Succeeding as a new manager

content new manager team

With job turnover still high, and an increasing number of executives of the baby boomer generation transitioning into retirement, many professionals are now landing new high-level positions. Many of these new jobs come with significant managerial duties, including the responsibility of leading a team of direct reports.

The specifics of each new managing role – whether the team is large or small, new or well established, in-person or virtual – may range widely, but for the new manager, there is one commonality: the first few months of their tenure are crucial.

Research shows that this initial period often serves as an accurate predictor of whether a manager will fail or succeed in the long run because problems that block a manager’s ultimate success usually begin in the first few months of the job. Given this, here are some best practices for new managers at the beginning of their tenure that will help maximise the chances of long-term success.

Before you even start

Success begins with preparation, and preparation begins before a new manager starts their new position. In fact, the roots of long-term managerial success are often planted before the first job interview, when the prospective manager – who is merely a candidate at this point – takes the time to conduct due diligence research on the new organisation (or new department) they are looking to join.

This information gathering continues during the interview process, which allows the manager-candidate to ask questions and gather more information about organisational mission, role expectations and workplace culture.

Learning about workplace culture is particularly important. In general, new managers who fail to understand a company’s culture stand a much higher chance of ultimately being rejected by it, many leadership experts say.

The manager-candidate may also supplement their information gathering by speaking with anyone in their network who is knowledgeable about the organisation, such as customers or former employees.

Be strategic

Fast-forward to the next big step in tenure: the job offer has been accepted, and the new manager is now meeting and talking with staff members on day one of the new job.

These conversations, of course, are a great further learning opportunity for the new manager, but it is important to be more than just a passive listener. A new manager is almost always a focus of attention for staff, and opinions will begin to form based on initial impressions. First impressions of a new manager who seems to do nothing but listen and nod may not be impressive, or even positive.

Instead, new managers should go into day one with ideas about how they want to position themselves strategically, and what message they want to communicate. That strategy and message should be based on the preparation and information gathering conducted before the first interview.

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So from the first day and the initial days that follow, a new manager should plan to ask targeted questions, and have brief, follow-up discussions if possible, that will support their strategy and message.

For example, let’s say the manager’s early due diligence research revealed that the industry in question faces many disruptions in the immediate future. During early conversations with department heads, the new manager might ask: ‘What do you see in terms of changes in our competitive space in the next five or 10 years? What do you think success will look like in that environment?’ That type of questioning is indicative of a focus on the future strategy and message, in a way that a passive approach is not.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that while passivity is to be avoided, recommending large-scale operational changes on day one, even if seemingly warranted by research, can be a red flag for staffers and is not advisable.

Identify win-wins

The initial weeks of a new manager’s tenure will likely feature meetings and conversations with managers from other departments. These conversations may present opportunities to form alliances with peers and to arrange for potential operational alignments. Often, these alliances result from conversations that take the form of mutual education sessions, where one manager explains the highlights of departmental operations to the other.

Here, too, a strategic approach rather than a passive one can help pave the way toward long-term success. For example, when a new manager is discussing issues with other managers, he or she may want to pose two questions at some point in the conversation:

  • What do you think is a best practice that will help me succeed in this organisation or division?
  • How do you think I, in my new role, can help you be successful?

The discussions that these two questions may spark can go a long way toward creating win-win alliances that benefit both managers.

These alliances may turn out to be especially important in cases where the manager is hired as a change agent to help overhaul operations. This is because in many of these situations, a mandate for change from organisational leaders is not enough; buy-in from manager peers from other departments is also critical.

Do a role sort

Finally, the new manager’s long-term prospects may be significantly improved if they undertake a ‘role sort’ among the members of their team within the first few months of their tenure.

The objective of a role sort is to ensure that each team member is in the right job. As new managers get to know each team member and their corresponding role, they should do so with an eye to making sure that everyone is in the right job.

A good match between skillset and role bodes well for the team member’s future, while a mismatch may mean problems down the line. Ensuring early on that all staffers are well aligned with their responsibilities is an excellent way for the manager to position the team for maximum future success.

Author: Mark Tarallo is an author and journalist covering management and leadership issues

More information

This article was first published in AB magazine November 2022

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