The transition from “doer” to manager is perilous in a similar way to becoming a parent: you’ve never done it before and you have no real training in how to go about doing it. As Seismic has scaled up from 10 to about 200 people in the past three years, I’ve been rapidly adapting to a new daily reality of meetings rather than my own checklist of tasks.
Along the way, I’ve learned five things I hope will help those who are relatively new to management (so that they can get up the learning curve a bit more quickly than I did!):
BE CLEAR ABOUT PRIORITIES
Keeping each member of the team focused on the projects that are most important to you (which should also be most important to your boss). By ensuring that you have this alignment, you allow each member of the team to manage up.
In the weekly meetings that I have with each team member, I have them discuss their plan of attack and areas where I can help guide for each of their priorities. If the priorities aren’t reflected in these conversations, then there is misalignment and a misuse of their time, which is probably my fault. (Side note: unless it’s an underperformer, as a general rule I believe that failure is my fault and success is my teammates’). I’ve seen confidence build in new team members when they realize that they are managing up well, and confidence breeds a positive feeling that, “I’m doing my job well.”
DON'T ACCIDENTALLY STRESS PEOPLE OUT
Hat tip to Julie Ginches, CMO at Kahuna, who I had the good fortune of sitting next to on a flight back from the SiriusDecisions Summit recently. She told me that her late night email replies, which she was just doing to make sure she didn’t have inbox overflow, caused people to be working unnecessarily long hours when things weren’t a fire drill. Instead, she drafts emails on the weekend or late night to go out at 9 a.m. on the next business day.
Keeping fire drills to actual fire drills is so important to prevent spastic, stressful work environments. Cortisol - the stuff that our body releases when we’re under stress - is a known creative inhibitor. I am going to stop trading emails at 10:30 p.m. unless it’s absolutely necessary. And it almost never is.
TAKE TIME FOR AN EMOTIONAL CHECK-IN
The more people we bring onboard, the more I realize that my job is about making sure they are feeling happy and fulfilled - and a lot of that isn’t about priority alignment or their checklist of tasks. It’s about their mental state.
I started asking everyone when we sit down together a simple starter question: “How are you feeling?” While writing this makes me feel like I’m being a shrink and that it could come across as weird, I can tell you that if you say it sincerely it comes across as friendly. Sometimes someone will talk for one minute. Other times, it's a full half hour. We end up talking about a tough family situation, or a sick pet, a tricky roommate, or an upcoming exciting trip. And I listen. And it seems to be one of the most useful ways to spend time as a manager.
PUBLICLY ACKNOWLEDGE THE RIGHT CHARACTERISTICS
I want members of the team to be creative and self-starting, because those traits lead to strong performance to our team goals. So rather than focusing solely on goal achievement, I try to point out in front of others (either in full team meetings or In emails to the full marketing team) when someone does something that falls into this category.
It’s tough to pander to this metric and even tougher to fake it. And if someone is “method acting” their way to being creative and self-starting, well then more power to them. Because if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck… it’s a duck.
GIVE PEOPLE ROOM TO SHOW THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS
As a first-time manager or as manager new to an organization, I think that one of the hardest things to do is to not hog the spotlight.
I definitely fell prey to this early on. I was so eager to prove what I was doing with my team, rather than allowing my teammates to show what they were doing and giving them broader visibility, that I think I took a bit of the oxygen out of the room. I’ve shifted this approach to allow my teammates to show how they are accomplishing great things in their own areas. The implied point that they make is that the right priorities are being set and tasks being accomplished to achieve the goals that are my KPIs. So the successes are all theirs, and by extension reflect well on me, too.
One of the weirdest things that happens as a manager is that you feel like you don’t do anything anymore. And in the sense that we used to view our day-to-day, that’s kind of right. My successes are now coachable moments that I didn’t even know would happen that day. They are my attitude and tone that I set and environment that I create for others to be productive and creative. They are in how well I listen.
Maybe my next post should be a more formal process of creating a checklist of things that I want to accomplish each day, like I used to have. Today, the needs of the day write the list - rather than me writing the list ahead of time. It’s part of what makes each day so fresh, so challenging and so rewarding. I don’t mind that I think about work a lot more outside of being in the office than I used to. But I will stop emailing or texting my teammates at odd hours when I am!