I'm your new manager. What do you want me to do & ask in my first month?
February 25, 2015 11:24 AM   Subscribe

After being out of work for the past six months (reorganization), I start my new job at a new company in a few days. It's in the non-profit sector, where I've been all my career, but for the last several years, my positions haven't involved direct staff supervision. Now I'll have a small team of 4. What do I do to get off on the right foot?

I'm understandably nervous/anxious, but in a good way. I'm excited to be part of this agency, and both the first and second interviews left me with good impressions of the workplace, my boss, and the other managers. I haven't met any of the team I'll be responsible for.

The organization's mission is to support people with a particular disease and their caregivers. My team is the Learning & Support group, so it will be about educational programs, and supportive (not therapeutic) counseling. My team are all professionals of one type or another, primarily social work (which is what I am).
The last manager this team had resigned some months back, and my new boss (the agency executive director) has been filling in since while they determined exactly what kind of skills they wanted for the role. There have been some additional responsibilities around partnerships/collaborations added, which is part of the reason it excited me so much - I get to be part of some new and innovative work while also being part of the core business of the agency.

One of the questions asked during the interviews was what I thought I would do during the first month. I told them that since I was not hearing any mandate or need for big changes that I thought my first month would mostly be spent listening, asking questions, and learning about the staff, the agency, and its services.

Since being hired, I've been spending a bit of time crafting the start of a 30-60-90 day plan and doing a lot of thinking. One of the big things on my mind is working with my new team, since I haven't been a supervisor in quite some time. I've been recalling what it has been like for me when a new supervisor has come in, and what has worked and what hasn't, which is good, but I wanted to pick the mind of the hive.

I'd love to get answers to this from two perspectives, if possible:

-for those of you who've had new supervisors/managers come in, what have been the most successful things they've done? What things have they done that weren't so successful or caused problems? What do you wish they had done but didn't do? What questions should a new manager ask?

-for those who have come into a new job at a new place as a manager, what did you do that worked? What didn't work? What questions are vital that I ask my staff?
posted by nubs to Work & Money (10 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: First, take everyone out for lunch the first week you're there.

Secondly, meet with folks individually to discuss their ideas, thoughts and ask them what THEY think.

Thirdly, have a meeting with the group to discuss issues in general. You'll have learned some things from your one-on-ones and you may hear some commonality.

If you've ever read Frank Abagnale's book, Catch Me if You Can, one way he was able to fake his way through being an Emergency Room doctor was to ask the nurses and support staff, "what do YOU think we should do?" Not that you plan on faking your way through this job, but letting folks tell you their thoughts leverages some great experience AND it lets them feel like they have agency and a voice in their job, which makes them happy.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:30 AM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: 1.) Most successful thing? Take a 1:1 meeting with each of your new reports and ask them what they like about how thing are currently done, what isn't working, and what they would like to do in their role that they aren't currently doing. This will help you understand where your staff is on changes, as well as if there are trends across the answers of processes no one likes, or issues that everyone has. Plus, it puts the onus of change on the team. You're not a new manager coming in and overhauling the framework - you're taking collaborative input from the team to make everyone's lives better.

Things that caused problems? Managers picking 1 person (who may be the most vocal) and assuming they speak for the team when they have recommendations/strong feelings about something. It is SO frustrating to have a new manager who picks the worst person as their "go to".
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 11:33 AM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: what have been the most successful things they've done? What things have they done that weren't so successful or caused problems? What do you wish they had done but didn't do? What questions should a new manager ask?

what I wish they had done:
scheduled a substantial (not 5 minutes) meeting with each staff member within the first week or two, and listen to the staff member, asking them to describe their daily routines/duties. ask them about team routines. The earlier the better. If you leave it too long until you meet each one, there will be too much opportunity for gossip and speculation.
People will be more positive toward you once they had a positive personal interaction = you spend time listening to them.
Familiarise yourself with each of their job descriptions so you can ask pertinent questions.
Don't operate fromt he assumption that everything now needs to change (it does not seem you do anyway) but listen and observe first.
Talk to cleaners and receptionists even if they do not report to you. Cleaners and receptionist tend to know a lot and sometimes can be quite influential in how the new manager is perceived, even without open gossip.
read the organisations manual on admin procedures. Nothing is more annoying than the new manager who just does not know (or care) about routine admin stuff / reporting etc.

Most successful:
a staff meeting (I suppose in your case a team mtg) where they shared very briefly about their job history and their vision for the new position. They addressed fears that everything would now immediately change and assured everyone of the respect for their work (this reqires you to know what it is tehy actually do). At the same time managed to convy openness for changes staff might want.

not successful:
bad mouth previous management, even if you think no one else might see this email, read this post or hear you talk. You never know how popular your predecessor might have been, and who is still friends with them ... and who takes it upon themselves to bcc someone.
same goes for open critcism of previous management. Trust that they know the failures of previous boss, but wont appreciate you sticking the finger in the wound.
posted by 15L06 at 11:45 AM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Agree with all of the above. In the one-on-ones, ask what each person expects from *you*, and what they need from you to be successful. It may be that no one has asked them this before, and they don't know how to answer! That's ok, give them time to think about it. But, your job as a manager is to clear the way for your people to be successful. So, figure out what they need from you to do that.
posted by msbubbaclees at 11:50 AM on February 25, 2015

Best answer: From a somewhat different perspective: this is what I asked of my current boss when we met for the first time:

- Always tell me the truth. I'll do the same for you.

- If you can't tell me the truth for some reason - just tell me you can't talk about it. I'll understand.

- Don't chew me out in public or in front of my co-workers. In private is fine.

- Cover my back. I'll do the same for you.

It's been a couple of years and he's kept his side of it, and I've kept mine, and we've both been very happy. And I will drop and give him twenty on hot broken glass if he asks.
posted by doctor tough love at 12:18 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: We recently had Shari Harley speak at one of those all staff retreats that so many of us hate going to. She was amazing at getting us to see how being more candid and asking people their preferences and doing what we could do to meet them was vital for success. I'd recommend her book or her question cards.

Some things I'd ask my team along those lines would include
  • Do you prefer getting really detailed material before a meeting or would you rather get a short description followed up with a conversation?
  • What time of day do you find yourself most creative? Would you rather use that time for working alone or with others?
  • What's something you need me to know in order to help you succeed?
  • What's something you're worried I won't understand?

posted by advicepig at 12:30 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I gather that through the interviews in the hiring process you have a good sense of the company and management landscape, now put time into learning the landscape of the people you'll be managing. What they're working on, what difficulties they might be having, what they like, and what is missing. I would wait to survey them about their jobs individually until after this, since when they have a new manager they may be defensive that a shakeup may be imminent.
posted by rhizome at 12:41 PM on February 25, 2015

Best answer: (reposting from earlier similar threads, with some edits)

Know your limits. Can you fire people? Can you hire people? Can you reward people with money, time off, anything else? Learn who else can do these things -- even if you can, can anyone else also do them? Learn the processes in doing all these things. Corollary: Know who can fire and reward you.

Tell people what you want. Do it formally, in writing, one on one. Does your company have a performance review process? If so, adhere to it (and do it more often than you're required to); if not, set one up. Review your expectations with them regularly. Corollary: Make your boss do this for you.

Praise in public, punish in private. Always always always. Don't even jokingly rag on one of your team members, or your boss, when anyone else can hear you, even if it's that kind of office environment. No one will ever notice that you don't give people shit.

Take no credit. Even if you were literally the only person involved in a thing that your boss praises you for, say something like, "My team deserves the credit for doing X and Y while I took care of this."

Take all the blame. Frankly, it is your fault if your team was supposed to do something but didn't. Internalize that. This does not mean that you cannot be mad at someone for fucking something up, but only in private (see above).

Solve the problem first. I call this "Why vs. How" -- figuring out why something went wrong means you're looking to blame someone; figuring out how something went wrong means you're looking for how to correct it, or at least to avoid it going wrong next time. Cultivate a workspace where people know that they should be coming to you with a problem and their idea for a solution. Of course, that doesn't mean you're going to go with their solution every time, but consider it, and explain to them later (but before you implement the other solution) why you're going in another direction.

Write your processes. At the end of every day, think about what you learned that day and write it down -- not just about big-picture stuff, either, but stuff like "How to use the scanner" and "Bob's twins are going to college next year." Keep the big-picture stuff available so if you're out of the office for a week, your team won't lose a step.

Have a deputy. Even if it's not official, there will be someone on that team who's in charge when you're not around. Keep that person on your side. Try to make it official. Don't pick that person until you've had the chance to see who does it naturally. Meet with that person every now and then. Your deputy isn't your spy, but he or she can still be a good source of information that other people don't want to tell you.

Never complain down. Is your boss making you do something stupid? Too bad. He or she is the boss, and you do it. And don't tell your people that it's someone else's stupid idea -- you argue it with your boss (in private) and then the idea is yours, or at worst, just "a thing that we will be doing." (One slight exception -- that deputy you figured out from the last paragraph? You can tell that person, in one of your regular meetings, if you know that he or she won't spread it around. But try not to do this.)

Have an outside friend. Spouse, significant other, whatever -- have someone that you can complain to "off campus" so you don't have to keep swallowing it.

Start off mean. Not like Clancy-Brown-in-Shawshank mean, but a little harsher than you're comfortable with. It's a lot easier to get nicer than to get meaner.

Don't have a meeting without a purpose. "Synchronizing" is a good purpose for once a week, not once a day. Less if you're actually working in the same place with these people every day.

Meetings are for everyone. If you're just talking to one person, take it off line and move the meeting along. If two people are just talking to each other, tell them to take it off line and move the meeting along.

Minimize preparation. Don't make people create or update slides for meetings -- if they need to do that, why not just have them email their slides to you, then you get back to them individually with your questions?
posted by Etrigan at 2:27 PM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My first interaction with my manager when she came was her introducing herself by name and then running off to do something else. My second interaction with her was about a week later (it's a pretty hands-off manager position). She pulled me aside to say that a coworker had complained about me. And it turns out that the coworker mentioned me because the new manager had intentionally solicited complaints during a meeting that I wasn't a part of. My new manager didn't know me at all, had never seen my work, just asked if anyone had complaints and then came to tell me I needed to do better.

So, yeah, ask your team how things are going and what things could be improved. But try to stick to process issues, rather than people issues, in terms of what problems exist. If you do hear anything negative about an employee, hold off on passing along any negative feedback until you actually know your team better, and can tell who is a complainer vs. who works hard and doesn't realize something is a problem vs. who is a really strong employee. A manager should not be giving negative feedback based on one other person's opinion, especially when they haven't had time yet to develop their own impression of the employee.
posted by vytae at 2:52 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone - these are some great ideas and advice that I will be taking with me!
posted by nubs at 10:34 AM on February 26, 2015

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