When you move into a people manager role, it's usually because you are doing a great job as an individual contributor. Being a manager is quite different than being an individual contributor. Instead of only being concerned with getting your own work done, you are now responsible for a whole team of people getting their work done. Without guidance, new managers can run into some pitfalls as they learn what is expected of them. Here are a few things to watch out for if you are new to people management.
- Thinking your team members are still your buddies. This catches most people by surprise. You are working in a team and your coworkers are your friends. Now, you are their boss and they are your employees. Yes, your relationship is going to change and you need to come to terms with that. I've seen people try to continue the relationship as it was and in the end it usually results in a few awkward situations before the new manager realizes that he/she is a boss, not a coworker anymore. You build more credibility as a manager if you talk about this with your employees that are friends and come to some agreements. Otherwise, there are unspoken assumptions made on both sides on what to expect from one another that usually don't play out as expected.
- Not realizing that you are the conduit of information. Many managers get a lot of information from higher up in their management chain but don't understand that they need to disseminate that information and present it to their team. Managers need to understand when information should be shared and when it should not be. Many times, new managers error in one extreme or the other. They either don't flow information to their direct reports, or worse, they don't filter anything and it all hits their team members. Not only do you need to understand when to filter info to your team, but how. Sometimes how something was said in a meeting with your peers and higher level managers is not the same way it should be presented to your individual employees. You'll have to experiment and make some mistakes in order to understand to what degree you need to filter info and who on your team can handle new information better than others.
- Losing your technical skills. Many new managers jump right into managing and forget what got them there, their technical abilities. Granted, the nature of the work a manager does makes it very difficult to keep those technical skills crisp. You spend more of your time in meetings talking to people and when you are at your computer, you are probably writing emails and not coding. Consider owning a small non-critical feature or automation within your team so you have a reason to code. Or schedule regular demos or code/design reviews so you can stay in touch with the technology your team is using and the technical decisions they are making. Even in a non-technical team, you need to stay in touch with what your team is doing at a level potentially a little higher than you were at as an individual contributor, but not so high that you've removed your ability to talk intelligently about the work your team is doing or evaluate your team's skills.
- Caring too much about your employees' well-being. Every manager should care about their employees, but as a manager your job is not solely to keep your employees happy. You have budgets to meet, schedules to adhere to, pressures from dependent teams, and a lot of other things that at times may make your employees less than happy. You may need to give them critical feedback, ask them to work on something that is needed instead of their pet project, or ask them to work with someone they would rather not work with. That's ok. Your first responsibility as a manager is to run the business of running your team. Caring for your employees' happiness fits in there, it's just one of many priorities you have to juggle. Be careful not to make it the top one or you will find yourself becoming a very stressed out manager. Given that, if you aren't thinking at all about your employees' well-being then you have gone too far to the other extreme and you need to start thinking about that while managing all of your other priorities.
- Being overly concerned about your employees making mistakes. Letting your employees stretch and potentially falter is a good thing. They will learn from the experience and becoming stronger employees. Just do this within a controlled setting so you aren't playing damage control for large mistakes made by your employees. It's good to play interference so your team can stay focused on their work, but sometimes letting them gain some visibility into what you are protecting them from can allow them to grow and allow them to have a greater appreciation for the work you are doing. You shouldn't be so protective and cautious that your employees find it difficult to do anything without your involvement. That's not job security. That's just a lot of unnecessary work that will burn you out as a manager and it doesn't help your employees grow their skills.
- Thinking morale events really improve morale. Ok, I'll be the first one to say I'm not very good at holding morale events for my team. I don't buy into the notion that taking a bunch of people to a movie is really going to make them so happy that they will perform better. And do people really enjoy going bowling? Sometimes, the best morale boost comes in the form of genuine recognition for a job done well. Showing appreciation and saying they did a good job beats bowling and a movie any day in my mind. What you'll find with team events is that many will opt-out and if you make it mandatory then how is that boosting morale? If not everyone is there, does the team truly get something out of it? So make sure the event has a low bar of entry and involves personal interaction. Taking your team out to lunch is always a good idea.
- Taking the easiest route when making a decision. It's great when the easiest route is also the correct decision, but the majority of times, this isn't the case. When making a decision, don't assume that picking the easiest option will be the right choice. Sometimes, you may get some big wins early on from that easier option, but long term, that choice may come back to haunt you. Consider all your options and force yourself to be open-minded, even to the craziest of ideas presented to you. When you make your decision, make it with the future in mind, not the present. You can always figure out how to get it to work for you in the present, but correcting something much later after the team has settled on it and gotten comfortable with that choice is so much harder than making that hard choice to begin with. Unfortunately, the best way to learn this is by experiencing it. It's ok to change your mind and move your team in a different direction if you realize that a previous decision was the easy one and not the right one. Fess up to it and be a role model to show that doing the right thing is most important.
Don't be too hard on yourself if you make mistakes as a new manager. Learn and move on. Be reflective and try not to make the same mistakes over and over again. You aren't going to wake up one day and say, 'finally I know everything there is to know about being a manager'. It's an unattainable goal. All you can do is be the best manager you can be. Learn from your mistakes. And read a lot of management books over the course of time because many contain great advice and what may not apply to you at one point may absolutely apply to your situation years later.
And if you ever figure out a really good morale event that everyone enjoys and it truly builds morale, please let me know. 🙂