“I’m having the best work week, my boss is on vacation.”
– Actual quote by multiple people recently.
“At work” these days can mean anything from being in a workplace with a mask to being within hearing distance of your mobile phone. If your productivity and engagement levels go down when your manager is also “at work,” then you, your co-workers and your company are all losing.
Leaders should be particularly careful when a new manager is put in place. The first interactions between a new manager and their team can have a sharp and immediate impact.
New manager, here’s your first task: Accept you know nothing. Nothing about the individuals you are now leading. Nothing about the work they do, how they do it, the challenges they are facing.
Now, here’s four things not to do.
- Don’t constantly wax euphoric about your last company. While you are saying “at XYZ Company/Division/Office we had great results because – blah blah blah,” here’s what your new team is thinking “oh great, this person thinks that they can just come in and apply the methods or processes from their last job because those practices ‘worked there.’ ” Business is not copy & paste. Yes, you were (ostensibly) hired because of your experience and achievements. True leaders know that experience builds a toolbelt and not everything is a nail. Don’t pull out any tools in your new role until you know more.
- Don’t talk more than you listen. Unless leaders are giving a scheduled presentation, they should always speak the least. You can’t lead this team unless you start moving from “knowing nothing” to “knowing something” – and the team is your instructor. A good way to train yourself is to time yourself. If you talk longer than the # of people in the meeting divided by the time of the meeting, then stop talking unless asked a question. Six people in a one hour meeting? 10 minutes is your allotment!
- Don’t brag. Yes, people are interested in you but trust me they looked you up on every social media platform 2 seconds after they knew your name and know everything from where you went to college and your last take-out meal. A brief, professional introduction is sufficient, and then you should quickly move on to learning about the team. Nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to hear about your recent trip to Hawaii or your second home on the lake. Discussing your kids’ AP scores and buying a new car with your signing bonus is repugnant and rude. Feel free to do that if you want the team updating LinkedIn profiles later that day and texting each other in bewilderment about “how could this jerk get hired.”
- Don’t play the Blame Game. Murphy’s Law for new managers is that something important will go wrong during your first week. Your new team will be more stressed than usual about a blot on their copybook with your fresh eyes looking at it. Come on, you are experienced. Stuff goes awry in IT. Changes fail and have to be backed out. New features end up being harder to implement, longer to accomplish. New & true leaders should be extra careful when the first “oops” happens on their watch. Your job is to tamp down the flames, not throw gasoline on the fire. Watching your team operate in a crisis is an opportunity for learning. So stay extra calm and turn your active listening dial to “high.”
New managers, accept your initial lack of knowledge. expand your ears. Ask questions. Listen actively.
Changing teams, whether in an indivual or manager role is like moving from kayaking to biking. You can paddle as hard as you can on a bike, but guess what – it uses pedals to move forward. Look around and be curious about the positive, forward motion practices needed in your new role.
The pandemic places necessary safety barriers between leaders and teams – masks, screens, distance, time zones. This can create distance and negatively impact engagement and retention. Try personal thank-you’s and recognition at scale to mitigate.
A reaction I got when describing this blog is that “maybe companies hire jerks for managers when they want to create some attrition without doing the hard work.” I hope not; 2020 is challenging enough without pondering that sort of warped motivation.