You’ve spotted your over-performer, and they’re showing great potential in people management, effective communication, empathy, and work ethic. You’ve developed their skills and now you’re ready to promote them into management- fantastic news!
Before you tick that box and leave your shiny new manager to do their thing, you may need to pause for a think… Do they have any continuing gaps in the skillset or knowledge? Have you considered the support they may need as they settle into their new role, especially as they transition from peer to manager?
Here we’ll be discussing the unique difficulties first-time managers face and how you can support them as they adapt to their new responsibilities, learn to manage their previous teammates, and find their feet as a manager in their own right.
The Difficulties of Being a First-Time Manager
When a team member has consistently over-performed and seems to lead with natural ease, the difficulties they run into once they’ve been promoted can come as a surprise, both to you and to them.
Firstly, they need to get used to less ‘doing’ and more ‘managing’. Leadership consists of far more people and workflow management than completing the jobs involved in the projects themselves. This also means learning to empower and motivate a team of people with different approaches, work ethics or styles. This can be a huge challenge.
”A lot of the time we promote overachievers who have a specific approach to proactivity. However, they are now going to manage steady eddies and underperformers who have a very different approach to work and proactivity.Luke ToddMadeYou Co-Founder
If your new manager approaches their reports as if they were a team of their clones, they will run into trouble. So how do they pivot? What styles and techniques can they use?
You’ll need to guide them through this learning curve to avoid frustration on both sides. A team of previous peers will not appreciate being expected to work in the same way their now-manager would have. This can cause new managers to experience a knock in confidence at not being able to motivate their team effectively.
What Do New Managers Need to Know?
- The value of effective, regular 1-2-1s
- The importance of leading by example
If a solid 1-2-1 system isn’t already in place, this should be job number one for your new manager. Fortnightly or monthly sessions (in a private but relaxed office area or over a video call) are powerful for motivating a team and making them feel valued, informed, and recognised.
Done well, these 1-2-1s provide regular, timely snapshots of effective and constructive feedback. What manager wouldn’t want that? Your new manager needs to approach these sessions with a coaching mindset, avoiding the temptation to dominate the conversation:
”It’s important that the new manager avoids leading these conversations, instead they should be encouraging the staff member to talk first, before they then align with the information presented and add in feedback where needed.Luke ToddMadeYou Co-Founder
They must also remember that context and specificity are important in positive and improved feedback. There is no negative feedback if it’s presented with an emphasis on future improvement rather than a post-performance critique.
Lead by Example
When it comes to leading by example, most new managers need to remember the golden rule: ‘Your new title doesn’t make you important’. That can be a tough pill to swallow. But if you think about it, why should new reports respect someone as a manager who was their peer yesterday? Just because of a change in job title…? Most will think not.
Respect is most definitely earned. New managers must lead by example. They need to listen and then react to the information presented. They need to show their team that they’re the manager rather than telling them (and not by wielding any new powers over them- no one has time for that).
The best first-time managers will roll up their sleeves and get stuck in, showing their team that they value their work and that it allows them to focus on the job they now need to do. Managers build rapport by genuinely valuing their team, listening, respecting and incorporating feedback and input.
Managing Previous Peers
One of the toughest transitions for first-time managers is managing their previous teammates. Being friendly with the team can be helpful in some ways. They know them on a personal level, understand what they’re good at and what they hate doing etc. But it can also be a curse when it comes to performance management.
While a new manager is by no means ‘better’ than their reports, they are in a different role, and that distinction needs to be drawn. The changes a new manager makes could bother or even upset their reports. Yet, those same reports will also be the first to call out any unprofessional behaviour! For example, moaning about the printer always being broken when they were one of them was done as an individual. Moaning about it now as a management team representative could sound more disrespectful to the company itself. Drunkenness at the office party may also have to be a thing of the past!
The support and development of the team should be a top priority. With fresh, first-hand experience in achieving a promotion, this shouldn’t be too difficult. Steady Eddies should be supported if needed, but overperformers should be the focus. New managers can share their journey with those keen to climb the ladder, investing in opportunities for them and helping them directly where possible.
New managers can make this a bigger conversation than it is. Here, you’re just aiming to give reports effective, helpful feedback in a timely manner so that feedback can be used effectively.
Positive feedback is as important as constructive feedback. This is sometimes forgotten, and it’s a skill in itself. Reinforcing what you appreciate keeps a team on track. However, positive feedback without context is just a compliment- nice to hear but of little value to the recipient. New managers need to avoid telling reports they ‘did a good job’ and instead point out specifically why it was so good, how it added value, the effect their choices had on the team or project and what it shows about their readiness for development.
Delivering constructive feedback can be very daunting for managers of previous peers. Luke offers some advice:
”The important focus here is for managers to understand that their role is to manage the situation; by informing the individual of their observations, being clear from a business perspective and focussing on the improvement expected moving forward rather than critiquing what has already happened.Luke ToddMadeYou Co-Founder
Timeliness is key. Sitting on less-than-positive feedback for any length of time makes it harder. Harder for managers to provide feedback and harder for the team member to act on. Think about what support your newly promoted manager may need to handle this professionally and effectively.
Performance Management Conversations
Any potential difficulties with these conversations will be massively lessened by regular 1-2-1s and real-time feedback. If new managers are getting those right, then performance management conversations won’t surprise anyone or involve any brand-new information.
There are 4 stages of performance management conversations:
- Individualistic. This is your standard discussion about what’s going well for the individual and what needs modifying for them to improve. The focus should be on future pacing. Staff need feedback and recognition to stay motivated, engaged, and aware of how to add value.
- Supportive. These conversations come about when someone isn’t performing as expected. Management needs to work with them to determine what extra support they need.
- Directive. If someone continues to underperform even after providing the support they need, shift direction. Focus on them as employed adults and empower them by being clear about your expectations and timelines.
- Formal. No one wants to end up here. Sometimes staff need help to fully understand that their underperformance is now a business issue. Be supportive throughout, but also remember you are a manager within a business.
New Projects Need Context
More often than not, new managers jump straight into directions and lack context. This makes projects lengthier and more convoluted, with avoidable conversations and misunderstandings happening along the way. This is one of our biggest tips for new managers- especially those managing previous teammates. Giving context around new pieces of work gives a team the best chance for success, which gives their manager the best chance for success too.
”Imagine if you were given instructions to make a pie, but you have never seen a pie, and no one says what it should look like at the end. It would be a lot more difficult to do. Whenever you ask someone to start something new, be as clear as you can on the overall work, what it will look like at the end and why it needs to be done. Then go into the instructions on how.Luke ToddMadeYou Co-Founder
We’ve all experienced a micromanager at some point in our careers. It’s never enjoyable and is rarely effective. New managers should aim to be a supportive guide who utilise micro-visibility, not micro-management.
Empowered and supported teams mean that managers can focus on overall delivery. Yes, they’ll need visibility on various work items, but the more they coach, mentor, and train their reports, the more they can concentrate on their own responsibilities and avoid being the dreaded micro-manager.
If your new manager is struggling with this, we’d suggest they ask their team to give them regular updates. However, suggest they avoid immediately telling reports if they’re off track. Instead, they should use carefully chosen questions to guide their report back towards expectations.
Newly appointed managers may show brilliant potential in many areas, but no one’s born a well-rounded people manager. There will always be gaps in their skillset and transitioning from peer to manager is tough for anyone.
Without the right support, first-time managers can become overwhelmed and risk burnout. This can have a significant impact on the team they lead and the business as a whole. Not to mention, their own work-life balance and overall job satisfaction.
With the right set of skills and support, they can become invaluable assets, inspiring their team, boosting productivity and pushing your company forward.
We love supporting newly promoted managers through our People Management Skills program. We take our delegates through two modules and give them the tools they need to grow into their roles. Simply fill in the form below to enrol your first-time managers.