My Biggest Mistake as a New Manager by Karyn Schoenbart
Early in my career I discovered I was good at sales. The more companies I saw, the more proposals I wrote, the more contracts I sold. The formula for success was clear and within a few years, I’d been promoted to manager. Within six months of my new assignment, the company conducted a review in which people evaluated their managers. When I received my results, I learned I was in the bottom quartile of all the company’s managers. I was devastated. I’d prided myself at being the best at whatever I did, and I certainly wasn’t the best manager. I was also conflicted. A major decision presented itself. Was I serious about being a manager, or should I go back to being an extremely effective individual contributor?
From Me to We
In the early days of my new role, I didn’t change my day-to-day job very much. I retained most of my clients, but now also had to “manage” all these other people who were reporting to me. When one of my direct reports would come into my office and sit across the desk, all I could think was: how can I get this person out of here as quickly as possible so I can get back to my real work? Hitting my personal sales quota was still my top priority. An American Management Association course helped change my orientation from “all about me” to “all about the team.” I met with my reports and owned up to my management flaws. I shared my commitment to changing the way I worked with them.
Brainstorming and Tackling Challenges
I scheduled a brainstorming session in which I asked everyone to talk about the impediments to achieving their goals. I told them how important it was for us to all be successful and asked that they not hold back. We filled the white board with issues and concerns. It was amazing how satisfied they felt after this opportunity to vent. I, on the other hand, had a stomach ache just looking at the long list of challenges on the board. But then I realized this was my roadmap to making improvements. I prioritized the list and systematically eliminated the barriers one-by-one, all the time communicating progress to my team members. Gradually, as they realized I could be trusted to do what I said, they began to see me as their advocate. Then, I did the hardest thing of all. I let go of the last of my personal clients and my own quota. My success was now fully dependent on my team members meeting their numbers. This was scary, but it also meant I was really a manager now.
Soon enough, I was up for another manager review. I scored much better this time, moving from the bottom quartile to the top. I was thrilled, of course, but I was even more excited that my team exceeded its revenue goals that year. After that bumpy beginning, I have learned a few other things about being a manager over the years:
Welcome a New Employee – The period after immediately hiring a new employee is crucial, and yet many supervisors fail at this. Can you imagine starting a new job, not knowing where to go, getting to your desk, and having no supplies and no one to welcome you? Managers have the responsibility of creating a positive first impression and experience. Even if your company doesn’t have a robust HR department, there are small but impactful things you can do: for example, prepare a small welcome kit with a list of “who’s who” and some background about the company and their department.
Give Critical Feedback – As a manager, you must occasionally provide critical feedback, but it doesn’t have to be hurtful. I was once told by an employee I didn’t provide him with enough constructive criticism. I responded: “Yes I do, Rob, you just don’t realize it.” After all, the objective of feedback is to change someone’s behavior, and if that is accomplished, the person doesn’t need to feel bad about it. When you give feedback from a caring place and your people understand you sincerely have their best interests at heart, they will respond better to constructive comments. Timing is also important. While immediate feedback is ideal, remember the goal—help them be the best they can be. I prefer not to approach people when emotions are running high—negative or otherwise.
Tell, Do, Tell – Regular team meetings are a great opportunity to communicate and engage employees. I always have an agenda and start and end on time. One of my bosses was fond of saying that if you are five minutes late for a meeting and there are 12 people in the room, then you didn’t waste just five minutes, you wasted an hour. I follow a simple plan for meetings: “Tell, Do, Tell.” Tell them what you are going to do, do it, and then tell them what you did. Many managers forget the final step, but it’s crucial to remind people of progress. In these meetings, I also include agenda items that allow team members to actively participate by sharing their experiences with others. It could be something they learned at a training class or at a conference, or it could be a success story regarding a sale or internal efficiency.