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The 3 essential tips for new managers: What to do first

If you’re a new manager, focus on these 3 tips for new managers and nothing else.

3 essential tips for new managers

“Help! I’m a new manager and have so much going on… Can you give me some tips for new managers?”

A version of this sentiment is expressed to me at least several times a day. I share this not jocularly, but rather out of solidarity: Whether or not “Help!” has audibly emerged from your mouth, know that you’re not alone.

Figuring out how to become a good new manager is like being thrown into a swimming pool. Someone’s saying you need to have a faster backstroke time, someone else is telling you that you need to improve your butterfly stroke… Except there’s one problem: You don’t even know how to float.

As a new manager, you are rarely given support and guidance on how to be a good manager. You have no clue what to focus on first – let alone how to master the basics. You’re simply expected to know how to float in the pool automatically, compete in the top races, and win them.

But is this a sport you have any chance of excelling at?

I’ve got good news – and some hope. I’ve spent my entire working life studying managers, and what I’ve learned from almost 10 years of researching and working with thousands of managers through Know Your Team is that there are a few key tips for new managers – three in particular – that you’ll want to prioritize.

Here are the 3 things you’ll want to focus on first as a manager:

#1: Trust

Trust is foundational for a team to operate well. Think of it as the oil of the machine in your team: Without it, nothing can run smoothly. As a result, building trust with your team should be your first focus as a new manager.

Building trust likely feels intuitive to you, as a new manager. However, what we often don’t realize is that there are two types of trust we need to foster in our team to be effective as a leader: (1) “affective trust“, a form of trust based on the emotional bond and relatedness you feel toward another person and (2) “cognitive trust”, which emerges from a sense of reliability and competence.

To be a successful new manager, you need both affective and cognitive trust in your team. This means, as a new manager, to build affective trust, it’s critical that you create opportunities for your team members to get to know each other better, find commonalities, and share things about yourself, as well. To build cognitive trust, you’ll want to be vulnerable and transparent about your intentions and follow-through on them. You’ll want to show your team that they can count on you and that you’re not making empty promises.

Affective trust is especially important to initiate at the beginning of a relationship, according to research. Because of this, you’ll want to devote keen attention to this type of trust when you first join the team as a new manager.

Looking for a way to scale build affective trust in a personal way? You’ll want to use our Icebreaker and Social Question Tool in Know Your Team. We ask non-cheesy get-to-know-you questions that help spark connection and rapport in your team.

#2: Honesty

The second thing you’ll want to focus on as a new manager is communicating honestly. Your team cannot make sound decisions if everyone isn’t able to freely give critical feedback, share candid observations, and be open with one another.

To enable honest communication, you’ll want to establish two mechanisms in your team as a new manager: (1) recurring one-on-one meetings with each direct report and (2) a system of asking regular employee pulse questions. The combination of both of these mechanisms will help you open up channels of dialogue with folks 1:1, and elicit honest feedback outside of an annual review process.

One-on-one meetings are markedly paramount for you, as a new manager. In a 2018 survey we conducted with 1,182 managers and 838 employees, we found that almost 90% of managers believed that one-on-one meetings positively affect team performance. To ensure that you are leveraging one-on-one meetings in a way that most benefits your team, you’ll want to invest in properly preparing for these 1-on-1 meetings. For example, are the questions that you’re asking specific enough and focused on getting a status update? If not, here are the 8 best questions to ask in a one-on-one meeting.

What else can you do to ensure you make the most of your one-on-one meetings? Use our hundreds of suggested questions and agenda templates in our One-on-Ones Tool in Know Your Team to help you prepare methodically for your one-on-one meetings.

Beyond one-on-one meetings, you can communicate honestly as a new manager by actively asking insightful questions to your entire team on a regular basis. When you ask for feedback regularly – instead of just relying on a twice-a-year 50-question survey β€“ you’re creating a rhythm and habit for people to be weighing in honestly.

You can use our Company Question Tool in Know Your Team to get the honest, regular feedback you’re looking for. We give you hundreds of questions to ask such as, “What do you think the team is behind the curve on?” or “Have you noticed good work go unappreciated recently?” that are asked one a time, either once a week, biweekly or monthly through email or Slack.

#3: Context

Of all the tips for new managers, here is the one tip new managers overlook most often: You have to create context for your team. Your team won’t be able to get to where you want to go if they don’t know where they’re going – and what’s going on. Numerous experienced managers have told me that this is the one thing they wish they would’ve committed to earlier.

Specifically, you’ll want to create context around two areas within your team: (1) Progress (“what’s going on?”) and (2) Vision (“where are we going?”).

Progress is integral to share, given that making meaningful progress at work has been shown to be the strongest source of motivation for employees. To consistently share progress, you’ll first want to figure out a system for everyone to know what everyone else is working on. Many teams will hold daily stand-up meetings or weekly staff meetings to share status updates. But these meetings quickly become bloated and aren’t sustainable as the team grows in size.

Instead, here’s the easiest way to efficiently share status updates in a team: Use our Heartbeats Tool that automates daily or weekly status updates in your team via email or Slack. Personally, it’s saved my team dozens of hours every single month.

As time passes, vision will also be essential to co-create and clarify because it codifies what you the team is making progress toward. However, it’s something to focus on later. Many new managers make the mistake of hastily charting a vision because they want to be seen as competent from the get-go. This massively backfires because your team is wary of any shiny new direction being imposed.

Instead, your first weeks (and months!) as a new manager should be spent going on a “Listen and learn” tour with your team, to uncover what they think is going well, isn’t going well, and where the team should be headed. After you’ve fully heard folks out in your team, then you can begin the process of co-creating vision and what a picture of success for your team looks like (I talk about this process here).

After studying managers for almost the past 10 years, I’ve consistently found that becoming a good manager always comes back to these 3 things: Trust, Honesty, Context.

New managers, keep it simple. Take these tips for new managers to heart and focus on trust, honesty, and context first.

β˜€οΈ If you’re ready to put these tips for new managers into practice, look no further than Know Your Team πŸ˜„ Our tools help you build team rapport, run effective one-on-one meetings, get honest feedback, and share status updates – so you’re continually investing in Trust, Honesty, and Context as a new manager. See for yourself, and sign-up for Know Your Team today.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.