What You Need To Know on Your First Day as a Manager

First appeared in ‘Training and Development’ (Australia)

It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s scary. You’ve got your first managerial job. You’ve also got your first set of real-life problems (or people as they’re also called). You’ve got staff. They’re older than you. They’re wiser than you. They know far more about the Organisation than you. They may even be resentful that someone as young as you have landed the job they wanted. But you want to do a good job, so you’ll learn, Need some help?

Tip 1: When in doubt – tell the truth. – One of your staff asks you on your first day how you feel. Tell the truth; “It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s scary. You’re older than me, wiser than me. You know far more about the Organisation than me but I want to do a good job so I’ll learn.”

Tip 2: Do your homework — Before you start find out as much as you can about the business you’re joining. Find out as much as you can about the culture, the customers, the employees. Find out about your team – personalities, problems, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses. Ask fellow managers. I know the information will be second hand. Treat it as that. You’ll have your own opinions in a few weeks anyway. Use it for what it is – other peoples’ perceptions.

Tip 3: Know yourself. – Spend some time thinking about you. What do you want from this experience? What’s your vision for the next six months, two years, ten years. Get it clear in your own mind. There’s plenty of evidence that suggests that the clearer it is to you the more likely it is to happen. If you don’t know where you’re going how on earth do you expect your team to know?

Tip 4: Be yourself. – You’ve been given this opportunity because of the qualities you have – use them. Don’t change all that now trying to become someone you think you ought to be. If you’re a patient, softly-spoken liberal type, don’t turn into Gordon Ramsey as soon as there’s a problem. You may have heard that macho management is the way to command respect. If it’s not your way of doing it – it won’t. Your staff will know it as well. Use your own strengths.

Tip 5: Lead by example. – People will be looking to you to set the standard. If you spend three hours in work a day surfing the ‘net you’ll have serious credibility issues reprimanding someone for doing the same. In your first few months in the post you’ve got to display zero-tolerance. If someone breaks the rules you need to address it. You cannot let things go. Your staff will test you, and look to see how far they can push you. Not in any malicious way (hopefully) but because they’re human and so are you and they need to learn about you – your style, your values.

Tip 6: Get the balance right. – So many new managers turn up with the “Hey I’m cool. You get on with your job and I’ll do mine. I see ourselves more as partners” attitude. It doesn’t work like that. However painful it may be you, you are the boss. You make that final decision. Conversely there are managers that won’t socialise at all with their staff. They won’t go out in the evenings with them, they won’t eat lunch in the canteen with them. If you ask them why they’ll say something like, “I don’t want to get close in case I have to discipline them”. I sometimes wonder if these people make their children eat in a separate room at home for the same reason. Get the balance right.

Tip 7: It’s all about relationships. -The quality of the work the team produces is directly related to the quality of the relationships within that team. As the leader you are responsible for this happening. How? By doing everything you need to. People are different – get to know what makes them tick. You do this by talking and listening – a lot of listening. Talk to your people everyday. Every morning talk to a good number, if not all of them. Listen when they tell you about their kids, their cats, their football team. If you’re uncomfortable doing this, well that’s unlucky. This is as much a part of your job as managing the finances.

Tip 8: Tackle the real problems as soon as possible. – Problems are like those dirty dishes you’ve left in the kitchen.. The longer you leave them the harder they get to sort out. No magic fairy comes along to help. It just gets a bit grungier, a bit messier and a bit more unpleasant to deal with each passing day. Get to the root of the problem. Do this by listening. Listen, listen, listen. Listen to what’s said. Listen to what’s not said. Listen to the body language. Listen to your own little voice telling you what to do. If something doesn’t feel right. It won’t be. Trust yourself.

So, when in doubt…. tell the truth… and when not in doubt? Tell the truth.


Just Let It Out

First appeared in ‘Across The Board’ (U.S.A.)

The older I get, the easier some parts of my life get. A simple phrase I picked up on a training course a few years ago has solved so many problems. You don’t believe me? Try it.

“When in doubt, tell the truth. When not in doubt, tell the truth.”

Simple. Easy. Brilliant.

Use it as the staple answer for many of your managerial concerns. Your staff have problems, and they want you to help. More often than not, their problem is you. This gem of advice works for them too.

A typical training course:

“What do I do if my boss keeps interrupting me and I can’t get my work done?”

“Tell her, ‘You keep interrupting me and I can’t get my work done.'”

“But I feel really awkward about telling her-she’s my boss.”

“Tell her, ‘I feel really awkward about this as you’re my boss, but you keep interrupting me and I can’t get my work done.'”

“But . . . “

“What do you think will happen?”

“Probably nothing.”

“What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen?”

“I’d get sacked.”

“Well, you hate the job anyway. I’m joking. You won’t get sacked for telling the truth, will you? Trust me-I’m a trainer.”

A few days later:

“I did it. She never had the faintest idea that it was annoying me. She thought I looked lonely and came to chat to me.”

It’s that simple, usually.

The first time I ran this experiment was at a very senior manager’s meeting. The very senior manager was talking about our attempt to comply with a national standard for training and development. I had no idea where she was going with the discussion.

I took a deep breath. Then another.

“Irena. Excuse me for interrupting, but I have no idea where you are going with this.”

The whole room held its breath until she replied, “Neither have I, come to think of it.”

The room laughed, slightly too loudly.

This approach does work, usually, but you can get too blasé and lazy. There’s a temptation to use this to show off. On one memorable occasion, I lost concentration midway through a discussion with my boss and thought I’d show her just how honest I can be. I asked, “If she’s not running the workshop, and he’s not, then who is?”

My manager, never one to let me get away with any nonsense, replied, “You are, you idiot. Keep up.”

It’s an excellent tool. Use it wisely. Use it honestly. It could help cut through the corporate code that all large organizations use. And there is a lot of corporate code. Having been on the interviewing end of many promotion boards, I’ve seen many reports about employees who appear to be saints. Virtually all of the candidates have never done a bad thing in their lives, according to their managers. They’ve never done a bad deed. Never had an evil thought. Then they walk into the room.

After a while, you spend all of your time looking through the reports for secret code words. For example, “Angela is sociable” would be code for “Angela can be loud and a party animal and may have the odd Monday morning off work with a hangover.” One secret word is usually. “Alan is usually calm and even-tempered” translates to “Alan has psychopathic tendencies.” “Rebecca usually responds well to customers, particularly on the telephone” means “Rebecca can lose it on the phone now and again.”

It would be so refreshing to read, “Fred is an ace worker in all aspects apart from figure work. He couldn’t add up two numbers to save his life.” I’d promote him and keep him well away from the accounts department.

I attended a seminar concerning management of people with mental illness. It was absolutely fascinating-full of top tips for managing people who have been off from work with problems. The top tip for me was what to do when they return to work: Don’t ask them how they are. They will tell you the truth-unashamedly, totally, and honestly. That’ll be your whole morning gone.

I heard some similar stories from an equality-of-opportunity course I attended. It was run by an incredibly successful partnership of disabled people.

One of the partners, who had multiple sclerosis, was late coming back from lunch on the first day. He arrived in the room 30 minutes late and cursing.

“What happened?” we asked.

“I had to go to the bank,” he said. “I asked someone how far it was. She said, ‘Oh, it’s only five minutes down the road.’ It took me half an hour!”

They had a wealth of stories about how people react to disabilities. My favourite was the other lecturer’s story about sitting, in his wheelchair, outside Marks & Spencer on a hot summer’s day. He was waiting for his wife and drinking a can of Coke.

A middle-aged woman walked past, looked at him, opened her purse, took out a pound coin, and dropped it in his can. “There,” she smiled and walked off.

“What do you want us to do?” we asked. “Ignore you? Help you?”

“Just tell the truth,” was the answer. “If you see someone in a wheelchair struggling to open a heavy door, say, ‘Excuse me, I can see that you’re in a wheelchair struggling to open that heavy door. Do you need some help?'”

It’s so simple. So easy. So do it.