New managers: how to screw up in just a few days!
This article was inspired by an old friend who recently resigned from his job. While he didn’t think the company was perfect, he enjoyed his job and everyone was satisfied with his contribution. So there was no reason for him to resign so suddenly. A few days with the new head of sales was all it took to convince him to leave the company. Years of faithful service thrown into jeopardy in just a few days. Incredible, right? It’s actually not that incredible. Any manager is capable of chasing away a company’s top employees.
All it takes is falling for the classic traps of the first days on the job. They’re so classic, in fact, that someone should have pointed them out to the brash young gun who led to this article.
The traps of the first days on the job
Listening to your mom too much.
In our mother’s eyes, we’re all the most intelligent, gifted and brilliant. Careful, sometimes they stretch the truth. In the specific case cited above, this young man clearly forgot that the people there may had already thought about the optimal way of doing business at the company. Next time, he might do better to start by getting a grasp of everyone’s expertise.
Trusting your own or others’ preconceptions
Before starting a new job we already have an idea of what is in store, in part based on which we’ve been told by the people who hired us. The problem is that everything we hear beforehand is subjective. Subjective in terms of the person who told us and the conscious and subconscious connections we make with our own past experiences. Clearly, then, approaching a new position with preconceptions is not the best way to listen to and understand the existing organization.
Rushing straight into a wall
An experienced manager knows that the first rule to follow is the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm! Indeed, a sales manager may not be a doctor, but before providing care, they have every reason to not make things worse. The young manager thought he knew what he was doing, but sprang into action without first taking the time to understand the ecology of the existing system, immediately causing a disaster. The damage was done very quickly in the example cited above. All it took was a few days. Now he’s left at the same starting point, but with a huge rebuilding project. He has to rebuild the organization, which was dealt a major blow, and rebuild the trust of the people who appointed him and didn’t expect such swift collateral damage.
Wanting to be liked at all costs
Well, that’s one trap that our young gun avoided. But it’s still a good one to keep in mind. Certain decisions will not please everyone, no matter what careful planning and good intentions are behind them. But that’s not important because it’s not your goal. And winning over everyone is a near-impossible challenge. But it’s not so hard to turn everyone against you.
Right, we could surely list more traps when starting a new job, but why don’t we leave things here for the moment and take a look at a few guidelines for success.
Three tips for starting a job on the right foot
Three tips are barely enough and we can’t cover all the bases. It would take many more to explore the topic from A to Z, but that’s beyond the scope of an article. So let’s go over at least three tips that might even inspire our young gun the next time he steps into a job. You never know.
Do the least you can!
I can already see that certain readers can’t believe their eyes. Is he crazy? I was hired because there’s a problem to solve, to improve upon my predecessor, to ensure the team’s survival, to revive double-digit growth, and… you want me to do the least I can?
That’s right, the best advice is to do the least possible for at least a month. Or to be more specific, don’t do anything that involves changing something—don’t do anything that you might regret once you understand the situation better. And the less you do on the surface level, the more you can observe what’s happening underneath. The fewer immediate decisions new managers take, the more they are able to ask questions with a chance of getting answers. If the goal is to understand the current state of affairs, there are many topics to explore and the first month is not too long to get to the bottom of things.
- How do the salespeople work? What skills do they possess? What drives them? What do they find painful? What are their aspirations?
- What are the key figures? The performance ratios? The metrics that are kept track of most closely?
- What are the existing sales processes? Are they followed?
- What resources do the staff have at their disposal? Are they optimized?
- How is the client portfolio organized? What, in particular, do our loyal customers appreciate most? What do they criticize when they’re not happy?
- Who are our competitors? What really makes us stand out?
- Who are the people at the company who can help you? What do they expect from your team? What is their current opinion?
It would be easy to come up with more questions for specific situations. And initial queries always lead to follow-up questions. Getting real answers takes time and requires multiple meetings with salespeople, clients and other members of the company. A month of attentive listening is not indulgent. Especially if you have trouble resisting the urge to take decisions immediately. Tell yourself that the company has survived until now without your magic wand, so it should make it another month.
Visualize buy-in three months in the future
Once the situation is thoroughly understood. Once the manager has learned enough about the team, clients, trends and ecosystem, it’s time to take action.
The top priority is to plainly to help the team, both as a whole and individually, to perform to the best of their ability. If everyone improves a bit, a large part of the new manager’s challenge is accomplished.
The best strategy here is a personal review and development plan for each person based on their priorities. For example, developing and sharing a joint project with each team member is a good way to demonstrate their added value. And if the project consists in making everyone a bit better, it shouldn’t be difficult to set up. It shouldn’t be… But there are always some that are. Managers always come up against resistance, no matter how kind or well-intentioned they are. Someone will say that they don’t need the manager’s help, or fail to take the suggestions to heart, or dig in their heels as a matter of principle. It’s not a big deal. It’s completely normal, so there’s no point in blowing it out of proportion. The best recommendation for new managers is to visualize what the situation will be like in three months. In three months, the employees will have understood that the advice was not so outlandish. In three months, they will have had the time to see that the initial results are encouraging. In three months, they may even ask for more coaching.
Managing your own boss
It’s important to build your team’s confidence, and equally important to do the same with your own boss. Be careful here, you have to take the right approach to create and maintain a good relationship and always ensure that both parties in this vertical couple are on the same wavelength. Ideally, the boss will offer to hold regular update meetings with the new manager, who will do the same with each member of their own team. That seems logical. It could be termed management symmetry. I receive the same support that I’m asked to provide to my team. It seems logical but it’s rarely the case. Many participants in our management seminars tell us that they would love for their boss to take part in the same training. That’s how it goes in real life—as you move up the ladder, you forget the basic principles learned early on. There are exceptions, of course, but it’s still a common observation.
So it’s in new managers’ best interest to take the initiative and set up very frequent update meetings with their boss.
- This provides them with a very detailed picture of their roadmap which, importantly, one that is updated on a regular basis. Therein lies ones of the paradoxes of management: despite the rise in meetings and other reporting systems, few people know exactly what’s expected of them. As a result, many young managers fall into the trap of suppositions, interpretations and dead-ends as they strive to follow misunderstood instructions.
- What’s more, these regular updates also provide an opportunity to inform the boss of progress on your tasks and ask for help in overcoming potential hurdles. And this is also the best route to building autonomy. That’s right. When you want to implement your ideas and see through what you believe in, you need peace of mind. And that requires a level of autonomy. But autonomy and independence are not synonymous… That may seem counterintuitive, but new managers who want to have free rein need to avoid tangled wires. The more your boss knows, the more freedom you will have to put your plans into action.
Three months have passed between when I started writing this article and its publication. My friend has gotten over his resignation and is moving on with his career. He already has several opportunities. The disappointment has dissipated and he’s now focused on the future and the prospect of a new adventure. When all is said and done, the new manager will actually have made a positive impact. It goes to show that nothing is ever that serious. In the wise words of Richard Wiseman, How do you know that is bad luck?
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