During a seven year stint providing training in the entertainment industry, one of the challenges was extremely high turnover. Inexperienced employees, with only a few weeks of experience, were promoted to supervisory positions. Even though the company provided extensive training, it was spread out over months and competed with the organization’s culture for successful application.
The new managers exemplified some of the common mistakes of new managers. The first two represent a “Goldilocks” problem:
1. Acting Too Quickly
New managers frequently believe that they need to change everything. They place the stamp of their own ideas on every policy, procedure, and rule. And if there are no policies and rules, they’re eager to create new ones. They act on poor performance appraisal data (see #4). They immediately favor co-worker friends for key assignments, schedules, and so on. They want to create their “own team” as quickly as possible.
2. Acting Too Slowly
Other new managers act too slowly – buying into “we’ve always done it that way.” This can be particularly true of new managers with no management experience or very little experience with the company (e.g., a new manager hired from outside). Managers report that they intended to “wait a year or so” to learn how things work in the organization – so “my employees can get to know me.”
3. Failing To Assess Properly
This mistake holds the solution to the paradox of the first two mistakes – the “just right” solution. A new manager must assess the situation of the organization, the expectations given by senior management, and the strengths and weaknesses of the department and each employee (hopefully, more focused on strengths). Typically, a new manager is charged with solving some specific problems – ignoring them is fatal. Not meeting with each subordinate personally to get to know them personally, get to know their strengths, and get their input is equally fatal.
4. Acting On Old Performance Appraisal Data
Performance appraisal data is fundamentally flawed by rater bias. The appraisal data reflects more on the performance of the previous manager than it does on the employees being rated. Spending hours reviewing old performance rating on subordinates is a waste of time. If the previous manager was promoted because of his or her successful management of your new team, ask that manager some simple questions about each member of your new team. For example, ask “Would you always pick (or rehire) this person for your team?” If you’re are replacing a manager who was not successful,
5. Focusing On Weaknesses, Not Strengths
Solving key problems may be a top priority (e.g., poor customer service). But solving problems is less likely to be successful if the focus is on weaknesses instead of strengths. If you can’t objectively measure the strengths of the team using an assessment like Strengths Finder™ then interview members about their strengths. Ask each one of them how they see themselves best contributing.
6. Failing To Communicate
Yes, it’s a classic movie line – but it could be #1 on this list. Too often, new managers lock into a learning mode to read policies and procedures. They want to “understand things” before saying anything to their new team. The solution is simple: communicate now and communicate often. Give your team the opportunity to learn about you as you learn about them – let them learn your style as you learn their styles.
7. Failing To Ask Questions
“If I ask questions of my boss, it shows I don’t know what to do.” That’s scary, but I’ve long since gotten past thinking it was unusual. Too many new managers fail because of both inaction and action driven by the failure to ask. Some of the most successful managers I’ve known were the most curious – asking questions of their bosses, other managers, and members of their team. They had a two-year old curiosity and love the “Why?”
8. Treating Everyone The Same
The biggest mistake all managers make, not just new managers, is trying to motivate all team members the same way – or assuming they’re motivated by what you think “motivates everyone.” Motivation has some common elements known to anyone who really studies performance and it has some myths that managers routinely follow – by mistake. The solution – see #5 – understand your team member strengths and you’ll know more about individually motivating them.
9. Having A ‘My Way Or The Highway’ Attitude
New managers often believe that they must be the “know it all” decision maker for the team – failing to realize the job is coaching people to be top performers – and NOT being the “I can do it myself” manager. In today’s multiple skilled workforce, a manager is likely to be the least knowledgeable in terms of specific job/technical knowledge. The solutions are communicating, asking, and listening!
10. Being Afraid To Fire
New managers are often challenged by Red Scott’s “Hire Right, or Manage Tough” dilemma – with a situation created by themselves or the previous manager. Managers must know when and how to firmly make decisions (legally) that someone does not want to meet performance objectives. A too common refrain is “I know I should have terminated him/her a long time ago.”
A favorite management quote: “Management is now where the medical profession was when it was decided that working in a drug store was not sufficient training to become a doctor.” (Lawrence Appley). The ultimate solution to the mistakes new managers make is adequate training!