how-to-be-a-good-manager-when-youve-never-managed-people-before part-2

How to be a good manager when you’ve never managed people before (Part 2)

Being appointed as a new manager can be tough – especially if it’s the first time you are called upon to manage the output of other people.

It may be that you were successful at your previous, purely-technical, role where you were responsible for your own work and outputs – and because you were good at it – you’ve been promoted.

Now, your job is more about what other people produce than about what you do.

This might all be new to you – so how do you do it?

Following on from our previous article, we have to recognise that ‘how you do it’ would depend on who you are.

We previously talked about the formal/informal dichotomy…… so you may have previously been in a “formal” role that called for the production of quality work delivered always to a high standard, where “failing” was not an option.

Likewise, where technical knowledge and subject matter expertise were essential as was compliance with the “rule book” and all delivered as a result of analysis and reflection.

If this was the case and your natural orientation was to get things done in a more informal fashion – promotion to this new role might actually be quite liberating and the adaption to the new role quick.

On the other hand – had that previous role suited your own formal approach to getting things done, then adaption to this new world might be more challenging.

The role you are coming from and going to will certainly influence how easy you might find managing people, that’s definitely part of it, but it’s also partly about who you are.

Any manager taking on a first line manager position will find it extremely helpful to be aware of themselves and their own drives and motivations and to recognise fairly quickly that not all people are like them.

It’s helpful to work with a tool that can help you articulate an individual’s drives and motivations – and even more helpful if that tool can help articulate the behavioural demands of the job within which you, and the individuals you are managing, are operating.

You will have a language to explain why you and other people do the things you/they do and the way in which you/they do them.

When an individual is promoted to their first people management role, and ideally even before this happens, we believe it it essential that they understand the importance of being actively invested in their own career – and that from this point they are actively in control of it.

We also believe that a key first step in taking control of your career is to understand yourself – to be clear on what it is that motivates you, what drives you, and that you then make a commitment to yourself to ensure you look after these key drives and motivations throughout your career.

It’s critical you understand that your career and its continued develoment is not your managers’ or the organisations’ responsibility – it’s yours.

We should recognise that as a new manager with people responsibility, their response to it will be contingent upon their own drives and motivations – no two manager will respond in the same way.  For some, it might be “Can I do it? Am I up to it?  Will they like me?”.

For others, with a more natural self confidence and a willingness to try things and see what happens, it might be a case of “How hard can it be, I don’t understand the issue”.

We were recently asked to work with an individual manger in one of our client organisations  because of the difficulty that this manger was having in fitting into their new role.

This particular manager was a self confident, goal oriented, target driven individual who did things at pace and as a result of their own analytical thinking.

They wanted things done their way …. but also done to a high standard and had a clear need to control both the “definition” of the task and the “how” the task was to be achieved.

Communication was therefore direct – essentially “I’ll tell you what you need to do and you can then just go off and do it, quickly, and don’t make mistakes”.

In this environment and with this team, this was interpreted as quite a harsh style of managing by those on what they perceived to be the receiving end!

As this manager was new to managing people, they simply had not considered the subtleties of how to manage and adapt their own natural drives to meet the needs of the people who now reported into them.

There simply wasn’t the appreciation that not everyone in the team did things the way that they did.

The unfortunate (and entirely unintential) outcome of this approach was a growing perception in the team that their manager believed that certain team members were lazy, unfocused and were demonstrating limited or no initiative.

By using a tool to help describe individual motivations and behaviours, we helped this manager to do two things:

  • Recognise their own behaviours and to appreciate the effect it was having on the team
  • Understand the differences and opposite behaviours in team members’ drives and motivations, and then how to work with them more effectively as a result

Immediately there was an available language that explained why there was a disconnect. This then led to a dialogue around approaching individual team members differently in ways more suited to get the best from them.

There was an instant difference in what this manager was seeing from their team and their interactions with this team were completely transformed.

This is a classic example of someone who had been promoted to a people management role because they were good at the technical aspects of what they did previously and had a reputation for getting things done.

They were not appointed to the position because they had previously demonstrated any strong people management skills!

This manager and their company had spent time and considerable resource developing this manager’s subject matter expertise and had then understandably promoted them to a new people manager role.

Not a fraction of the time or resource that had gone into developing their technical expertise was allocated towards helping them understand their people. In our experience this is an all too familiar story.

We have another client who is much more informal in their style.

The challenge for this individual was that they cared “too much” for the people on the team – to the extent that they were putting people considerations as a higher priority than the delivery of the task – in an organisation that valued the achievement of the task “the numbers” above all else.

We worked with this manager to balance people considerations with the task – and that whilst this manager could not change their genuine concern for people, there were times – when to be successful in this organisation, they needed to adapt and to be less “people-orientated”.

The difference between this situation and the 1st scenario, is that this is a short-term tactic, and it’s important to recognise that.

We can see that who you are plays a big part in how you will approach managing others.  However,  knowing yourself and your style isn’t enough … you also need to know where the likely ‘pitfalls’ are going to be.

And typically, there are 3 key things new managers are likely to struggle with:

  • Communication
  • Delegation
  • Decision-making

It helps to understand and appreciate your own natural style specifically around those 3 topics, the impact they can have on people and what these issues mean for the people you are managing.

We will be taking about these issues in our next few articles over the coming weeks.

In the meantime, here’s something to think about.  The primary responsibility of any manager is to motivate and develop….. if there are people to manage.

However, we do need to be clear what it is that is being managed ……. are you managing people or task or process, or all three?

As a Project Manager it’s clear that your job is to manage the Project, you may not have any formal direct reports.  Yet you’re still likely to need to influence others to get work done to help you to achieve your goals.

Effectively, you’re still managing people to some extent, even if your focus is managing the task or process.

We do need to make the point; for any manager who is directly responsible for managing people, then managing and motivating them to achieve objectives should be their prime responsibility.

Their secondary responsibility will be to achieve the “other stuff – the tasks, the project management, the strategic thinking and planning etc.

For those whose prime responsibility is to manage the task or process, then motivating others is a secondary and significantly smaller part of their role.

People managers still, of course, have tasks to accomplish and they will inevitably have other responsibilities as well as managing people.

It’s very obvious that the more senior a role in the organisation, the more it becomes about the ‘vision’ and the ‘strategic agenda’ and about developing and sharing that with the team.

Even (and perhaps especially) at this senior level understanding the teams’ motivations and drive will still be important for that leader in order to deliver that vision and strategy.

In summary, whatever type of manager you are, you’ve been put in the role in order to achieve an objective.

If there are people involved – whether directly reporting to you or not… whether at a senior level or on the ‘shop floor’ – it’s about making sure that you utilise them to help you do that, positively and constructively.

When you are managing a task or a project and entirely dependent upon your own efforts to deliver on it – there is a transactional simplicity to this approach.

Once we add other people to the mix we add complexity because other people are complex – but then of course…….. so are you!

We can help you decode this complexity using science-based solutions, so please call if you would like us to help.


  • Anonymous

    June 28, 2017

    When we training or mentor, our firm always starts with what the person can do now and how they can use that to be an effective manager. Management has a process to it. Most people when they see that process have a good idea of what skills they need to develop. Often it’s around framing, conflict and negotiation.

    Then we go from there.

    The biggest hurdle many we coach run into is that they don’t see themselves as a manager. They get this odd image of a manager and they do not want to be that kind of manager. There’s a lot of therapeutic discussions that need to happen to get over that hurdle.

    • RPx2 Web Team

      July 24, 2017

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your experience with us!