Nathaniel was excited. After working part time at the store for almost a year, while simultaneously holding down a full-time job in another division of the company, his hard work finally paid off. At just 21, he’d been promoted to Store Manager over his peers and was THE guy now. Time to start fixing things. All those illogical work schedules, the lack of consistent staff oversight, low sales, poor community outreach-it was all going to change. In his first week, he started flexing his new authority muscles and people who’d been his co-workers just a few days ago were now answering to him about why they didn’t do their jobs well enough. This was his show now.
Fast forward one year. Nathaniel’s staff was now at the equivalent of 100% turnover. A few long-term employees were still there, but some part-time positions had turned over several times. It would take Nathaniel a few more years to realize his bad management practices and start to get his attitude and actions right. It turned out, all those things he thought were terrible when he first took over, really weren’t all that bad. It was ultimately the mentoring by his boss, a few friends, and other leaders in his industry that taught him how to be a good manager and earn the loyalty of his people.
Management is hard. Anyone who tells you otherwise either hasn’t done it much, or is selling you something. Nathaniel is me (it’s my middle name) and the story above is completely true. When I took my first management job and flashed around my superduper Business Management degree, I sucked. I was utterly unprepared for my position and good employees left my store because I cared more about being in charge than about them and their development. I thank God there were people around me who cared enough to mentor me, have tough conversations, point me to resources where I could learn how to be a better manager, and invest time into me.
You might be a new manager who doesn’t have that blessing. No matter what industry or company you work in, for-profit or non-profit, one thing is always consistent for managers. People. You are in authority over people and can directly influence their lives, in a significant way, on a daily basis.
The responsibility that goes with your position necessitates a wide variety of disciplines. None of them come easy, but with work and grit, you can become a great manager. Here are some tips:
- Becoming a manager does not suddenly make you all-knowing. Asking your team for help on subjects you don’t fully know not only shows a healthy dose of humility, but it also makes them feel very valued. If you are afraid that asking will make you feel like you don’t know enough to hold your job, ask in a way that shows leadership. For example: If John is a retail manager but can’t remember how to do a closing procedure on the credit card machine, he can ask one of his staff to walk him through it so he can document the procedure. Now John knows the procedure and also has it documented for training purposes later.
- People matter more than anything else. If you take care of your people, your people will take care of you. When you have a happy, well-led staff that believes in you and knows you’ll have their back, they will move mountains for you. Suddenly better sales, harder work, pitching in extra for the team, all become easy asks of the staff. Without that belief and buy-in, the only thing they will be motivated by is money, and that is fleeting. Invest in your staff a little every day. Ask them what motivates them, what excites them, and how you can provide more of both. Then do it.
- You can be friends with your team, or their manager-not both. One of you reading this just thought “that’s true for most people, but I can do it.” You are wrong. Being friends is fun, and makes you feel like you fit into the group better, until the day you have to discipline one of your employees. Then it all falls apart. Absolutely be friendLY, but you should not be hanging out with your employees after hours, sharing frustrations about the company, or anything else that approaches the line between boss and friend.
- If you say you’ll do something, follow through all the way. Trust is so essential between a team and their manager. There are no second chances at this. It is okay if you have to change a decision for business reasons, but make sure you fully explain why. You aren’t a parent, so “because I said so” is never, ever a reason.
- Learn basic human resource (HR) law. There are tons of great links on the internet, and this critical area cannot be overlooked. Nothing can get you in trouble faster than breaking HR policies or procedures at your company. Find a mentor, and get advice. If your company is big enough to have a dedicated HR person, have them on speed dial and build a solid relationship with them right away.
- If you are having a performance or behavior problem with someone on your team, make sure you keep good documentation. Then, if it gets to the point that you have to let them go, you have the back-up you need. It’s better to err on the side of too much documentation, then not enough. The reason this one is listed AFTER “learn basic HR law” is because you’ll learn why, how, and when to document when you are learning that basic HR law.
- Learn numbers. Even the best people-manager in the world can’t succeed if they don’t understand the numbers of their business. You need to be able to figure out things like turnover percentage, return on investment (ROI), margin, markup, net income, and sales tax. Find a mentor if you need one. Read books. Take classes. Whatever it takes. But learn your business math.
- Train yourself every day. Find something you don’t know, and learn it. Read blogs (like this one!), start reading down the top 20 business book lists, stay up-to-date on current research in your field. Remember, if you aren’t moving forward, you are falling behind. There is no standing still.
Being a new manager is an exciting, terrifying, challenging, nightmarish, joyous experience. You have the opportunity to lead a team of people towards a really great work experience and you also have the opportunity to make work a really lousy part of your day. The great news is, you have control over that. Of all that I’ve listed above, I’d say #7 is probably the most important. If you genuinely follow that one, the rest sort of fall into line over time. Identify your weakest area and your strongest, then work on both. What can you learn and apply today?