First of all, congratulations! You have successfully convinced someone important that you have the knowledge and confidence to lead other individuals into a new era. Now that you’re here, there are some things you should know. Most employers assume that you have your own set of managerial rules and that you can adapt to their environment accordingly. In most cases, this means learning a new timesheet system or updating communications with your staff. In other cases, this means being fully submerged in a completely new office culture and heading up meetings with strangers who are now your employees. It is an awkward experience that is going to be uncomfortable from time to time. For those of us with no previous experience (except being generally liked by most people) and no training of any kind, here are some quick tips for being a new manager:
- Learn everything you can about the office/department/unit you are in. You did a little of this before applying for the job, hopefully, but you need to really delve in now that you are on staff. This means not only having conversations about past expectations and leadership styles but also little things like birthdays, vacations, and team communications. We all know how quickly email wars can begin when no one knows why or what emails between peers are used for. Later, it will be part of your job to establish those guidelines and to enforce their use accordingly so knowing office history is key.
- Meet everyone. As part of the interview, you probably met hundreds of people who you then promptly forgot. Now that you are on the job, you need to meet and reintroduce yourself to all of these people. This process (and it is a process) has multiple goals: you are given an idea of the types of people you will be working with, you will know how most offices and department are organized in terms of power and structure with real humans, and you now have face time with the very people you will be calling on for help in times of crises. This includes security and facilities professionals, as they how things work more than anyone else. If you are not exactly comfortable talking to strangers, start with a hello and a good night/evening to others everyday. Yes it’s a little odd at first but it is a quick and effortless way to make an impact.
- Get organized. You have your own system to remain accountable on the job. Now multiply that by 5-15 people who may or may not check their email, phones, and voicemail as much as you do. As a manager, you will be called upon to recall random events that have occurred in the last week from memory. Since you are a human being and not a computer, this may seem impossible. To get started, create a calendar (I’m a big fan of Outlook and their flagging and reminder tools) and keep track of EVERYTHING. I personally keep stats on my goings and comings, past conduct issues with people by date, and meetings with staff all on my calendar. This means I can pretty much pull up any given day and tell someone what I did on the job. This feels insane but creating your own system will save you lots of headaches as you plan staff project goals and check in with individuals throughout the year.
- Establish your expectations with clarity and reinforce them at every turn. In tip #1 you learned what the previous working environment was like. Now that you know, you need to make your expectations as the new supervisor very clear. This means reiterating the small things daily, in both written and verbal form. Use a conversational tone that lets your employees know that this is important but you won’t kill them if they get it wrong (legally you can’t do that). For bigger things, make sure that they know this is a new process for everyone but it is essential that they try. If not, there will be repercussions.
- Set policies and procedures for the biggies: conduct and safety, dress code, disciplinary action, and training. These should be in accordance to larger organizational policies so make sure you check those first. There will be A LOT of grey areas for your job but these basics are pretty much par for every course. Again, you will want to have these in both written and verbal form for all employees.
- Allow room for mistakes. We have all worked for someone who does not have realistic expectations for a position. Having lived through this experience, you know that people are human and mistakes will be made. Be supportive and mindful that in most cases, the world will not end because of a mistake made by an employee. This means no screaming, insulting, or threatening employees when a problem arises (also see the next tip for further explanation).
- Be respectful. As a new manager, you will constantly be tested by differing personalities. You will most certainly encounter employees that you do not like, even as people. That is fine and perfectly understandable. However, remember that it is not your job to be their friend. You are here as a guide to an effective and successful workplace. If their disputes are causing issues with the work being done, it is time to revisit those policies established in tip #4 and lay down the law. If not, then let them be themselves and manage respectfully. Pretty much, mind your manners.
- Be consistent. This is one of the most important tips. As a new manager, you will face many obstacles and many times you will not know what is best. You will need to use your best judgment, take a look at those policies from #4, remember tip #6, and have some really tough conversations with professionals like yourself. If you remain consistent in most things, you will find that these conversations happen less and less. That’s due to your staff understanding your stance and already anticipating your responses. Hopefully this means avoiding ridiculous, petty arguments between staff and leaving the real problems to you.
- Have some fun once in a while. It is estimated that we spend about 90,000 hours at work in our lifetime. This means most people work more than they sleep on a given day. Since you will be spending all this time with your staff, sometimes it is nice to enjoy their company as well. This will depend on the office culture and the sort of people you are working with (mandatory after hours awards ceremonies might not go over well with older staff and those with children) but consider a few fun ways to lighten the mood. This is a great way to get to know your staff without having a bunch of heart to heart conversations.
Overall, remember that as a new manager, you will make mistakes, you will be confused, and you will make up a lot of things as you go along. Seek professional development opportunities where you can refresh your skills and get feedback from your staff constantly. Most of all, you can do it!
Aisha Conner-Gaten is a MSLIS graduate and Computer Assisted Instruction Specialist at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois. In addition to being a new supervisor for the last year, she is an INALJ content editor, tech junkie, and burgeoning sous chef. She is consistently making things up as a supervisor and no one has been hurt yet. You can find her on Twitter at @Aisha_CG.