When I ran into a local café to pick up some lunch, I saw a young woman who used to work there. She was visiting old colleagues after her first month as a first-year college student. I asked how things were going, and she described a situation full of real worry and stress. Not only was there a financial aid problem, but she had not yet had a meeting with her advisor, and without that crucial oversight she had registered for all electives. The classes themselves were interesting to her, but she hadn’t realized the impact her choices would have on the rest of her program.
When you aren’t experienced and don’t have access to the right advice, you can go off course in all kinds of ways that you may not even realize are mistakes. This happens frequently to new managers, and also to more seasoned managers in new situations where they don’t know what the pitfalls are or who to approach for help.
If you’re a new manager, or have just been promoted or hired into a bigger job than you’ve had before, you can help yourself if, at a minimum, you focus on these three things:
What Does Your Team Need?
Your team’s needs may span a wide range, from clearer goals and direction to better methods for customer care, improved tools from new desk chairs and headsets that block open office noise, or replacement of technical equipment.
How do you find out what your team needs? Ask them directly. For example, “Are there any tools that would help you do your job more effectively?” You may hear concerns about headcount or new software, the need to promote a team member or to hire an outside professional service of some kind. Help your team members make the case for the resources they want by explaining what the payoffs would be. If they don’t know how to do a cost/benefit analysis, teach them; it’s a good business skill to learn even if you decide you can’t satisfy their requests right now.
Also ask them what’s in the way of their success, or what’s creating a barrier to a project’s progress. They may describe the access they haven’t got to other senior decision-makers, or the additions that would help them move forward, like new manufacturing equipment that won’t break down every couple of weeks, or the budget to have more stock on hand, or how interdepartmental conflicts are preventing them from delivering. Help them go deeper so you can explore their challenges or understand why the conflict exists. Ask them leading questions to encourage them to look for creative ways to solve problems.
How Well Do You Know Your Boss’s Goals?
Check to be sure that your work supports your boss’s ability to meet their own goals successfully, or else sooner or later you’ll have a problem yourself, even if you seem to be hitting all your own targets and deliverables.
Getting very clear about your boss’s priorities and preferences will help you align all of your work efforts and impact with theirs, so confirm with your boss what’s most important and that you are heading in the right direction. Being strongly aligned will also help you know how to make a case when you do have a divergent opinion or alternative proposal to share. The more your boss can see that you’re on the same page, the more they’ll be able to trust your responses and approaches in general.
Concentrate on Self-Management
If you’ve never taken the opportunity to identify and assess your own definitive strengths — including your competencies, skills, and positive characteristics as well as your blind spots, habitual negative reactions, and areas of avoidance — now is the time to take inventory.
Check with a best colleague or trusted friend if you like, but you can also tell a lot just by thinking about the current requirements of your job and the ways you’ve reacted or been responded to by others in past circumstances.
Even if no one specifies the guidelines and guardrails for how you can best succeed in your role and organization, you still have your own sources of guidance. Strengthen your hand and minimize your missteps by thinking deeply and developing your own advice about how best to work with your team, your boss, and yourself.