5 things I really wish I would have known when I first became a manager

A long, long time ago, I was an Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) program director for a wonderful company in Southern California. The company had transplanted me all the way from Calgary, Canada to do this and was highly invested in making sure the program was successful. So, they gave me an assistant. I will call her Jessica (not her real name). Now, I hadn’t asked for an assistant, and I was not allowed a vote on who got the job, but they were very well-intentioned, so I tried to make the best of it.  I’ve learned a lot through the years about managing people, leadership, communication and accountability, but the all the seeds of what I needed to know could be found in the mistakes I made with Jessica.

1)      Define the need for a new employee

In my situation, not only did I not have job description for Jessica, I really didn’t even have a perceived need. My boss wanted me to be able to be able to implement the project faster, and his executive assistant’s daughter needed a job, so he saw a match. I don’t recommend this approach (to put it lightly). Instead, do what a client of mine does when told a new employee is needed. Write down what the new employee’s duties will be, why we need an additional body to do them, and how it will impact sales or profitability to have this person on board.

2)      Make sure you are clear on your mission and vision, so you can direct your employees

I had no idea what I was supposed to do with Jessica, so I spent the first month just talking about the OBM projects and training her in OBM theory. I knew the company wanted to expand the OBM project, but they weren’t clear on when or how and I was too green to know that I needed to pin them down on this to ensure top down support. I didn’t know how Jessica fit into the big picture because I didn’t know the big picture. Needless to say, she was less than inspired.

3)      Don’t assume an understanding of common sense or basic policies

This actually goes both ways. If you’ve never managed before, it’s better to assume there are policies or laws you don’t know about (because you never had to know) and take steps to educate yourself. If your company doesn’t have an HR person, take advantage of Google or insist they hire a reputable HR Consultant (shameless plug). On the other hand, never assume your employees will do something just because it seems obvious to you – especially if this is their first job. It quickly became obvious to me that I needed to define things with Jessica such as a shift start time means you need to be at work at that time, that you shouldn’t take personal calls at work, and no, this doesn’t mean leaving the building or hiding in the stairwell to take your calls, it means don’t discuss your weekend on my dime.

4)      Flex your level of oversight depending on your employee’s skillset

In other words, don’t be afraid to micromanage at first. You can always scale back, but a lot of damage can be done by an untrained or unmotivated employee and people don’t always know what they don’t know. I found this out when Jessica sorted a year’s worth of data for me in Excel. Well, actually she just sorted one column. Then saved. Then realized she’d screwed up and tried to fix it. Then saved some more. I was able to find an older version of my data but lost about 3 months worth of work. She thought she knew how to sort. Now, I risk insulting my employees’ intelligence by watching them perform some tasks for the first time before leaving them to their freedom.

5)      Don’t be a jerk

Most people have an uncertain relationship with their bosses. When someone has a significant amount of control over your livelihood, the relationship is not one of equals and there is some fear involved. A good manager works hard to build good will with employees but a reasonably accurate rule of thumb is that it takes one emotional blow up to erase months of positive interactions. Keep your temper, and keep unkind comments to yourself. Even if they lose 3 months’ worth of data. If your employees get the idea that you think they are dumb, or untrustworthy you will not get their best work and a productive relationship.

There is much more, but when you’re a first time manager, these are really important factors to consider to make sure you are running your enterprise efficiently and effectively, and your employees will be happier too.  Because this is such a broad topic, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the critical things new managers need to do.


By Carrie Maldonado

Carrie Maldonado, is an organizational development consultant, author, and speaker. Carrie's eclectic mix of professional interests include writing, speaking, coaching, and consulting on topics ranging from organizational behavior management to spiritual transformation in and out of the workplace. Carrie lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her patient and long-suffering husband and their three children.

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