Finally, the secret manager’s handbook — or — My startup is killing it and now I have to manage!
Unfortunately there is no handbook for managers. But you knew that.
You knew that, right?
Leadership firms like ours exist in large part because of the significant ambiguity associated with what management and leadership must do to be successful.
As we see it, there are at least two key reasons this is so challenging:
First, we’ve not been taught to be managers.
For the most part, starting from the time we enter the modern education system we work to build the skills and knowledge that allow us to function, hopefully at a high level, in our roles as individual contributors. Even in our advanced education endeavors, MBAs and PhDs are largely geared toward each of us as the sole problem solver, lever puller, or subject matter expert.
As we mature and do well at our jobs, we are given more responsibility, learn new skills, and usually enjoy more compensation. As our productivity, quality, and output increase with this development, we may be then identified as a candidate for management. Luckily, just like with the first phase of our education as individuals, we’re given a strong 12–20 year foundation in how to manage others, manage teams, and achieve strategic goals through human capital.
Wait, that doesn’t happen does it?
We get a title, a budget, and maybe an office or some stock options and a pat on the back. “Now go manage those people!” We’re rarely taught how to manage or even what management is.
Second, managing people is really, really tough.
They’re all different. Each one thinks differently, acts differently, and reacts differently on a random Tuesday afternoon when it’s sunny and things should be easy but they still freak out for some reason.
Why do they do that?
They want different things to do the same job. They want to do different jobs. They want to be challenged. They want to contribute. Sometimes they want to be the best and sometimes they want to sit away from the group and not do anything.
They’re people. And people are tough.
So, you’re now a manager. A role that you’ve likely not been taught how to do, and one that requires you to first and foremost work with the biggest variable there is — people.
While there is no manager’s secret handbook, there are thousands of books on management, esteemed degrees and executive certifications in managing and leading. There are firms like ours that hopefully can help. And, who knows, you might get really lucky and immediately take to being a manager.
Across all those options, however, we’d suggest that there are some foundational factors that you can focus on for however long you choose to stay in the game — a few things that can at least help you keep things moving in the right direction until you sign with permanent ink.
Senior leaders in organizations must succeed at the following factors:
1. Your job is to get work done through other people.
High School diploma, GED, Undergrad, most Masters, most PHDs, JDs, MDs — they’re all about being an expert all by yourself, an individual contributor. The massive paradigm shift new managers must make is understanding how to get things done through other people, not by themselves. This requires setting clear roles and direction, setting clear expectations, illustrating what success looks like, measuring progress, and providing the necessary support for your employees to succeed.
The tough thing to overcome is the compulsion to do it all yourself. Of course, you know how and could get things done at a high level of quality, but your job as a manager is to get more done than you can do on your own by skillfully applying Human Capital toward objectives, rather than personal effort.
Getting work done through others involves:
- Quality delegation of work — Clear scope, standards, support and expectations
- Translating strategic goals into understandable objectives — Make the 50,000-foot goal relevant for a frontline worker
- Measuring progress and performance — Stay engaged before surprises happen and to lend fair amounts of support
- Coaching — Structured feedback to maintain engagement and cultivate accountability and success
- Strong communications — Continual clarity and open dialog to help manage change, course correct when needed, and remain open to innovation and opportunity
These basics, combined with a strong understanding about how your company makes money and how your industry works, build the foundation for repeatable strategic execution.
2. Your job is to grow your people.
Your main objective with your team is to grow their capacity to do work at increasing levels of quality and quantity. This requires you to grow their skills and knowledge. To do this effectively however, you need to know where they’re starting from, and where they want to go.
Each team member is different. You’ll have a spectrum from high performers to low, and they’ll each have different professional desires and objectives that you’ll need to consider. They’ll run the gamut from needing to be told and shown exactly what to do, to those that can deliver high quality proactively with very little context. This is all normal.
You’ll be tempted to continually give most of the work and/or the toughest assignments to your high performers, but beware that this will burn them out. It also takes opportunities for growth away from others. And, no matter how much you wish for it, most employees will require much more context, explanation, motivation and monitoring to succeed. This too is normal.
You’ll be continually compelled to give the answer, give the direction, and often just do the work yourself. Of course, you could do that; you’re now a manager because you know the answers, how to do the work and at a high level of quality. But you’re not going to. What would doing these things do for your people? How well does it help growing the capacity of your team? And do you have the time and energy to just do it all yourself?
You’ll need to become adept at helping employees discover the answers. You’ll need to become comfortable with employees using their own ways to do the work within the parameters of quality, safety, policy and procedure — so long as it gets done. You’ll need to cultivate accountability in your group by building your skills to coach team members when they fall short by helping them craft their own path back to success.
Skills to be built in growing your people include:
- Building relationships — Solid relationships based on trust allow for direct feedback and addressing of task and issues in real time with less friction
- Identifying opportunities for growth and engagement — Know where each employee wants to grow and stretch and provide opportunities to try, fail safely, and then succeed
- Situational Leadership — You’ll need to be a different leader for different employees as some need much more direction and purpose
- Managing through inquiry — Dominate your interactions with questions to help employees discover what you already know and own the solutions themselves
- Cultivating Accountability — Providing clear expectations, gaining commitment, and providing support before and along the way make discussions at the end of a work evolution, good or bad, fair and expected
3. Your job is to achieve strategic goals.
At the end of the day, it’s still about business. Your job is to achieve the goals within your groups’ scope that move the organization forward. We often see managers new and old fall directly into reactive firefighting mode — moving from one tactical workaround to the other. This seems to stem from a mindset of customer service — that responding ASAP equals performance. What we actually see is that this dilutes long-term performance improvement, clouds focus on critical objectives, and hinders a manager’s ability to be strategic.
Skills to build here are, to steal a phrase from Michael E. Gerber’s The E-Myth: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, are all about “working on the business, not in the business.”:
- Establish team and worker role clarity — What is each person’s role within a clearly articulated strategy, scope, and mission for the group?
- Clearly illustrate vision of success and quality — What are the expectations around quality, standards, policy and procedure?
- Identify Critical Objectives — What are the two or three objectives the group must succeed at to positively impact organizational goals?
- Build team’s ability to project manage — Strong action planning, execution, and management of scope, schedule and resources is imperative for repeatable achievement
- Leading and Lagging indicators — What are the measurable, proactive efforts that ensure a group and employees reach their objectives?
4. Your job is to sustain performance and retain talent.
As a leader in your organization, you need to take the long view. While success and performance can be coerced through power or achieved by a heroic few, this is not sustainable. For organizations to remain viable, they need to be able to remain agile in the face of change, attract, grow and retain top talent, and maximize performance through a culture that engages employees to innovate, collaborate, and simply want more from life.
This is a large bill to fill.
As you look to grow as a manager and leader, consider that leadership is undergoing a transformation. The amount of change and diversity that is now in play is like nothing we’ve ever seen. The old styles and techniques of management don’t work and actually drive stagnation and mediocrity.
A great summary of the new age of management is Gary Hamel’s take on making organizations fit for people — have a look here: (http://www.garyhamel.com/video/reinventing-technology-human-accomplishment), or read What Matters Now And, this perspective is in line with some of our other content where we’ve looked at Daniel Pink’s Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose troika in Drive.
Skills to consider here are all about providing your teams with purpose and opportunity to sustain performance over time:
- Help them to understand how they impact the company’s goals, and the world
- Stack the deck in their favor with support and resources and then let them do the work
- Provide clear direction, expectations, and definitions of what good looks like
- Help them to collaborate, network and bring their best to the table and give them credit
- Let them do the work, learn, grow and celebrate in the ways that let them be fully present and engaged
In the end, it is about people and what makes us tick. As a manager you’re now in the people business. It’s a tough one but it can be very rewarding. It is a crucial part of not only business, but our lives as working humans. Like great teachers, great managers and leaders help us find the best part of our lives and support us to become who we are.
Good luck — you’re gonna do great!