears your team members have and be sure to address those points directly.
Manage the performance of direct reports
“No one likes to tell an employee they are not meeting expectations, but how can they improve without feedback?" Matuson asks. "Clearly define your expectations and communicate regularly so employees know exactly where they stand all year long."
Experts recommend clear and continuous communication weekly, not just at major performance check-ins. It’s also important to set clear expectations with measurable goals. Using SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) is helpful to pave a well-defined path to success.
The skills that made you excel at your role as an individual contributor, namely getting deep into the details and delivering quality work, is rarely the best way to succeed as a manager. You’ll soon realize there is too much going on to understand the level of detail you did in your previous role, and anyway, you don’t want to be a micromanager. So how do you delegate while still having a clear idea of what’s going on?
First, be direct when delegating. What is the task at hand? When is it due? What quality of work are you expecting? For example, are you looking for a few initial ideas, rough draft, or fully completed report where all you expect to do is give it a final proof?
During weekly check-ins ask questions about the tasks on your direct report’s plate, like where they stand on delivery, what they are struggling with, and most importantly, ask probing questions about what they think the high-level takeaways of the project are. Having the person who is completing the task explain to you what they are doing and why will do double duty; keeping you in the loop while alerting you to any red flags in advance if you find they don’t understand what is expected of them.
Connect with a mentor
This is often the most overlooked but most effective way to prepare a new manager for success. If your company doesn’t have a formal mentorship program, find one and connect with them regularly. Not only will it help you better understand larger company goals from someone who has been in your shoes, and sometimes underlying problems you may not have previously been aware of, but it will give you a safe space to vent when needed. While you need to keep a straight game face on in front of the team, regularly checking-in with a mentor can provide a short reprise where you don’t need to have all the answers and can ask lots of questions.
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Kristin Amico is a career and business writer who spent more than a decade managing creative teams at digital agencies. She has written for The Muse, The Independent and USA Today.