Looking for advice on moving on up (moving on up!). No east side.
May 27, 2013 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Tips on becoming a good manager?

In about a week I'll be officially moving from my current position to management in another department of my employer (an area I worked in previously, but then I switched to a different position in another area and now after several years will be moving back to the original department). Currently I'm in a sort of limbo status where I'm both training my replacement and trying to get up to speed on the new job, but am not technically in either position full time.

I've never been a manager of any kind before and I've never really had any strong managers above me, so I've pretty much worked autonomously most of my life. Which worked well for me. But I'm just not completely sure of what's expected of me now and how the role generally functions. I'll have only two or three people working under me at first, so it's not too overwhelming, but I want to do my best. The client I'll be dealing with primarily has been around for a while, but the demands have grown to a point that the department head can't spend all of her time on it and take care of everything else too. So the team I'll be working with is mostly trained and I'm kind of the new guy coming in to take over directing the thing. I'm hoping to get some advice on both what have everyone's good managers done that made them stand out and how have other people moved into this position successfully.
posted by fishmasta to Work & Money (9 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Manager Tools Podcast
posted by jayne at 12:05 PM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Take a gander at the Ask a Manager website.
posted by wowbobwow at 12:09 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

The best advice I got was this:

As a manager, your job is not to do things. Your job is to have others do things. If it will take longer to teach them than to do it yourself, you still teach them, because your job is to teach them to do things then have them do things. You enable the doing of things and ensure the things get done.

You are the shield: Your job is to protect them from everyone else's bullshit.

You are the sword: You cut through the company's bullshit to help them get their job done.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:42 PM on May 27, 2013 [15 favorites]

Things that good managers I've known, actually do:
  • Take legal and internal rules seriously, even when they seem pointless. Managers can't blow this stuff off, the human being saying "this stuff is serious" is half of why we still need human beings as managers at all. This goes extra for anything that includes the word "confidentiality."
  • Understand what HR and Finance and Facilities and Security and Technology and everyone else are doing, why they are doing it, and how to make their lives and your peoples' lives easier (and get the work done) despite the things that none of you can change.
  • Under no circumstances turn "yeah, this kind of bites" to "let's all put down some other team or functional area in this company" time. You are no longer one of the guys, and what you let get said in your presence, unchallenged, can have a tremendous negative or positive impact on the entire operation.
  • Maintain a strong understanding of and commitment to the goals of the team, their own managers, nearby teams, the company as a whole.
  • Take the "people stuff," particularly interpersonal conflict within a team, very seriously - don't just blow something off as "Bob being Bob" or "that's how things are in this group." Definitely don't blow off the classic cheesy HR "teambuilding" concepts (just because HR communicates in a cheesy way, doesn't mean the skills or information is worthless.)
  • Make sure you know what your people are doing, how they are doing it, why they are doing it, and what they think about it (particularly what they think could be done better.)

posted by SMPA at 1:57 PM on May 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Some old saws that are true:

Praise in public, punish in private, end with praise.
"Hey, everybody, let's give Stu a hand for working late on that presentation. The bosses loved it. Stu, come see me in my office... You know you had to work late because you blew that presentation off for three weeks, right? Don't do that next time. And thanks again for nailing it."

Take the blame, spread the credit.
"Thanks, boss. That was all Stu's work. I just said the words. Oh, and I'm sorry for that missing slide. That was my fault; I stitched two slide decks together wrong."
(Corollary: Don't blame the bosses for stupid policy even when you also think it's stupid. You're in charge -- be in charge.)

Start out stricter than you feel comfortable with. It's a lot easier to get nicer than it is to get stricter.

Know your limits. Can you fire people? Can you hire people? How can you reward them or discipline them? Can you change your budget?

Focus on how, not why -- that is, "How do we solve this problem?" is more useful to you and your organization than "Why did this problem occur?" For one thing, the how question generally answers the why question.
posted by Etrigan at 2:05 PM on May 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Also, and this may seem a weird way of saying this, but find your senior non-commissioned officer in the group. The non-manager employee who has the most influence on everyone else in the team, who knows more about how things are done (not necessarily how they should be done,) and who basically sets the tone or has the ability to. This person is your number one resource, ally, and threat.

(This is the classic advice given to newly minted lieutenants and ensigns when they get their first little command over a squad or whatever - there's generally one person in the group of subordinates who you're going to, on a practical level, be taking orders from in many ways, even when he's going to be saluting you. No new manager knows the ropes yet.)
posted by SMPA at 2:06 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

BTW, us HR types typically have a lot to say about and to managers. I have a much longer list of "oh my gosh please don't ever do this" things than I do of "really positive stuff I've seen," and I'm actually, relatively speaking, on the periphery as far as manager/employee relationships go (I do more of the back-end stuff.)

I suggest you reach out to your internal HR department/staff and see what they'd like you to do most, and most want you to avoid doing.

And be extra cautious in regards to anything having to do with medical, disability, or any other protected status stuff, please. I recommend remaining silent in your first few interviews, or at least sticking to the script. And please, please, please keep HR in the loop.
posted by SMPA at 2:15 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Three book recommendations and one anecdote:

Peopleware - Lots of good stuff on the shield and sword functions that GTW mentioned above.

Controlling Software Projects - The first paperback I ever spent $52 on, and that was 30 years ago. Well worth it, IMO. From the top ranked review at Amazon, "Most of this discussion is, in my opinion, too dated to be of direct use (DeMarco suggests, for example, that counting the now obsolete metric "frequency of compiles" as an indicator of software stability). But the true genius of this work lies in the periphery of his discussion--particularly insightful comments into what not to do when managing software development."

The Mythical Man Month - For me, the central management insight of this book was, "Since his fundamental job is to keep everybody going in the same direction, his chief daily task will be communication, not decision-making, ..."

The anecdote: I read an article in Psychology Today nearly 40 years ago about a two phase study that tried to identify the personality traits that make for a good manager. The first phase was to identify the good managers. I believe they surveyed peers, subordinates, and superiors in their target organization, a large corporation, to assemble a consensus list of good managers, but I don't remember any of the details. The second phase was to look for personality traits common to the good managers. They found one. The good managers were willing to be responsible for someone else's performance. I already knew that I was not attracted to management, and this article clarified why. I am just barely, and reluctantly, willing to be responsible for my own performance, and utterly horrified at the prospect of being responsible for anyone else's.
posted by Bruce H. at 3:04 PM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

I will echo manager-tools -- lots of good advice there for any manager -- especially a first level manager. By the way, I think the transition from individual contributor to first-level manager is the toughest. [I have been an engineering manager for > 20 years and am currently a VP of engineering.]

Early on in my management career, my boss had me watch training tapes on "Managing Management Time" -- it is like boot camp for managers. The book is out of print, but you can still get it. The guy wrote this back in the 70's so you have to take that into account, but I think his concepts of the "management molecule" and delegation (aka "managing monkeys" which are tasks, not people :)) are quite good.

Eventually, you will need to manage change -- either because you have good ideas for how things could be better or because your corporate masters have ideas :). In either case, I think Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard is a very useful reference.

Another good reference is Crucial Confrontations -- especially useful when you have to deal with an employee performance issue -- which you will have to deal with sooner or later.

If you manage technical people, Leading Geeks is the best book I've seen on that topic -- technical people present some unique management challenges and this book helps you understand those challenges.

Finally, keep in mind that you are always the boss. It doesn't preclude friendly relationships with the people who report to you, but when push comes to shove, you need to be the manager. [E.g. if one of your employees has a performance issue and you know that he also is having trouble outside of work and could really use the job, you still have to deal with the performance problem, even if that means he might lose his job. You have a duty to your organization to do this and also to the other people on the team who are likely affected by his performance issues.]
posted by elmay at 6:55 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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