John Langhorne/Tree Full of Owls

Beginning a new job as a manager is a terrific opportunity. It gives you the opportunity to reflect on your past practices, and refine them to become a better manager. When reflecting, keep in mind a person’s manager is the most important person in his/her work environment. A good manager can help people succeed and a poor manager can make people fail.

Also, remember Mary Poppins’ advice: “well begun is half done.” (see http://langhorne.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/mary-poppins-1 for more on this) It is axiomatic that getting off to a good start is a huge advantage, whereas fumbling at the beginning makes for a difficult recovery.

Perhaps the best way to approach the challenge of being the new manager, assuming that you are competent in the technical aspects of your career, is to think of the people aspects of this endeavor as having three parts that are relationship based: 1. Your boss, 2. Your peers (who may well be your internal customers) and 3. Your direct reports.

Understanding that you are responsible for the quality of the relationship with your boss is key to making this relationship work. Remember, your boss is very busy and, unless she is atypical, only initiates interactions with you when there is a problem. I recommend you read and reflect on “Managing Your Boss” by John Gabarro and John Kotter in the January 2005 Harvard Business Review (http://hbr.org/search/managing%25252520your%25252520boss).

If possible, try to arrange several conversations with your new manager. Three topics for fruitful examination might be about the culture of the organization, what you manager perceives to be your major challenges as you begin and what her expectations are of you. You may also inquire as to what is her preferred mode of communication and what level of detail she requires from you. Asking these questions will provide you with useful information, make a good impression and be the first step to building a productive relationship. Although she may not mention it, when you discuss expectations, remember that almost all bosses dislike surprises.

Although it is clear that you should begin this process with your manager, the decision of who to speak with next is not so simple. If you learn your unit has problems with other departments then I suggest you begin with your peers. Schedule one-hour meetings with your key internal clients/peers beginning with those with the best relationships with your unit working toward the most difficult. Your manager can help you identify this sequence. Ask about their experiences with your unit, what the three things are  that your unit does best and what are three areas in need of improvement.

Because new managers don’t usually visit with their peers, keep your boss informed. This beginning will help you build effective working relationships and identify some of your key challenges. You will also form impressions of your colleagues and develop tactics on how to work with them.

Coming into a unit as the new manager usually initiates a brief honeymoon. People, particularly your direct reports, are going to be trying to ascertain what your management style is going to be. Understand that these impressions will be made on what you do and how well it correlates with what you say. (see http://www.langhorneassociates.com/article_productivity.html for more in this)

The honeymoon is a one-off opportunity to visit with your key people, and in some cases everyone in your unit. Who to visit with is the first decision. First, all of your direct reports. If you don’t have a level of front-line managers this decision is easy. If you do, you must visit with your managers. If your unit is small enough, you may also decide to visit with everyone. If you start this, you must complete the process. It would be useful to invite input from your boss in both of these stages.

John Langhorne is with Langhorne Associates. He can be reached at www.langhorneassociates.com. His new book, Beyond Luck: Practical Steps to Navigate the Path from Manager to Leader, is available at www.beyondluck.net.