First-time Manager? Here’s What You Need to Know

If you’re new to managing, the skills that served you well up until this point probably aren’t going to be enough to bring you success managing a team. Managing well requires a whole different set of skills and behaviors. Here are the five most important things for you to know about doing it right.

1. Set clear goals for your team to achieve. Too often, managers assume that they and their team members are on the same page about what success would look like – but haven’t actually taken the time to ensure that’s the case. As a result, team members’ priorities might be different from yours or people might simply be maintaining the status quo rather than making real progress in another direction. Be explicit with your staff members about what a successful performance this year would look like.

2. Be clear about what your team shouldn’t spend time on, as well. Inexperienced managers – and ineffective ones too – often say yes to any project idea that sounds promising. But there are all kinds of ideas out there, and you can’t do them all. Moreover, some ideas will have more impact than others, and saying yes to one means necessarily not spending time on others. It’s key to think critically about whether something is the best way for your team to spend its energy – and saying no when it’s not.

3. Set clear standards for your team. Your employees need – and generally want – to know not only what you expect them to do, but how you expect them to approach their work. For instance, if you want all client calls returned within a day, make sure that your staff knows that. If you want your office manager to put flexibility for staff ahead of being a stickler for procedure, tell her that explicitly. Too often, managers aren’t explicit about these sorts of expectations and then get frustrated when their employees don’t meet them (and meanwhile, the employees feel frustrated that they weren’t clearly told what was expected).

4. Don’t shy away from giving feedback. One of the most important levers you have as a manager is providing clear, regular, actionable feedback that lets people know what they’re doing well (and what you’d like to see more of) and where they could do better. New managers sometimes feel awkward about giving feedback, and as a result some end up relying on hints or even not saying anything at all. That will deny your staff opportunities to get better at what they do, and it will make the times that you do give feedback feel like more momentous events. You’re better off making feedback a normal part of your interactions from the beginning.

5. A key part of your job is to build a great team. Because your team has such an enormous influence on what you’re able to get accomplished, you should take an active role in managing its composition. The uncomfortable truth is that the team you have now might not be the team you should keep. Rather, you should be proactive about shaping it – putting real energy into hiring and retaining top performers and letting go of people who don’t perform at a high level. That last part is never easy, but it’s critical to the overall performance of your team.







Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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