Congratulations! Yesterday you were the top-producer in your department; today, you are the department’s new manager. Like being an actor in a play, when you have a new role, you have a slew of new challenges. The most challenging aspect of your new role as a manager will be relationship demands. Regardless of the nature of previous work relationships, they all change—effective today.
1. Your direct reports
Jennifer was a workshop participant who came up through the ranks of the international airline she’d been working for since graduating from high school. In relatively few years, she went from being an on-ground staff member to assistant head of ground operations at her airport.
She was now expected not only to wear what she called her “professional costume,” but also was expected to set the tone for all behavior, from punctuality to accountability. “I miss going to lunch with the team,” she remarked. “But I know I can’t be all buddy-buddy with them this week and then give them performance evaluations next week.”
She’s right; her new role now puts her in a new relationship position with her staff. But after just a few months, she was able to re-join her crews in the lunchroom, always leaving a bit before they did, so they had private time without her. “This is when they can gossip about me,” she laughed.
Jennifer also started implementing the consistent communication and feedback system she learned from the workshop. “I haven’t gone through a full performance cycle yet, but I’m touching base with each of my staff on a regular basis. They know how they are doing relative to their goals and what improvements they need to make. So, when the annual performance assessment comes around, no one should be surprised,” Jennifer explained.
She clearly understood the importance of the old truism: When does a person want to hear bad news? Right away, so they can do something about it.
In Jennifer’s situation, although turn-around time was important goal, safety came first in all situations involving aircraft. “I’m measured on our compliance to safety standards and so is my team,” she related in the workshop.
When she felt her team was getting lax in daily safety behavior, she conducted a root cause analysis and then worked with her manager and L&D department to establish way to raise awareness on best practices for ground accident prevention. They developed brown-bag courses on fatigue awareness.
According to Jennifer, “At first, the crews were resistant to the idea. But soon they realized that I was doing this for them. Now, they’re coming up with other topics we can cover at brown-bag sessions.”
2. Your superiors
Being a new manager puts you under a spotlight. Take advantage of it. Your boss and your boss’s boss want to make sure your promotion was a shrewd move for their area of responsibility and the enterprise. Since they’re observing you anyway, this is one of the best times to be noticed by your bosses and others in high positions. Make your boss a hero and top supporter and prove that your promotion was perfect for the organization’s strategic direction.
Building a mutually trusting relation with your boss and his/her boss may take time and effort. Ask for insight or run ideas past them. You’ll receive a big-picture perspective and the advantage of their expertise. This shows that you are smart enough to approach “those in the know” rather than tripping over your own feet by going it alone.
Having the fresh perspective of a new manager is unique opportunity for the organization as well. After awhile, all employees get accustomed to the way things are and stop seeing with “new eyes.” All upper level managers appreciate new managers sharing ideas that only someone new in a role will notice.
3. Your peers
The trickiest interpersonal pothole of any new manager’s job is peer relationships. A few managers may believe one of their friends was more qualified for your new job than you are. Others may have wanted your job or were especially fond of your predecessor.
What can you do about these negative opinions? Usually, the answer is “absolutely nothing.” Continue focusing on the high-quality, on-time, and under-budget projects you and your team are accountable for. If you are working side-by-side on cross-functional project teams with your peers, some will start to see you for what you can accomplish, and a lot of these semi-adversarial relationships will improve spontaneously. Some won’t, though. In addition, new relationships may crop up. That’s one of the possible downsides of being a manager.
Now is the perfect time to develop healthy relationship behaviors that you can use as a foundation for your career growth. Be a team player, stay away from gossip and keep your focus on achieving your goals and the goals of your team.