January 3, 2021
It’s surprising how often people become managers almost by accident. Sure, they’re excited to lead and have more responsibility, but all of a sudden they’re given a team member or two and then told to be a manager. There’s rarely a checklist for new leaders or a manager’s handbook. In fact, you may be lucky if your company even provides new manager training or onboarding. So what should leaders do first? What do new managers do in their first 30, 60 or 90 days?
Even the newest managers are expected to take on significant responsibilities: set and manage priorities, hiring and (hopefully not too much) firing, and maybe the most important - create an effective team culture. The culture you build determines how long team members stay with the company and how effective they are while they’re there, so it’s important that new managers get it right.
Perhaps you’re a “new manager” because it’s your first time ever being a leader. Or maybe you’re a “new manager” that’s recently taken over an established team. Regardless, the process can be similar and there are plenty of ways to make it happen. I have some ideas though and perhaps you can borrow from my experience.
Here’s a checklist of 5 things a new manager should do first to establish a meaningful culture within their team:
As you meet or engage with your team for the first time, it’s a perfect opportunity to introduce yourself as a mentor and coach, not just a manager. I’d recommend a well practiced (not rehearsed) introduction that highlights your priorities, objectives and vision. You could speak to what you’re most excited about or what you see as opportunities. Use your introduction to create energy and excitement, because you can bet that people will share notes once the meeting is over. Whatever you do, make sure to take a very authentic approach - it’s okay to lead with vulnerability. People will respond well if you seem human and approachable.
Some first time managers come in too hot and assume they have all the information and right ideas. I’d recommend new managers slow down and ask a lot of questions. Your team, whether they’re established or not, may have some potential concerns about the transition, ask enough questions to understand their concerns. Ask about what has been going well and what they wish was different. Ask about how they prefer to receive feedback or suggestions. Ask what they loved about former managers, so you get a sense of how they like to interact. One valuable question all new managers should ask: “Are there any little things that have frustrated you that I can help take care of?” Sometimes there are nagging items, small as they might be, that are frustrating to people and you can be the hero if you help get them solved. Questions, especially when you’re starting off with a new team, help show that you’re not a know it all and you value the perspectives of those you’re working with.
At some point within the first 30-60 days, you should have a meeting dedicated to communicating and starting your team culture. Based on your style and what you learned from your team members, you should craft a culture that will bring people together. Team cultures can vary...a lot. Your culture may be based on formal processes, energetic brainstorms, team activities, top down tactics, or a casual atmosphere. Maybe your culture focuses on specific values like hard work, transparency, hitting targets, collaboration, etc. Whatever it is - communicate it to your team and help them understand the vision. The more clarity you can provide, the more buy in you can get, and the better your team will perform.
Starting the second you’ve communicated the desired culture to your team, celebrate every activity or action that supports it. How do you do that? Tell people thank you when they live by your team values or when they do an exceptional job. Let people share culture highlights in team meetings. Go out to lunch or a team activity when you accomplish relevant goals. Gather “culture stories” and retell them as an ongoing reminder. When you hire new people, share how they add to the team culture as a way to reiterate what’s important. Whatever you do, make sure people know what winning within that culture looks like and celebrate it when it happens.
It’s okay to adjust your team culture. You can’t do that on a weekly or monthly basis without a negative impact, but it’s completely appropriate to do so occasionally. That could mean adding to or refocusing because company objectives have changed. Maybe you’ve had experiences that have helped you grow as a leader and you want to implement those learnings. When you do change course, be very clear about why. As long as people understand why the change will add value, they will likely support it. If you change team culture every time you read a new book, they may not be as excited for the new approach. It’s great to learn and adjust, just be very intentional when you do so.
No roadmap will work for every manager and no tools exist that will make you the perfect leader. Companies have different circumstances, teams have unique sets of needs and you have your own set of strengths and weaknesses. New managers should think about team culture first and as a key priority - it will make a massive difference in how you feel about your team...and how they feel about you!