(in theory) I'm a manager, how do I get my staff to start treating me like it?
June 17, 2011 12:05 PM   Subscribe

(in theory) I'm a manager, how do I get my staff to start treating me like it?

When I started this job a year ago, I had no managerial experience. The staff is very small (besides myself, there is the owner, a manager and 4~ other staff members).

I was asked if I'd like to become assistant manager after the current one started to act flaky. At the time, another coworker, who'd been working there for about a year before this, thought he was going to take that role.

His work performance began slipping though, and so they asked me. I accepted, and was very excited. I learned how to manage the safe, counting the cash and dealing with the bank stuff. I learned how to do the labor logs. I've been doing the stores inventory sheets for the week by myself for 6 months now.

But the coworker who assumed he'd be taking the position I did was pretty resentful, and made this clear pretty passive-aggressively. He was nice to me, as long as it was not mentioned that I held this position. And any time it was mentioned he would launch into a rant about how he should have had this position, to any of the other workers who were around (this was not necessarily true, he really wasn't all that great. He was quick! But he did not do any work without specifically being told to do it, but because he never got in trouble for any of this from the other manager or the owner, I never wanted to complain about him. It was clear they both really liked this guy.)

He pretty much made it clear that I was only manager by default. And I'm pretty sure the other employees came to believe this too. And now I find myself believing it, whether it is true or not. (He was eventually fired, but the whole staff who works here were there when he was treating me this way as well).

And it's affecting my interactions with the staff, and with my management. I'm not especially socially adept to begin with, and now that I feel everyone's judging me and feeling that I'm not really in charge I find myself faltering anymore. And they've asked me to do firings, and I've helped with hirings, and training, so I do believe this role is more than just a title.

Especially now, because the other manager is leaving, and I'm going to be learning how to do the weekly orders, which is the only thing I don't know how to do. I will be manager, not assistant manager, anymore. And yet part of me can't help thinking this is circumstantial too, like I'm only getting this promotion, again, because I'm the only one available.

So what I need to learn asap:

1) how to interact with my bosses (and coworkers) without being so awkward. I have a hard time even striking conversation (small talk, even) with the bosses lately, and a hard time taking myself seriously with the staff

2) how to be a boss, how to take myself seriously so they will take me seriously too. Things to say, how to act. Mantras to repeat to myself, or something, when I start to doubt myself.

As an aside, I know my performance is not a problem, which makes this even more frustrating. I know that I do a great job, they leave notes for me telling me how I've done such-and-such well, and yet I still feel awkward around my bosses.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The first time you fire someone, doubts and dissension about your authority will cease. Nothing convinces people that you are a fully operational battle station like vaporizing Alderaan.

Also, don't hang out with your subordinates socially. Don't eat lunch with them, don't hang out after hours.

And yes. You are only getting this promotion because you are the only one available... the only one available who management trusts to to do the job. This is always the case, or someone else would be getting it.
posted by kindall at 12:13 PM on June 17, 2011 [14 favorites]

You aren't the only one available. They could have made someone else a manager, or hired from the outside. Instead, they decided you were the best person for the job. Remember that. Prove them right.
posted by grouse at 12:16 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

He pretty much made it clear that I was only manager by default.

Well, this is demonstrably untrue — if they chose a manager "by default," he'd be the manager! They chose you because you were the better choice despite having less seniority.

As for the new position, the old manager has to leave before they place a new manager, right? So you're not getting promoted "by default." There's a need to hire a new manager to replace the one who's leaving, and they already know you and think you're up to the task. If you weren't up to it, they'd be looking for someone else.
posted by adiabat at 12:31 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Practical tactics:

When you're in a meeting, don't talk unless you have to. Listen. Pay careful attention, and at the end of the meeting, offer your opinion, summarize the situation, and provide a clear set of next steps.

Be first in and last out, if you have productive things to do with that time. Let people see you're already there, and working, when they get there in the morning. Let people see you're still there, and working, when they leave at night. I'm talking like five minutes, here, not some sort of horrible 11-hour self-imposed hell shifts.

If somebody asks you something and you don't know, say "I don't know." Then find out. Then tell them what you found out.

Manage your workflow -- if you can -- such that you've always got something going on, but you've got enough flex to accomodate special requests pronto. "I'm pretty busy, but I'll make time to help you" is better than "sure, I'm not doing anything right now" or "No, I can't handle this workload."

You're not obliged to be socially adept with your bosses, or your subordinates. In some ways, it's better if you're not.
posted by Shepherd at 12:38 PM on June 17, 2011 [8 favorites]

Congratulations - you got the job on merit. May not feel like it, but you did.

There are very, very few "natural born leaders". It's difficult, and it takes time and hard work to be a good boss - that's why you get paid more. How do you start? Before you can feel like a boss you've got to act like a boss. To act like a boss, you've got to focus rigidly on the task to start with.

Are you quite clear what your managers' expectations are of you? If not, ask them. Best time to do that is now, at the start of your new role. They'll be impressed that you did. Make sure you understand, and ask for support if there are aspects of the job you've no experience of.

Then make quite sure your staff know what your expectations are of them. You may need to practice this out of the workplace first to get the tone right: you won't want to come across as too strong or too weak, and it can be a difficult balance to strike. But you'll do it and it will go well, and your staff will gain confidence in you because everyone likes to know where they stand.

Next, you start giving out praise when your standards are met, and gentle rebukes when they are not, with the balance strongly in favor of praise. Now you're acting like a boss. Soon, you'll start feeling like a boss. You made it!
posted by genesta at 12:46 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Usually the answer to such a query is to tell someone to be as competent as possible, because confidence comes from competence. However, you seem to be Extremely competent and getting kudos for it... but you don't believe it. Once you believe it and have more confidence, the other employees will see that, too.

In the meantime, if you just want to be more comfortable interacting with people, there are lots of good askmes with recommendations for books like the How to Win Friends and Influence People.
posted by ldthomps at 12:49 PM on June 17, 2011

If somebody starts disrespecting you like that last guy, talk to your boss about it, and have him fired.

Mind you, don't fire somebody just for the sake of proving a point. That'd be a terrible thing to do. However, it sounds like that guy objectively deserved to be fired. If you have an employee that blatantly needs to be let go, don't hesitate to be the one to pull the trigger.
posted by schmod at 12:51 PM on June 17, 2011

Exhibit a lot of trust in your staff. Ask them questions. Tell them they are good at the things they are good at. Perform some of the tasks that you assign them to do. Work alongside them sometimes.
posted by Jagz-Mario at 12:53 PM on June 17, 2011

With regards to 2), I respect a manager who is clear about their expectations of me and who is clear about what they want me to do. Go into work and ask your staff to do X, Y and Z jobs. Chin up, eye contact, smile. These people look to you to tell them what to do, so you're helping them by giving them jobs.

Regarding 1), don't try to be too friendly with those higher or lower in the pecking order. As long as you get the work done, the higher-ups won't really mind too much. And as long as you're clear and consistent in your approach to the, well, "lower-downs", then whether they like you or not is irrelevant. As long as they take you seriously, you have nothing to worry about.

A large part of your problem is thinking that you know what other people are thinking. You are not a mind reader. You can't know what they're thinking. And unless you're a hellish boss or they are incredibly stupid, they'd never actually say they hated you, even if they did. Other than the asshole, of course, and look where he ended up... They can't have liked him that much or they wouldn't have fired him.
posted by Solomon at 12:56 PM on June 17, 2011

It sounds like you are a first line (direct) supervisor, with management responsibilities. In other words, you manage a small number of direct reports, and don't manage anyone who is also has direct reports (managers usually manage both direct reports and supervisors or managers of others). But it might still help you if you read some books on supervision and management, or took a course or two at your local community college on first line supervision, or management. You'd learn about Henri Fayol's 5 functions of management (today usually thought of as Staffing, Organizing, Planning, Controlling, and Coordinating), and how different levels of management divide their time and effort among these tasks. You'd learn about Theory X and Theory Y styles of organization, and maybe about subsequent approaches to motivation such as Maslow's heirarchy of needs. You'd learn leadership strategies, and how to choose and implement ones that line up with your organization expressed goals, and perhaps unexpressed cultural norms. And you might even get some factual grounding in business/employment law that could help you and your business avoid various employment lawsuits.

You're far from unique in your path to first line supervision, and your needs for general management training are those of thousands of workers promoted to first line supervision jobs. Community colleges and universities everywhere offer courses to help people like you, and I bet your owner would pickup the tab for your tuition to attend such training, if you asked about it, and took the initiative to find such a program in your area. Moreover, by completing formal supervision/management training, you'd have an empirical qualification for supervision that your subordinates don't, which is a clear reason for them to respect you (you have knowledge that they don't).
posted by paulsc at 1:19 PM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

Kindall touched on this first, but to be treated as a manager you need to do actual managerial things. The additional responsibilities you listed:
I learned how to manage the safe, counting the cash and dealing with the bank stuff. I learned how to do the labor logs. I've been doing the stores inventory sheets for the week by myself for 6 months now.[...]I'm going to be learning how to do the weekly orders, which is the only thing I don't know how to do.
are not actually things that distinguish you as a manager. A manager is someone who has responsibility over their staff, which includes using independent judgement to direct their work (ie: decide and tell staff what to do, and coach them/reprimand them if they do it poorly).

Firing someone, if they needed to be fired, would cement you as a manager, but only if people realized that you were making the decision, not just carrying out someone else's decisions. People will take you seriously as a manager if you start doing manager things - and not just telling them what to do, but to take responsibility for your employees and their actions as a whole.

If they are not treating you as a manager, and in a business sense not a personal sense, then you you have to deal with it as a manager should - give them feedback, have a one on one chat, plan out how to improve their performance - or there will be consequences. As a manager, you should be empowered to follow through on those consequences. The same goes for positive feedback (maybe more important) - if an employee is doing well, tell them that - and if possible reward that behavior.
posted by meowzilla at 1:21 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry to post again, but I forgot to mention that most community college level introductory supervision courses normally contain at least some role playing exercises, where you get a chance to "go through" stressful interactions like correcting employee mistakes, dealing with disruptive employee behaviors, learning to actively listen to employees, learning to elicit communication from shy or reticent employees by patient interaction, etc. Such exercises are sometimes even video recorded, so you can see yourself (and your facial expression and body language) as you deal with such situations. The opportunity to role play, self-criticize, improve and re-role play, can be a big confidence booster for young supervisors and managers with limited real world social experience. And it is an opportunity you'd not get at reasonable costs, outside the community college/university environment.

Also, many such courses divide the class into artificial "teams," where leadership roles for group assignments rotate, as a means of developing and role playing actual leadership skills. This too, can be an effective training environment for real world leadership.
posted by paulsc at 2:00 PM on June 17, 2011

Simple answer: when the problem child starts in with one of his rants, simply say "this behavior is why you didn't get the job. If you want the owner(s) to consider you next time there is an opening, start acting more professionally."

Second answer: never bring up that you are the manager. Never get into the "because I'm the manager, that's why" line of argument. That's an appeal to authority (of sorts) and shifts the confrontation away from whatever the topoic is, toward why you are the manager and why they aren't. The exchanges should go like this:

You: Bob, when you are through with that, I need you to clean the biscuit oven.
Bob: WTF, I don't want to, I did it last time, who are you, etc?
You: Because it needs to be done, and it is your job.

Then walk away, and see what happens. If Bob cleans it, thank him. If he goes off to do something else, go get him and ask him if he cleaned the oven yet.

Finally, firing someone should never make a difference. If firing someone suddenly gets you respect that you didn't have before, it wasn't really respect.
posted by gjc at 3:16 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might get a lot out of the Manager Tools podcasts, especially the three part series on how to manage a disgruntled non-promoted direct report. There's also a good two-parter on managing your boss. Otherwise, their list of basics would be a great place to start.
posted by ThatSomething at 3:18 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

My first manager job was somewhat similar. I was put into a hostile environment where the previous manager was fired for not running a tight enough ship. The staff resented me because I was younger than most of them and the customers resented me because the previous manager left a bad taste in their mouth.

I did three things in particular to cement my place as MANAGER.

1) I put in place some new processes to make things run smoother. This included re-arranging inventory, creating new signage for employees, keeping better logs of jobs, etc. When my employees saw that I had the power to make changes AND my district manager approved of those changes, it solidified my position.

2) I made an effort to connect personally with the customers. When a customer knows that you are in charge and comes to you with problems or kudos, the staff can see that the public acknowledges your position. If the public treats you like you are in charge, it really sells the idea.

3) I stopped any and all social interactions with people "lower on the totem pole" than me. Before I was manager, I had a list of my DVD collection and I let my co-workers borrow movies from me whenever they wanted. After I was promoted, that was stopped immediately. I wasn't their friend anymore by choice. I was still friendly and joked around a bit, but there was very little non-work-related interaction.
posted by tacodave at 3:20 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mantras to repeat to myself, or something, when I start to doubt myself.

The only thing I have to offer here is my mantra for work, where I find myself constantly being doubted and having to assert my ability to do my job: "The last time I checked, I was smart."
posted by peagood at 5:42 PM on June 17, 2011

3) I stopped any and all social interactions with people "lower on the totem pole" than me. Before I was manager, I had a list of my DVD collection and I let my co-workers borrow movies from me whenever they wanted. After I was promoted, that was stopped immediately. I wasn't their friend anymore by choice. I was still friendly and joked around a bit, but there was very little non-work-related interaction.

This depends completely on the culture of the workplace as to whether it is a good idea or not.
posted by gjc at 6:02 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

What I did to establish myself as manager was really simple... delegate tasks.

Don't ask. Tell.

You don't have to tell like an ass, but there has to be absolutely no. question. in. your. mind. that they will do what you have delegated. At first, it's okay to leave a list, at least, if you're worried about being awkward. Then you can take the list, take a look at what you wanted them to do, and see what got done.

I would also grab my friends, and start practicing to sort of tonelessly ask, "Hey, Bettina? I need you to finish the Vandelay Industries account today." Try to use the same tone that you'd mention the weather in, little inflection, neutral expression. The tone you're going for is as if you assume full and total compliance, without being disrespectful. Keep practicing... ask drivers in other cars during your commute to finish that proposal. Ask your dog to finish that shipment. Ask your can of beer to follow up with that client. It's a lot like assuming the close in a sale... if you come from a place where you believe the other party is going to simply say yes, then you're much more likely to get to yes. Do the same thing with your follow up, except this is okay to ask, but ask from an assumptive place. Check progress so you know where things are, before you go back and ask, "Hey, Bettina, how did the Vandelay Account go?" She'll answer, where you can ask follow up questions about that... did it go well or poorly? What would you do differently, assuming 20/20 hindsight, if it didn't go well? Did you try anything new that made this go particularly well, so you two can share that with the team?

Do it without tone, without inflection, neutrally. The neutrality will connote confidence, that you don't need to scream, you don't need to beg, you just have to ask, and expect the results to happen. During your follow-up, you will establish that you're going to want to know why you did or did not get results, and you're going to hold the employee accountable for whatever resulted. This will teach them to regard you as a manager, because you will be behaving like one.
posted by mornie_alantie at 8:37 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Focus on doing managerial things:
-planing and budgeting
-making work assignments and effective tasking
-setting performance goals and objectives for individuals and teams
-staff development, morale and retention

Most of the things you used to do as a staff person should be done by your team. You should work to make sure your team is doing it correctly, but avoid doing it yourself if at all possible. For example you don't mop the floor anymore, you miry be incredible at mopping and able todo it very quickly, but when you room on the management job, you now have to make sure the floor was mopped well by a staff person. You will need to leave to be patient and to teach the skill, but unless every other member of your team is out with flu, you don't mop the floor anymore. Note: mopping is just an example of anything you did as a staff person, it migu be cold calling, taking inventory, writing code, etc.
posted by humanfont at 9:43 PM on June 17, 2011

There was a previous ask thread on how to be a good manager, that might have some good general advice for you.
posted by gudrun at 9:10 AM on June 18, 2011

I'm not sure about the "cut yourself off socially from the underlings" thing.

My industry is possibly (probably?) quite different - the arts in Australia - but that social separation would be a stunningly poor move. For one thing, mobility in this industry is based upon social contacts. So is respect, to an extent.

Think about context before doing something like this.
posted by deadwax at 5:00 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

And some other advice, people promoted from lesser positions rarely gain the same level of respect as some hired into it. When you're just a clerk at the start there's going to be a lingering treatment of you as just a clerk, no matter how you rise. It's often better for people to seek a new position at a new company at that level. Do the job long enough to prove your ability and then seek the same kind of job at another company. That way you won't be carrying along the baggage.
posted by wkearney99 at 2:02 PM on June 20, 2011

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