Thank you to all of you who’ve been reading my articles, but I thought it was time to take a step back and pose the question “Why should you care about the information I share with you? Why should you ‘listen’ to what I say? Why should you even contemplate working with me or referring me to others?” Well – the answer is simple – because I’ve been there. I know that it’s not as easy as it looks to be a great People Manager. So in this article I’m going to share my story. Just remember - if you’re struggling to build an effective team and to manage that team - you’re not alone.
In The Beginning….
I took my first steps towards becoming a People Manager soon after I started in the corporate world. I was given the task of managing a project which meant managing people to get the project completed. That was my first exposure to having to use influence and persuasion to get other people to complete tasks that I couldn't do myself (for whatever reason). That was a stepping stone to becoming a Team Leader a couple of years later. As a Team Leader I was partially responsible for managing most aspects of a small team. That in turn led to actually becoming a Manager a couple of years later. In all these roles I was not ‘in control’ of the people in my team. I had to use influence and persuade them to do the things I needed them to do. I had no control over their pay, job title etc., so I had to learn early how to get people on side and motivated to help me achieve goals.
New People Manager
I was lucky enough to have a manager who saw potential in me, and who promoted me to manage his old team when he himself was promoted. So, he was still my manager, but we both moved up the ladder another step. Having promoted me, he trusted me to get on and do the job of managing a team, which was great. The only problem was I knew nothing about how to manage people – apart from the little I’d learned along the way so far which was mostly about persuasion and influence. My manager was too busy to spend time with me, so asking him for advice wasn’t an option. So I set out learning to become a People Manager alone. I even remember thinking ‘how hard can it be?’ When you see good people managers doing it – it looks so easy! Things started out alright. I’d inherited a team so I didn’t have to worry about hiring anyone on day one. The downside to that was I’d been promoted from within that same team, so right from the start I had to work on setting boundaries and expectations now I was ‘boss’ and no longer ‘one of the team’. That’s an interesting dynamic and if you’re ever in that position – I highly recommend talking to everyone early on and setting expectations quickly.
Within a few weeks, as I mentioned before, I realised that managing people looks easy when you see a good people manager doing it. But with no support or guidance, it’s actually a lot harder than it looks. Quickly my stress levels rose as I realised I was now fully responsible for the people in my team. That included being part of managing this phase of their careers. It meant I was responsible for making sure they received the training they needed to be able to do their jobs today, as well as developing them for the future. That development needed to make them more effective in my team, as well as motivating them by making sure they were moving forward in a direction that worked for them. In addition, I was responsible for keeping my team motivated and engaged, so they’d be productive on a day-to-day basis. I was responsible for setting goals for each person that aligned with my business goals, but those goals also needed to be relevant to each individual so they would be motivating. I was responsible for reviewing their performance against the goals, providing coaching, and remembering to give recognition when it was due.
I had to deliver difficult messages, such as those around poor performance or when there was conflict with the team. This is something that used to keep me up at night as I worried about what I would say and how the conversation would go. I also had to constantly remember to communicate with my team because I quickly learnt that they couldn’t read my mind! When I did communicate with them, I also realized that not everyone interprets messages the same way. I was constantly worrying they wouldn’t do things the way I wanted, whilst trying not to micromanage them. Learning to delegate, communicate well and trust my team to do the job to my expectations was a huge challenge. Anyone who’s a bit of a ‘control freak’ (that was me at the time – and some might say still is to some degree!) will know that learning to delegate and trust others to do work you know you can do yourself, is extremely difficult. But you can’t do everything yourself so it’s crucial you learn this skill early, and learn to do it in such a way that expectations are absolutely clear. The people you delegate to must understand exactly what you want them to do, what ‘finished’ looks like and what ‘good’ looks like.
Then I had my first resignations. I struggled not to take those first resignations personally. Now I had to hire new team members. All of a sudden I was involved in recruitment, interviewing, and induction processes. This was one of the first times I became aware of the legal side of hiring (and a lot of other ‘people’ topics). I started to lose sleep worrying about being sued – not because I’d done anything wrong – but just because there was a legal angle to consider. I also discovered a bit further down the line (by hiring someone who wasn’t a good fit) that it’s often better to have a person missing from your team and have the rest of a ‘good’ team covering until you can find the right person, than hire someone who doesn’t fit. If you hire someone who doesn’t fit you’ll spend all your time managing them to try and make them fit (and you’re unlikely to win that battle), and there’s the added danger that through this process your whole team will lose motivation and morale will drop. That forced me to put a lot more energy into the hiring process I was using to make sure the people I hired were the right fit.
My Approach As A People Manager
As I became more stressed, I realised I had to find a way to move forward. I learned all I could about how things should be done; both the legal requirements and best practices. Combining my new knowledge with my love of problem solving was the answer. I started to see each challenge as a problem to which there was a solution for me to find. My other love is process and order. I also realized that if I documented what I learned as I learned it, I wouldn’t have to re-solve the problem each time I encountered it. So I started to collect all the solutions that have solved the people management problems I’ve encountered. Now I can quickly and easily adapt to any new situation I encounter and get managing people back on track based on a wealth of personal experience.
The Next Step
As I evolved as a people manager, I discovered a passion for helping other new managers get up and running as quickly as possible, by showing them best practices and proven methods to help them hit the ground running. In particular, I helped many technical people take that first step into management. Eventually I turned my full attention to assisting new managers become successful at building and managing their teams. I did this first in the corporate world, and now I use what I’ve learned through experience to help business owners, become successful with their teams as quickly as possible, so that they can focus on growing their businesses.
My Question To You
Have you been through this experience or something similar yourself? How did you overcome the challenges of becoming a People Manager? If this is something you would like to discuss or would like some help with, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also download my free eBook Team UP! - Powerful Ways to Build, Develop and Maintain an Effective Team and sign up for my weekly newsletter which contains lots of team and self-management tips.
Mulberry Bush Consulting: Maximizing your Business Capability through your People.
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