You are a successful individual contributor in your organization, and you've just been promoted to your first management position. Whether you're a technical expert or business functional expert, you now must adapt to new roles and responsibilities. This article discusses the new expectations that come with the role of manager as well as some of the skills and business acumen that will help you succeed.
Role Differences of a Manager Versus an Individual Contributor
As a successful individual contributor, you demonstrated success in very key skills. You are the expert in a technical or business area. You excel at identifying goals and responsible for developing plans to meet those goals. You are competent at time management and can effectively handle multiple demands and competing deadlines. You demonstrate teamwork and collaboration. Primarily, your focus is on your own deliverables, and your success is based on monitoring your own progress without too much oversight from your manager.
As a manager, the role responsibility shifts as you now are not only accountable for your own performance, but you own the results of the people who report to you. You own setting up an environment for all of your employees to perform their best.
Your expertise in your function will now be focused on developing your employees’ skills and expertise upwards. You will mentor, coach and provide feedback. You will meet with each of your employees to build a trusting relationship where they can safely share what they picture for themselves and where they want to go with their career.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to learn how to do that from a great manager. Early in my career, my manager listened to me and coached me. My first three years on the job was learning about the industry and the nuances of business analysis and application development. My manager enabled me to take the classes I needed to learn the technical skills to build on my expertise. He also sent me to conferences to deep dive into technical knowledge and network with other professionals.
When I expressed an interest in exploring a career in management, my manager approved funds towards undergraduate business classes (such as accounting, finance and economics) to broaden my business acumen since my undergraduate degree was in mechanical engineering. Those studies also gave me a chance to confirm if I truly wanted to become a generalist in management versus continuing being a technical expert in supply chain management and systems. When I decided to pursue my part-time MBA, my manager fully supported me by providing me with company funding towards tuition and flexibility in my work schedule to accommodate class schedules.
In addition to supporting my academic development, my manager gave me leadership opportunities over the course of several years. First, I managed contractors on small development projects. Then, I supervised an intern for a year and a half. In parallel, my manager asked me to mentor a new analyst in our Ireland office.
Eventually, over the course of three years, I learned the skills and acquired experience to manage my own group, and my manager promoted me to manage a team of global data analysts. I am truly grateful of the example he set for me by his mentorship of my early career. Now I aspire to do the same for my employees.
Your ability to handle multiple demands and competing deadlines transitions to guiding your team members towards the overall priorities for the team’s body of work. You hold team members to their deliverables. You acquire the resources to meet their goals and approve their expenditures while keeping to your department’s budget.
In my management role, I balance out the workload across my team and re-prioritize deliverables based on changing business priorities, customer demands and long-term commitments. During the integration of a recent corporate acquisition, my team absorbed the responsibility for managing return material authorizations for a new product category from a different team. The processes for managing those returns did not match the existing process for the returns of our standard products. Plus, the absorption of this new responsibility had a highly visible hard deadline from executive management. The direction I set for my team was to create a new process for managing the reverse logistics to re-use as much of our existing processes and systems as possible. My team also had other projects to which they were already committed on top of their daily functional activities. I negotiated with the owners and stakeholders of those other projects to push out delivery commitments to buy time for my team to adequately support the acquisition requirements. I also reset internal deadlines for functional activities to rebalance each employee’s work load.
As you shift from team member to team leader, you balance out the contributions from each member of the team to ensure collaboration. You own conflict resolution among your team members and between the team and people outside your team. You block and tackle on behalf of your team.
You now identify goals and develop the strategy for meeting those goals. In addition, you will forecast, budget and lobby for needed resources to support your strategy. You plan for the direction of growth for your overall team and plan for succession.
In my current role, I manage three distinctly different functions for the Customer Operations department in a matrix organizational structure. Only the people based in North America report directly to me while I manage dotted line part-time resources in Ireland and Singapore. I encourage my employees to establish rapport with their counterparts via bi-weekly meetings, exchange key ideas on opportunities to improve results via ad hoc calls and jointly develop business process improvements for global utilization. If any member of my local team is unavailable to perform their job responsibilities, any member of the global team can step in to pick up the work. I meet with my direct staff weekly to share new information from my management upline and how their current work fits into the overall business context. If for any reason, I am unable to perform my duties, the senior members of my team have enough knowledge to keep the business running.
Being a manager incorporates a shift in perspective from your individual goals to charting a course for your employees to deliver in line with the long-term strategy of the organization.
Fundamental Managerial Task Knowledge
As a manager, you have fundamental responsibility as an agent for your company to behave ethically and obey the law. Understanding the laws in your country, state and local jurisdictions is key to managing within the law. Depending on your role, several categories of laws may be relevant: labor laws, EEOC, ADA and other anti-discrimination laws; GDPR, HIPPA and other privacy regulations; immigrations laws; export compliance laws; etc.
For example, when I actively recruit outside the company for an opening on my team, I work with human resources to ensure the job description published accurately portrays the role responsibility and the required job skills in a manner comply with EEOC and ADA laws. When I conduct interviews, I structure my questions to comply with anti-discrimination and privacy laws. If hiring a non-US citizen, I work closely with HR to adhere to all immigration laws.
Corporate policies and understanding how to abide by them are part of a manager’s responsibility. Your company policies likely address topics like payroll and benefits, budgets and expense management, salary and bonuses, recruiting, staffing, performance and termination.
Ensuring my team stays healthy, both physically and emotionally, I must understand the time off benefits offered by my company. I know what paid time off each of my employees is entitled to and encourage them to use their benefits. My company offers paid vacation days plus paid days for jury duty and bereavement. One of my employees, distraught over a death in her family, immediately filled out a time card to take time off to attend the funeral. She used her vacation hours, so I let her know that she should use her bereavement leave instead and helped her process the paperwork. In times of stress, people forget or may not even be aware of the benefits to which they are entitled. I oversee the team and take the responsibility that each employee understands how to use the benefits they earn.
Understanding how and when to apply corporate policies on behalf of your employees is part of the toolbox you have as a manager to support your team to form the foundation of success and strengthen a bond of trust.
Tips for Building Employee Relationships in the COVID-19 environment
In general, actions which build and maintain relationships with your employees include:
- Show respect and value for the skills, experiences, creativity, and contributions of others.
- Listen to and acknowledge the feelings, concerns, opinions, and ideas of others.
- Share credit for good ideas./li>
- Assist others in solving problems and achieving team goals.
- Give and receive opinions and feedback respectfully.
- Define problems and disagreements in a firm, but non-threatening manner.
- Support the efforts and final decisions even if not in total agreement.
Beyond that, when all employees are remote, the in-person engagement and serendipitous hallway meetings with your colleagues is difficult to replicate. Some ways to engage with your employees and colleagues remotely include:
- Utilize video conferencing platforms for meetings
- Use Skype, Teams, GotoMeeting etc. for business conversations
- Use Zoom, Discord, WhatsApp etc. for optional informal activities for Happy Hours and Get Togethers
- Utilize collaboration platforms, like Slack, to enable round the clock, global real-time information sharing
On that last point, your aim is to acknowledge that team members may be working alternative schedules under these extraordinary circumstances and to facilitate asynchronous communication. The goal is not to imply an expectation that employees need to be available at all times. Perhaps now more than ever, you need to monitor for stress and burn out – and help everyone maintain some semblance of balance by maintaining reasonable expectations and offering as much flexibility as you can without compromising success. So take time to do quick informal individual check ins with your employees via either video chats or phone calls. The informal structure of these chats reflects how you and your individual employee are most comfortable interacting. Some discussion ideas include:
- Ask how each employee is doing in the work from home environment
- Share personal experiences with your employee
- Share informal open discussion of interesting observations
- Listen for areas of difficulty coping with remote work situations
- Be open to ad hoc discussions
In addition to focusing on your employees, leverage the experiences of your fellow managers and support each other. Some actions include:
- Reach out to your peers to see how they manage their teams
- Listen to how other managers are coping and share how you are managing your team
- Share and discuss ways to address management challenges
I observed my employees and colleagues working longer hours to demonstrate continued contributions to our organization. With global work from home, employees find it too easy to work early mornings into the late night. My management upline actively discusses ideas to prevent our teams from burning out. I encourage my team to disconnect from their screens on the week-ends and holidays to focus on activities other than work.
Creating a Fulfilling Career as a Manager
Becoming a manager is a fundamentally different career path from that of a technical or business functional expert. Different roles and responsibilities require equal parts technical expertise, business acumen, people skills, communication skills, industry insight, corporate strategy, organizational politics and long-term perspective. A career in management opens the opportunity to positively influence more areas of your organization and grow the careers of the people you manage.