I had my first shot at management last year, and like every newly promoted doe-eyed employee I was on a quest to be the best manager ever! However, I had no management experience and no playbook as to how I was going to go about winning over my team. I went through my mental rolodex of previous bosses to draw inspiration; after all, the one benefit to the amount of job-hopping that I have had is that I have met quite a few characters along the way. I have had some great mentors in the past, and inevitably, some not-so-great ones. One mentor comes to mind who I have now followed to three different roles and honestly would follow her just about anywhere. She believes in me enough to do anything to help me be successful (Best Boss Ever — yes I still feel the need to brown-nose her).
But as I examined some of my other supervisors, I devised a list, or manager playbook of rookie mistakes that I vowed never to repeat. Below I’ll walk through some of the things I have seen personally. The stories you are about to read are true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Alienating yourself from the team. Whether you’ve been hired externally to come in and take over an established group or been promoted from within, first impressions are key and they will follow you forever.
I had a manager — let’s call her Claire — who despite several invitations to come sit in the recruiting pit with her team to get to know us better, declined, only later to say that we were too “clicky.” New management will always cause fear and curiosity on the team. Connect with them as soon as possible so that you establish yourself as someone who they can approach and trust. If you don’t fully understand what they’re day-to day activities are, how you are going to be able to make suggestions on how to improve processes? The best recruiting managers I have worked for have been recruiters, so be prepared to roll up your sleeves and at least during your first couple of weeks, get on the phone, make offers, and share your best practices.
Jumping to conclusions. You might come in and take over a team, and there could be preconceived notions of those team members, whether good, bad, or ugly. Don’t make any rash decisions until you can fully assess each member and make your own judgments. Don’t feel pressured to jump on the bandwagon of what other peers are saying. I worked with a woman — we’ll call her Denise — who during our first team lunch made the comment that she had already selected top performers from her previous company that she was going to be bringing on board. With no current open headcount we were forced to assume that she was planning on cutting us out after only being there for a couple of days.
Even if you have a performance issue on your team, figure out the root of that problem. Nothing screams talented manager like someone who can turn an employee around and remotivate them. Make the effort to spend more one-on-one time with your team so that you can set the stage early that you are there to coach and mentor.
Having an ego. There is a difference between manager and recruiter, and I am not just talking about salary. Typically managers have more access to decision makers and have the ability to drive strategy – that being said, don’t make it something to throw in everyone’s face or something that you own all by yourself. Recruiting is a highly collaborative corporate function where processes and best practices change daily. Make a move in the right direction early by engaging your team in the projects that you’re working on and being transparent about them.
At one company I had a boss who at every meeting would sum up all problems with “I am working with leadership on a strategic plan.” What that plan was, I never knew, nor were I or other members of the team ever asked for our advice or engagement around such plans. Another theme of that supervisor was the good ol’ boys club approach of — I’ll just text our CEO, or I just had drinks with him — we’re best friends. You weren’t hired to start a frat or sorority. Often your team doesn’t have access to the leaders who you might interact with. Impress your team with how you’re driving initiatives forward, not just your relationships. If you are already one step ahead and do engage your team, make sure to praise them for their efforts and never take credit by yourself.
Forcing it. There are two schools of thoughts on this. On one hand you want to gain credibility by coming in with a magic wand and fixing problems. On the other, you really need to take the time to assess what the problems are and how to address them before making any major changes. I had just implemented an ATS at a company, and it was a huge hit with the recruiting team. It was a life saver! Then a new manager came in the picture (Dixie) and she quickly determined that our particular system wouldn’t do. A week later Dixie was still asking elementary questions about how our system worked — odd given that she was on board to change it out so quickly.
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. If the current team that you are coming into is raving about certain areas of their work, then it’s best to focus your time on larger issues or roadblocks that are frustrating them. Meet with the team during your first week and create a roadmap of their issues. Take the time to investigate and share with them your plan on improving them.
Writing checks that you can’t cash. This is a pretty universal mistake that I have seen with several managers. They come in and half listen to the problems and assume that the current team either hasn’t been talented enough to fix them or not aggressive enough to get things driven forward.
I had an issue at a company where we couldn’t get movement on our very slow offer approval process; there were some major politics and engagement problems at the executive level. Our new manager, Trudy, came in with the gusto to force the hands of our CEO and CFO and promised us that the approval process would be re-engineered in no time. She was unwilling to accept the advice of the team regarding the underlying politics surrounding our leadership, and how those issues needed to be fixed first before any other changes could be made. Months went by and while the promises continued, the progress did not.
Take advantage of the tenure on your team. These employees are the ones that will know all the dark secrets of a company and can help you either navigate tough situations or give you the information you need to make realistic improvements.
I have used the above list as my guide and I am proud to say that I have been successful in avoiding most those rookie mistakes despite my rookie status in management. I have a team of recruiters that are highly capable, talented, and teach me new things on a daily basis. Not only do we have great camaraderie – we feel comfortable sharing ideas. So while I’ve avoided the obvious mistakes, it would be another mistake altogether to assume I know everything there is to know about management. So managers be warned: I’ll be watching and taking mental notes on what not to do!