Strategies for First-Time Managers

Every first-time manager has a lot of groundwork to lay in order to earn the trust and respect of their reports, but small business owners have the additional challenge of building the foundation for their entire business.

Many entrepreneurs, upon hiring employees for their business, find themselves in management roles for the first time. Managing employees demands a specific set of skills that can be developed and learned much like any other role, although it requires far more interpersonal abilities than say, being an excellent writer.

Below, some experienced managers and leadership experts share their tips and strategies for building a strong foundation as a first-time manager and entrepreneur.

Play to Employee Strengths

As an entrepreneur, you want to build a well-rounded team made up of people with different strengths. Hire people with skills that complement and support yours, rather than those who are just like you. Once you’ve hired this diversified team, make good use of the skills for which you hired them.

“Assign roles and tasks based on the qualities that make an employee stand out,” says Stuart Ridge of VitaMedica. “Not only does this increase productivity and work quality by having the best people work on a particular task, but it also makes employees feel valued. When a manager identifies and works with the traits an employee is proud of and confident in everyone benefits.”

Understanding employee strengths also mean trusting in their skill and judgment – not micromanaging. Lisa Barrington, a leadership coach, encourages new managers to trust their employee’s methods. “Look at outcomes over methods,” Barrington says. “You might have had a specific way of doing things when you were engaged in the task, but an employee might have their own way. If it gets the right outcome, don’t micromanage.”

Delegate Without Micromanaging

Delegating is the most obvious managerial task, but too many new managers fall into the trap of not being able to truly delegate. Entrepreneurs, in particular, have immense difficulty with relinquishing control of work that has previously been their entire responsibility and to which they feel such strong personal investment. The delegation, however, frees up your time to work on higher-level projects and developing vision and strategy for your company. If you’ve taken the time to understand the strengths of your team, as discussed above, assigning work and trusting in its completion will be far easier.

Delegating work does not mean that you become completely removed from the day-to-day work, however. “Decide what you actually need to be hands-on with, and then look at who else can take on the rest,” says Sarah Finch, a leadership development facilitator, and coach. “Be there to guide your team as they build up their skills to be as good as yours, but stay hands off.”

Establish Boundaries Between the Personal and Professional

In small business settings, it is often easy for employees to become very close to each other. As a manager, you want to establish boundaries from the outset that will dictate your personal relationships with your employees. In general, it is good practice to be warm and inviting to your employees, but avoid developing intimate friendships with your team. “Be friendly with your subordinates, but don’t become their ‘buddy,’” says Gregory Golinski of YourParkingSpace. “When you become close friends, [your subordinates] might forget that you’re in charge, making it difficult for you to evaluate their work.”

This doesn’t mean social gatherings with employees are entirely off the table. Lunches, happy hours, and other outings are often very useful in bonding a new team, particularly in a startup environment. But appropriate limits need to be established by you as the manager. “While socializing with the people on your team can have benefits in terms of creating a sense of community, it’s typically a good idea to leave early before any potential issues might arise,” says Marc Prosser of FitSmallBusiness. “Even if you’re off the clock as a manager, you have the responsibility to prevent the potential inappropriate behavior.”

Always Be Open to Feedback

No manager is perfect, and least of all first-time managers. As you establish workflow and procedures, listen to employee feedback on how it’s working for them, and be open to changes that will work for everyone. “Establish an environment in which your employees are comfortable communicating their thoughts and ideas to you,” says Scott Crumrine from Guava Family. “Use this feedback to evaluate areas in which your management can be improved upon. This will help foster a positive environment in the workplace and build rapport amongst your colleagues.”

This doesn’t mean caving to any employee complaint – there will never be a time when everyone is satisfied, and sometimes you will need to hold your ground. But actively listening in order to understand your employees, rather than providing an immediate solution, is essential to good management.

“Most new managers mistakenly believe that they have to be prepared to respond to everything that is presented to them,” says Keisha Rivers, chief outcome facilitator of the KARS Group. “But actively listening to understand what someone means instead of listening to respond to what they are saying is the difference between building an effective and inviting environment and a stressful, distrustful one. People need to feel as if they are understood in order to them to be fully involved in the organization’s success.”

Be Attentive to Employee Needs

Managers who are also small business owners have an extra responsibility to pay attention to employees’ personal needs. In addition to managing tasks, you also aid in contributing to the company’s culture and work-life balance. Considering employee needs outside of the office is key to fostering a productive and happy environment.

“Employees have lives outside of work and worry about important factors such as their children or pets,” says Tracy Julien of GuidedChoice. “Consider offering perks such as telecommuting, flexible hours to accommodate childcare needs or a dog-friendly environment. These go a long way in showing employees you care about their entire well-being, inside and outside of work.”

Not all managers have the ability to cultivate these kinds of perks for their employees, so take advantage of the opportunity to create a truly unique and nurturing environment for your team.

First-time managers face a lot of challenges in developing a cohesive team. They must set high expectations, understand and support their employees, and create an environment that is both welcoming and productive. By following these tips and strategies, managers can start off on the right foot in establishing a successful team.

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