Managing your first managing gig

Congratulations! Your boss has promoted you from being an individual contributor to managing a team! You want do to a great job so you can continue to earn more responsibility, but you also want your employees to like you. It’s a tricky balancing act. Here are 8 things I wish someone told me when I got my first management role.

Set expectations early and often

One of the first things you should do as you start working with a new team is set expectations. Do you expect them to be in the office for certain hours? Do you expect work to be done a certain way? Do you expect your team to communicate with other teams in certain ways? Work with your team to set mutual expectations, both what you want from your team and what the expect in a manager. Re-visit these expectations as situations change, and be open and honest when new expectations need to be set. I have found establishing expectations works better when it’s in collaboration with the team so they have an opportunity for input in their work. Setting expectations also allows you to not have to micro-manage, which you should avoid at all costs. Once the employees know what to do, they’ll do it, and if they don’t you can enforce them accordingly.

Create a happy, productive environment

As a manager, you’re not only in control of the projects your team works on, but also the environment that they’re in. A happy employee is a more motivated employee. What makes each employee happy is different. Some of your team members might want more flexible schedules, while others want a say in the projects they work on, and some want to have a career path set out for them. You’re not going to be able to give each employee exactly what they want, but work together to set up a plan to maximize each employee’s happiness.

Accountability is key

Every person on your team has a specific role and certain expectations come with that role. Every team member should have an understanding of what you expect out of each of them, and what they can expect from each other. Making these expectations clear is important because than each employee knows how to live up to them. You should take the time to reinforce these expectations regularly with the team.

Set regular one-on-one meetings with your team

Schedule either weekly or monthly one-on-one meetings with each team member. These are the most important meetings on your calendar because they give you the opportunity to ensure your team members are happy, give feedback on their performance, get detailed status updates on projects, and most importantly receive feedback on your management. You can also take time to foster a stronger team by helping with your team members’ longer-term career planning, project planning, or just just taking time to get to know individuals on your team better. Also, this will give you a temperature of how happy your team members are, if they might be looking for jobs, and what you can do to retain them.

Create a formula for hiring

One of the hardest parts of managing is hiring new employees. In hiring, I look to evaluate a candidate’s skills to do the job, their ability to work hard, and their knack for taking feedback well to continue to grow as part of the team. Accordingly, I’ve developed a two-part hiring process. Half of the process evaluates the candidate’s skills, whether they can do the job. Here, a standard tool to measure candidates against each other works best. For example, if you’re hiring developers, use a coding test, for writers, require a writing sample. Whatever benchmark you use, it should show an accurate representation of how good candidates are at the skills they’ll need for the job, and should be easy to compare with other candidates you are considering. I would recommend making the test the same for all candidates, and making the test very similar to what day-to-day work will be like. For example, in a lot of tasks at my office, we don’t always have a full picture of details, so I create a situation replicating this to see if candidates can problem solve and fill in incomplete details. Now that you know who might be the best technical fit for the role, you also have to decide which candidates are good character and cultural fits. Does your company and you team favor those who take orders and do as they’re told, or are they looking for someone who innovates? If you’re having trouble figuring out what makes a good fit at your company, look at people that have been promoted and the qualities they have. You probably want to hire someone who shares those qualities. Having a rubric to grade each candidate and ensure they are a good fit will help you choose the right candidate.

Admit your mistakes and cut your losses

No one is perfect, and you’re going to make mistakes as a manager. You may prioritize projects incorrectly, fail to give your employee the right information, or worst of all hire the wrong person. When you make a mistake, admit it. Admit the mistake to your team, other business units, your boss, or even just yourself. The faster you identify your mistakes, the faster you can correct them. The hardest mistake to admit is when you’ve hired someone who isn’t a good fit for the job. If you think this is the case, take time to coach them and see if it’s possible for them to improve. Start meeting with them weekly and set goals for them to improve within the next week. Document these meetings, goals set, and their progress. If your new hire doesn’t improve, follow your company’s procedure for letting an employee go. Getting rid of an under-performing employee is the best thing you can do to improve performance of the team.

Spend the most time with your best and worst performers

As a manager, you’re going to be spread thin and you may not have time to coach, mentor, and work with all of your employees all the time. When I’m prioritizing the amount of time I’m going to spend with my team, I make sure that I first talk to my best performers. Make sure that they’re happy, challenged, and engaged. When they’re performing and able to pick up the slack, the team looks a lot better. Next, I spend time with the poorest performers, and work with them to see how can I get them to do better. Do they need new skills, a new way to look at a problem, or just someone to listen to them to get their heads in the game? Finally, I spend time with other team members. Getting the top and bottom performers in line and motivated is where I find I can have the most positive impact with my time.

Make your employees’ lives easier

When you become a manager, you have two bosses: Your boss you have always reported to, of course, but your team is now also your boss. Just as each member of your team has specific skills, you probably have skills that your team doesn’t excel at. As you prioritize your team’s responsibilities, try to match each person up with projects they’re best at. If you have an all star developer, who can’t communicate well, don’t send him to the meetings; you should go and communicate on his behalf. It’s your job to complement your employees’ weaknesses. If your employee will be helped by using a certain tool, it’s your job to get him that tool. When you make your employees’ lives easier, they’ll be happier and more productive. Let them focus on what they’re best at, and you do your best to pick up the rest.

Have fun

If you’re not having fun you’re doing it wrong! Having fun at any job should be goal number 1. When you’re having fun, you’re doing better work, and your team is happier. You having fun becomes infectious to the rest of the team. A team that is having fun together, will have more cohesion and allow you to keep your best employees. To have fun, schedule regular happy hours with your team, have lunch as a group and do some team building events, my favorite are escape rooms. When the team has fun together, when there is conflict they have those fun times to lean back on to get through the conflict. Any job is hard, but having fun times to look forward to, makes it all worth it.

Managing can be the most fun and rewarding job in the world. Seeing people’s skills and careers progress is really awesome. You can have a real impact, guiding a newbie to become an all-star. In my managing time, I’ve had some wins and losses, but along the way I was always learning.

I’d love to share more of the management tools I’ve learned. What challenges have you faced in managing, and what successes? Let’s talk, and I’ll do my best to help.

I am currently exploring next steps in my career. I’m best at building and leading tech teams to create great products. Get in touch with me at: