Becoming a manager for the first time is a big step in your career. Every new manager has a head full of great ideas and their heart in the right place. You want to correct the mistakes you felt your managers made, or embody the spirit of your best bosses. You are ready to shake things up and excited to mentor a team.
The vision that you have of your first day being a rallying point that kicks off a string of managerial accomplishments is a seductive one — and it's probably holding you back.
Your first day as a manager isn't about coming in hot and being the greatest. Being intentional and methodical will get you a lot further in your first days and weeks than being overconfident will. Rather than blow in and immediately enacting your agenda, turn your attention outwards. Here are five steps that will help you focus on establishing yourself and building rapport with your team.
1. Don't make any big moves
First, get an idea of what you're getting into, and figure out the potential of the team members you're starting to manage. The best thing you can do to fulfill this potential right away is, paradoxically, taking a step back and not doing anything.
Your first day should be more about listening than talking. Although it is tempting to come in and roll out a whole new plan for the team you brainstormed, hold off! Monster reports that one of the worst mistakes incoming managers make is to immediately try to lead with manager-driven changes.
Even if you're coming in with the mandate to shake things up, making big changes right away will demonstrate that you don't have an interest in listening to your direct reports. Listening well means reserving judgment — and grand plans — until you have heard what people have to say and built up trust. Then, when you do roll out changes, people will be more willing to adopt them and more likely to feel they are made in employees' best interests, rather than as a manager power play.
2. Reach out to people
Being a manager is about building trust with your employees. Be mindful that if you are coming in to manage a team, for whatever reason a team is having a management switch. That means your team is probably just as nervous to have a new manager as you are to be a first-time manager.
Will you care about them? Will you understand the way they want to be managed? Will you make improvements and stick up for them? Or will you be a micromanager, distant, or only out for yourself? These are real fears that employees have, and one of the best ways to demonstrate that you are going to be a compassionate manager is to reach out.
Take time to talk to the team, and introduce yourself. Just as important, take the time to talk to employees individually. Within your first few days, start setting up 1:1 meetings with reports. This will:
- Assure reports that you are invested in them and their feedback
- Give you time to listen to all perspectives on your team
- Get to know your employees and what motivates them
- Help your employees feel comfortable reaching out
You don't need more than twenty minutes to kick all this off, and the conversations can be informal in nature. They are a starting point.
3. Ask questions
The worst thing you can do on your first day or in your first week is pretend you understand things or make assumptions because you are afraid to ask questions of those around you. It will hamper your management and slow your managerial development.
To be a good manager, you need to understand what your reports, bosses and company want and need, and that means asking questions. While your initial gut reaction to being a manager might be: I need to have all the answers now, try shifting your mindset:
- Asking open-ended questions of your employees helps you build trust, and helps you understand how your employees think and work, according to Harvard Business Review.
- Asking smart questions of your bosses helps you learn ins-and-outs you were not privy to as an employee, and demonstrates that you are thinking deeply about the processes at play in your company at a managerial level. It also helps you understand their expectations.
Use the same mettle and smarts that got you promoted to answer as many questions as you can, but don't be afraid to ask questions when they come up. You are building your knowledge and your new working relationships, and a healthy workplace will support you leaning on others for help.
4. Establish boundaries
If you've been promoted, your workplace relationships are bound to change as you move up to management. Work friends are important, and if you are moving up at your current company, those relationships have to shift. In fact, Harvard Business Review writes “we found that the transition from BFF to boss — what we labeled “adjustment to people management/displaying authority” — was the biggest hurdle, cited by almost 60% of respondents.”
You are responsible for setting an appropriate relationship with your work friends. It's crucial to your team's results, because it reduces favoritism, keeps power balances appropriate, and creates a more stable workplace. To establish boundaries:
- Keep everything professional. Although you might have been comfortable sharing personal details of your life with work friends before being promoted, keep things professional from day one as a manager. That doesn't mean you should never talk about your life outside of work ever, but it does mean politely rebuff weekend debriefs and work gossip.
- Give employees space. Joining in on an all-team lunch is fine, but going to get a coffee with Phil every afternoon is a no-go. Give employees space to hang out with each other without you.
- Employ a calendar system. Make it easy for any employee to set up time to chat with you regardless of how well they know you.
- Learn from your managers. You have had a manager before, and you have seen that relationship work in action as an employee. Think back on your own manager-employee relationships and examine what worked and what hampered your workplace or made you feel uncomfortable. Set the standard that you appreciated or needed as an employee.
You are responsible for setting an appropriate relationship with your team. The truth is that management can at times be lonely, because your position takes you away from the camaraderie felt when you're an individual contributor on a team. But remember that you are in the midst of forging new relationships with fellow managers that will help your career.
5. Cut yourself some slack
Managing is a skill that is learned, not an innate talent. You've just been promoted and stepped into a new role, and are beginning the training for that position. Nobody is expecting you to be World's Best Manager on your first day, and every manager has stories from their early career about bumps in the road.
If you are moving up in the same workplace, it can take some time for new roles to settle and your workplace relationships to recalibrate. If you are joining a new workplace, you need time to learn the people and the company. Nothing you can do on your first day or in your first week is going to be perfect — and that's ok!
Day one is just that: a starting point. It's ok to feel a bit awkward or that you are still figuring things out. Nobody immediately “gets” management on their first day and ascends to managerial stardom. Take a deep breath, cut yourself some slack, and commit to learning even more tomorrow.
Set the foundation
Day one of a new management position can be nerve-wracking, but you've become a manager because you have potential and skill. What you do in your first days and weeks sets you up for success and gains the trust of your team, so it is critical that you are approaching your first day in your new position deliberately.
There will be plenty of time in your managerial career for you to become a great manager and enact your best plans for bettering your workplace. Positioning yourself well by listening, establishing boundaries, and reserving judgment will help you get there like a seasoned vet.