Becoming a first time manager can be exciting and overwhelming all at the same time. You are no longer only responsible for your tasks but also the output of others.
I highly recommend that you read Lee Iacocca’s autobiography. Iacocca was able to work his way up from a student engineer to President of Ford Motor Company. He was the inventor of the Ford Mustang.
His book provides useful nuggets and life lessons that he learnt from years of leadership at Ford and later at Chrysler. I have incorporated some of these lessons in this article. Feel free to check out the full article on his career and life story.
Hereunder are 12 practical tips if implemented could help you excel as a first time manager.
Being a leader means that every task, every project great or small comes under your responsibility. If the team member does not execute well on the task, then you need to arrange training or mentoring session.
You need to ensure that the department is running for vacation cover. You are accountable for your role as well as the execution of every team member. This is the first step in management. Therefore embrace ownership.
Another useful read on leadership is Extreme Ownership written by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin who were two former U.S Navy SEALs. It is based on how Navy SEALs Lead and Win.
Clarify Your Objectives
It is paramount that you clarify what your objectives are the first day as a manager. I have heard several scenarios where at the end of the first 90 days, a manager is dissatisfied with the performance of an individual.
From listening to these instances, it is clear that the individual was not clear on what was required from the outset. Therefore, ensure that you get this from day 1. If this is not given to you, make certain and follow through until you get it.
As a manager, managing time is one of your most important responsibility. Time is a finite resource. While everything is important, you will need to determine what is critical. Clarity around your objectives will help you allocate resources where best suited.
The legendary business leader Lee Iacocca spent every Sundays and created a schedule for what he needed to accomplish in the week. That was his strategy to keep his priorities top of mind.
In his autobiography he stated:-
If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important and then give it all you’ve got” (p.20).
Therefore spend some time and identify what tasks are the most important that is required by your manager. Ensure that these priorities are cascaded into your team and reflected in their objectives and actions.
Get to Know the Business
This was included specifically in the event that you are a first time manager at a new business. Gain access to all reports relevant to your role as well as operational manuals and process guides if these exist.
As an example, if you are the Sales Manager, then you will need to learn each product and service and how they work.
You will need to learn product prices. You will need to understand where the products are in their life cycle. Review every promotion in the market on all forms of media as well as point of sale material at every customer touch point.
Study the market to understand current market saturation levels as well as competitors activity.
Assess your team to ensure that you understand strengths and weaknesses of each team member.
In order to achieve your objectives you may need to make some changes to ensure that the best team member is assigned to the task so that the team can excel.
In managing his team, Iacocca described the one key to management is that he requested that his team write down their goals. He believed that the discipline of writing down a goal is the first step to making it a reality.
Based on the stock exchange requirement for quarterly reporting, goal setting was required once per quarter from his team.
Iacocca would ask:
“What are your objectives for the next ninety days? What are your plans, your priorities, and your hopes? And how you intend to go about achieving them” (p.47).
As a first time manager, understanding your team’s strength will make delegation easier. As part of managing your team, consider your team creating goals which you will review and sign off. This will ensure that everyone is committed to achieving the main goal of the department/business.
Create a reporting structure where you can track key performance metrics for you and your team. What gets measured will ultimately be given focus. Measurements will ensure that you stay on track and give you information to make adjustments quickly.
One of the first thing that you should do as a new manager is to set up one to one meeting with each member of your team. This is largely dependent on its size.
For larger teams, you may meet with the next level of team leaders or managers.
Your team has been doing their roles longer than you are so give them the opportunity to share their likes and dislikes. You may be able to get some quick wins by listening to them.
Standardise Routine Task
One thing that can simplify your department or operations is to look for task that can be simplified. This may mean creating systems so that routine tasks are grouped together and executed at a particular time rather than on an adhoc basis.
Continuing with the example of a Sales Manager above, maybe you can standardise the replenishment of stock to once per week or bi weekly based on the needs of the business.
You may also delegate the sign off on sales below a certain level to another team member and sales over a certain limit you sign off personally.
Schedule Regular Meetings
Communication between individuals and more so among a team is vital to ensure that everyone is on the same page. It also fosters useful discussions, healthy debates and builds teamwork.
Iacocca valued teamwork as part of his management style. In his autobiography he stated:
“The best way to develop ideas is through interacting with your fellow managers. This brings us back to the importance of teamwork and interpersonal skills. The chemistry among two or three people sitting down together can be incredible- and it’s been a big part of my own success” (p.59).
Therefore set up a fixed meeting with your team whether it’s weekly or bi weekly as required by the business to ensure that team members are communicating with each other.
As the manager you may need to have other meetings scheduled with various individuals on your team. Set up these recurring meetings as required.
Don’t Make Too Many Radical Changes Too Soon
When entering into a role, while you may need to make changes to streamline the operations, determine what aspects you need to change immediately and what you can let be or change at a later date.
At times, depending on the culture of the organisation and the personality of team members, making too many radical changes too soon can have a negative impact on motivation and morale.
So manage this if needed very carefully.
Get a Mentor
If you believe that you require support as a new manager, seek out a mentor. Locate someone who has had years of experience as a leader and ask for their help during your transition.
Depending on the nature of your organisation, maybe the business could provide a work mentor to support you at the beginning of your journey.
Ask your immediate manager for a short one to one meeting when you are at about half way through your probation period.
This will give you the chance to hear from him/her where you have excelled and the areas that require work. If you are on probation, then you can use this information to improve your performance. I have also written an article on how to survive your first 90 days as a Manager. Feel free to check out this resource if required.
Congratulations on your new role and trust you find the above practical tips useful as a first time manager. If you have an opportunity, read the work of Lee Iacocca as I have learnt several tips from his life and career story. All the best in your new role!
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