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RfH Insights: HR Leaders Share Tips for First-time Managers

March 29, 2021
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We’ve all heard it before — with power comes responsibility. Becoming a manager means having an influence on the employee experience and professional trajectory of those who report to you. But managers are also accountable for establishing team processes, evaluating new candidates, overseeing projects, setting goals, facilitating review cycles, and providing a safe working environment — all while exhibiting leadership and trust in their direct reports.

Businesses can set first-time managers up for success by equipping them with the tools they need to transition into a management role. To get a sense of how HR leaders are doing this in their organizations, we asked Lattice’s Resources for Humans community to share tips and resources for training first-time managers. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Learn to communicate.

Building strong relationships with your direct reports is all about communication, but this can be a challenge, especially for new managers. Part of being a boss is understanding that the employees you manage may behave differently toward you or avoid disclosing sensitive information that could have a negative impact on their career. This communication dynamic between managers and direct reports is also known as “mitigated speech,” and it’s common for first-time managers to struggle to overcome this issue. That’s why it’s important for HR teams and managers to be invested in communication training.

“Communication skills training helps [first-time managers] understand what makes a great manager — empathy, perspective, compassion, and trust,” said Ellie McLaughlin, Director of  People Operations at Aprio Cloud.

First-time managers also need to be mindful of clarity and tone when communicating with direct reports. Teams take what their managers have to say seriously, so it’s important to be explicit when you’re making a direct ask versus sharing an idea or suggestion. It’s also important to be open to feedback so that peers aren’t afraid to share perspectives that might not align with your own.

“I always recommend starting with ‘listening’ training and then following up with ‘feedback’ training. It’s more important as a manager to listen to your team than it is to have all the answers. Listening builds relationships and buys understanding,” said Rachel Ben Hamou, RfH Ambassador and Director of Talent Development at PeopleStorming.

Apart from engaging in communication skills training, first-time managers can make a point of seeking input from their peers and direct reports on their behavior and decisions. Relying on your team to help you grow and stay informed is perfectly normal, and how you go about this is up to you. Do you want to use an issue tracker? Do you prefer one-on-ones? Do you want a weekly update from your direct reports? Maybe a combination of all three? Figure out which cadence and approach work for you in keeping communication transparent and consistent.

2. Lead with authenticity.

We spend most of our day interacting with our coworkers, so it makes sense that we feel a connection with them. As a manager, it’s important to maintain boundaries and keep in mind that your direct reports are not responsible for your emotional state. But that doesn’t mean managers can’t set an example of openness and authenticity in the workplace.

“We often become friends with people we manage, or start out as friends or peers and then become their managers. This is normal. And there’s also value in being able to be authentic about our own difficulties and where we are struggling at work and in life,” said Amy Newell,  Senior Director of Engineering at Wistia in her article, “You're not just a manager, you're also a boss."

Everyone deals with struggles outside of the workplace that may or may not impact their performance. Managers need to be prepared to have difficult conversations about sensitive issues, like mental illness, interpersonal challenges, or harassment. The best way to create a safe space for your team is to be available and honest. 

Follow-up with your coworkers if it seems like they are going through something. When you are unsure if you have overstepped a boundary, ask how it makes the other person feel. If you don’t know the answer to something, be open about it, and use it as an opportunity to learn about how systems operate at your organization. If your company is doing things right, they’ll provide you with all the resources you need.

“I've created a manager toolkit which is a crash course in company policies, onboarding, giving feedback, offboarding, pro-dev, as well as other softer skills that managers should work on and develop,” said Ashley Waldemar, HR Manager at HYPEBEAST

3. Take care of yourself.

You can’t pour from an empty cup. Managing others can be emotionally draining work, and having direct influence over those around you can sometimes feel like a heavy burden to bear.

“Employees trust you with their careers, their feelings, their promotions, and their raises. It’s a big responsibility. There will be times in your management career where you will need to deliver painful feedback, coach someone into a different role or even a different employer, or outright fire someone. If you are taking your responsibilities seriously, none of these things will feel good to you,” Newell said.

It’s important to make taking care of yourself a priority, especially as a first-time manager. If you have a major presentation or have to deliver bad news in the morning, try giving yourself some time to recover before jumping into your next meeting. Some managers like to set standard communication hours during the day and enforcing a no-contact policy after work hours to help maintain a sense of work-life balance. There is also lots of helpful literature available for first-time managers in search of guidance and leadership training.

“I have a few books about leadership that I've really enjoyed reading over the years and I recommend them to all our new managers. We have a monthly book benefit, and I tell all my employees they are always welcome to expense books that I recommend to them,” shared Caitlin Cuesta, RfH Ambassador and People Operations Manager at Screencastify.


When you consistently demonstrate that you care about your teammates’ well-being and show up when they need support, they’re more likely to put forth their best effort and stick with you through times of difficulty. First-time managers can play a pivotal role in building a healthy and supportive work environment. They just need the right tools and mindset to lead.

To learn how other HR professionals are equipping managers for success, join the Resources for Humans Slack community.