Management Tools: Getting Up to Full Speed

By Jim Jenkins Apr 1, 2006
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HR Magazine, April 2006 New managers can quickly acclimate to their role with these basic principles.

​Bob was one of the most successful telecommunications salespeople in his company. Assigned to cover four of the most populated ZIP codes in Washington, D.C., he generated $1.2 million in broadband sales to small businesses in less than six months. After becoming the company’s top salesperson, Bob was promoted to sales manager and assigned 14 people to manage.

Bob quickly set out to create a high-producing team. However, being only 24 years old, and with no previous management experience, Bob ended up alienating himself from his team within his first three months as manager.

Employee feedback indicated that Bob tried to “take over” everyone’s sales and close major deals on his own, often making his team members appear ineffective in front of the customers. This resulted in several abrupt resignations and low morale for the remaining team members.

Bob’s team complained that he held only one team meeting a month. During the meetings, he spoke to his diverse team in football analogies. Bob received feedback that he frequently criticized people’s ideas and missed many management meetings because he was out of the office on appointments.

The result: Bob was told that he needed to improve his performance or be fired from the company. Frustrated at having gone from a company superstar to a moderate performer, Bob left the company within 60 days, feeling as if he had been a total failure as a manager.

The Management Myth

The predominant myth about effective managers assumes managers lead intuitively and instinctively. But the truth is vastly different. The majority of effective managers are not born; they learn and practice basic management skills to become effective leaders.

Unfortunately, many companies thrust new, untrained employees into positions of authority with little or no formal training. The results are often costly in terms of turnover and overall morale.

According to 2005 data collected from the Saratoga Institute from more than 19,000 U.S. workers in 17 industries, 72 percent of employees leave companies because they feel they are not recognized for their contributions or sufficiently respected and coached by their managers. Moreover, poor leadership accounts for more than 60 percent of employee turnover, the data found.

If you are a new manager and are feeling overwhelmed, the good news is there are some immediate steps you can take to acclimate yourself to a leadership role. None of these are quick fixes, and they will take time and effort to achieve. But by taking small steps into your new role, you will succeed.

Taking Stock

As a new manager, you need to make the shift from being an individual contributor to being a supervisor of people. In short, you must learn to promote yourself into your new role and respect the authority that comes with the position.

New managers often fail to realize they are not there to continue to do the work they did but to ensure that the work gets done correctly by others. Yet many managers continue to “do” instead of “manage.” They allow themselves to become overworked at the expense of managing their team.

People in management roles often fail to mentally prepare for their elevated position. Now that you’re in a leadership role, it’s time to make a clean transition. Take a day away from the office or a weekend to reflect on your old responsibilities and consciously consider the focus of your new role as manager.

Many companies no longer offer formal training programs for newly promoted managers, adopting a “sink or swim” mentality toward their managerial staff. If that’s the case with your company, work toward creating a productive relationship with your boss so you know what’s expected of you. Talk with your peers—particularly successful team leaders—and ask how they successfully managed the transition from individual contributor to team leader.

As you gather data and ask for support, take time to identify skills from your former role you can still use, and identify which managerial skills you need to develop. The sooner you spot potential vulnerabilities, the quicker you will be able to ask for specific help from your company to support you in developing your leadership capabilities.

Seeing the Big Picture

New managers must learn to keep the company’s objectives in mind as they begin to direct others. Because organizations constantly shift strategies, it’s easy for managers to lose sight of their primary focus. The result is that many new managers don’t have sufficient clarity about their priorities.

New managers must see the ultimate objectives of their position clearly as they manage others. Effective managers understand how their role contributes to implementing strategic company goals. If the goals are not clear, they must feel comfortable seeking clarity from their superiors.

Many new managers mistakenly narrow their horizons, focusing exclusively on their teams. This comes at a cost of failing to see and meet company goals. When managers fail to see beyond their departments, they cost their employers money.

Seek the advice and counsel of people in upper management to fully understand your company’s expectations. Having a mentor within your company can help you navigate through corporate culture and lead a team toward your company’s vision. The human resource department also can provide guidance on assimilating into your new role and offer advice on the responsibilities of being a leader within your company.

Learning The Language of Leadership

Possessing strong interpersonal skills and an ability to dialogue with subordinates is a key managerial skill. Unfortunately, many companies assume communication skills can be learned in a one- or two-day class and sustained over time.

The reality is that learning leadership communication skills is like learning a foreign language. Filled with its own set of verbs, adjectives and nouns designed to elicit great performance to achieve company goals, the language of leadership takes time to learn and cannot be mastered overnight.

Most new managers make mistakes by mimicking an assertive and aggressive managerial style, or because they lack the interpersonal communication skills to engage their staff and delegate tasks and actions in a meaningful way.

New managers must learn to make effective requests, delegate with clear guidelines for performance and provide effective feedback. Effective managers make specific requests—including who will do what, actions needed and conditions for fulfillment—and they clearly note timing and deadline expectations.

The clearer you are in presenting your team’s goals, and letting team members know the resources available to achieve the results, the more likely your team will respond in kind. It’s also vital to make requests that are realistic and not stretch goals designed to see how far you can drive your team to its breaking point.

Effective leadership language also means using inclusive language that speaks to the diversity on your team. Today, as business continues to evolve, we see a more diverse workforce in terms of gender, race and nationality. Customers are increasingly global. Effective managers must use a language that is respectful and sensitive to an increasingly multicultural workforce.

There was a time when our corporate culture was filled with sports and war metaphors associated with doing business. Phrases like “making a touchdown,” “scoring one for the team,” “a hole in one,” “dog eat dog” or “delivering a one-two punch” permeated corporate lexicon for many years. However, using old-fashioned sports analogies or warrior metaphors often communicates a lack of cooperation and collaboration, which can underlie your team dynamic.

Pay attention to the words and phrases you use to support others in getting the job done. Leadership gurus such as Lance Secretan, author of Inspire! What Great Leaders Do (Wiley, 2004), or Judith Glaser, author of Creating We: Change I-Thinking to We-Thinking and Build a Healthy, Thriving Organization (Adams Media Corp., 2005), offer some practical exercises and suggestions you can use to develop your interpersonal skills.

A Mature Approach To Team Building

Team building is about improving the quality of communications and creating respectful relationships among team members. When properly approached, team building opens up lines of communication to address critical organizational issues, solve legitimate business problems and achieve lasting results.

Many new managers think that taking their team out for drinks, going bowling, tackling an obstacle course, or hiring a motivational speaker to come in and deliver the latest rah-rah speech are the primary ways to build a high-performing team. However, these isolated incidents rarely do anything to build a cohesive team dynamic.

Instead of large-scale events, there are many team-building exercises a manager can use in every regular team meeting to develop a sense of collaboration and camaraderie among team members. You can conduct these exercises with little or no resources or cost, and the result is often priceless.

Make use of smaller exercises on a consistent basis to develop your team. You’ll find that 15 to 30 minutes a week engaging in some form of healthy dialogue will result in significant benefits for you, your team and ultimately your company.

Perfection Is Not the Goal

Perhaps the best thing you can do as a newly promoted manager is to realize you’re not perfect and embrace your inherent vulnerability.

The problem is most people are afraid to utter the phrase “I don’t know,” fearing that it’s a sign of weakness.

Admitting that you do not know everything can facilitate an instant bond with your team members and establish greater credibility than acting as if you’ve got all the answers. People see through someone who’s “faking it.”

Realize you’re not in this alone and ask for help. Your supervisor, peers and HR department can provide much-needed support to help you acclimate to your role. You will also find that asking questions and seeking advice from your own team is beneficial.

You also can choose to take on a coach to help you build your leadership skills. Having a coach often provides that objective third party who may be able to more clearly identify what skills and capabilities you need to develop your skills.

The bottom line is that even if your company doesn’t have resources to invest in your role, it’s important that you as a new manager acknowledge your transition to leadership, learn to take stock of your strengths and honor your developmental areas when it comes to managing people.

Jim Jenkins is president of Creative Visions Consulting, a change management firm that supports CEOs, mid-level managers and front-line supervisors in developing their leadership potential. Jenkins has more than 20 years of experience in the corporate world, including at AT&T, MBS-ProClose, Nortel Networks, NRTC and Booz Allen Hamilton. 

Contact him via his web site at www.cvc-inc.com and download a free copy of the report 5 Low-Cost/ High-Impact Team Building Exercises: A Managers Guide to Building High Performing Teams and download a free copy of the report 5 Low-Cost/ High-Impact Team Building Exercises: A Managers Guide to Building High Performing Teams.​

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