New Managers: the challenge
By Mel Brooks, Programme Director, New Managers Programme
Newly promoted to a manager’s position? That’s all well and good but what exactly does a manager actually do? Many new managers have little or no insight into what exactly is required of them.
Who are ‘new’ managers? For one thing, they are not necessarily only junior managers – they could come from a wide range of backgrounds including experienced technical specialists from areas such as IT, HR or production, engineering, sales or marketing. Individuals experienced in their own fields who now have to assume the role of being a ‘manager’. Until appointed their power base has been their particular expertise. Now they have the position, but generally feel powerless, especially when they realise that their new title cuts no ice with the troops. They find themselves coping with day-to-day issues - sorting out petty squabbles, dealing with ego problems and company politics - most of which leave them feeling helpless. Surely this is not what managing is about? Where is the planning, organising and controlling? The only controlling they seem to do is of their tempers and their boss is not much help. He/she is dealing with enough problems of their own.
The Harvard Business Review recently republished one of its ‘HBR Classic’ articles titled “The Managers Job: Folklore and Fact” by Henry Mintzberg. In it he writes, “If you ask managers what they do, they will most likely tell you that they plan, organise and control. Then watch what they do. Don’t be surprised if you can’t relate what you see to these words.”
In his article Mintzberg outlines myths (or folklore) about managerial work:
“Folklore: The manager is a reflective, systematic planner
Fact: Study after study has shown that managers work at an unrelenting pace, that their activities are characterised by brevity, variety and discontinuity, and that they are strongly related to action and dislike reflective activities.
Folklore: The effective manager has no regular duties to perform.
Fact: Managerial work involves a number of regular duties.”
So managers’ jobs are fast moving and action packed. However, between the action they face routine demands such as delivering reports, carrying out staff performance evaluations and attending meetings that are mostly not directly productive for them.
What to do then? A manager’s first focus should be on their people and what is required is that most important of all management skills: active listening. This listening should take place during informal one-on-one and small group discussions - call a meeting and people are immediately on their guard. In this way managers learn from the wisdom of their staff. If people are heard and, more importantly, feel that their views are valued, they respond positively.
Another key skill for managers is that of making it clear that they accept responsibility for all mistakes made by their people. Instant feedback regarding disasters and near disasters should be encouraged by adopting a problem solving “let’s learn from our mistakes” style. Staff who understand that this is how a manager operates will be less inclined to hide mistakes, a source of much embarrassment when the boss is the last to hear about them. Every manager needs to actively build a cooperative team. Remember that the title means nothing. The respect must be earned through leading by example.
Few people enter business as managers. As mentioned, managers are typically promoted out of a specialist area. After settling the team, the new manager’s next task is to acquaint themselves with specialist areas other than their own. Support areas such as HR, Marketing and Finance. This can be achieved by reading books and professional publications or through informal discussions about problems with other managers. More formal training for the new manager in the form of workshops and development programmes will also provide a sound foundation in these areas.
Naturally the demands placed on new managers can lead to stress. However, the manager that is feeling stressed is probably not working hard enough. The new manager should remember! Neither fatigue nor stress is caused by hard work. Think back to a time when you last worked like hell - and achieved something. Did you feel stressed? More likely, you felt physically tired, or even exhausted at the end of the day or week, but after a good night's sleep you were ready to go again. Hardly the same stress that now wears you down day after day. I say you're probably not working hard enough, because the stress that you're experiencing is caused by anxiety rather than hard work. It flows from the uncertainty of not knowing what the hell is going on, or where in hell you're going. Do not confuse long hours with working hard. In some companies there seems to be a culture of 'long hours'. Performance should be measured in terms of outputs - what you actually achieve, rather than illogically keeping tabs on input i.e. hours.
And now to another management misconception. Being in the know does not mean being well connected to the grapevine. In fact, the quality of information that flows down the grapevine is generally poor. It raises more questions than answers and is probably a significant contributor to your anxiety-induced stress. What you need is quality information about the company that you work for and the industry of which it is a part. And you need to work hard at getting it. Can you answer the following?
• Name the customers that contribute 50 percent of your company's profits?
• Which companies in your industry together have 80 percent of the market? Are they expanding or contracting their operations?
• What technological developments are taking place in the field in which your company's product competes? Remember how the fax replaced the telex?
• What is changing in the nature of the work that you, and your team do? If you have reps on the road, can your clients effectively be serviced by a telesales operation? Are there changes in technology that will enable your team’s work to be done by less skilled (lower paid) people, or will your company need fewer people at your level – and can you ensure that you are the one that is kept on to grow? Don’t resist change- thrive on it.
• What would it cost your company to get an outsider such as a consultant or sub-contractor to do what you do? What do you cost your company?
The point of all this is that as a manager, you need to regard yourself, and your team as a business within a business. Your employer owes you nothing more than a cheque - if you provide value. As a good 'business' you need to provide outstanding service and value for money. And to achieve this you need knowledge. Establish exactly what it is your department needs to deliver, rather than just doing time. Finding this information may be hard work, but it will reduce your anxiety / stress. You also need to look at the total environment in which your employer operates. Being in the know will allow you to plan ahead, to stay on top of things. Changes can provide opportunities if you're ready for them.
Get tired by working hard at the right things. This is the stuff good managers are made of!
If you are interested in attending a New Managers Programme in Durban email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. A programme will be run in Durban starting in August.