My friend decided to give up her chiropractic practice and take a management job for a tennis association. She was an outstanding chiropractor and a very successful volunteer organizer, which is harder than it looks. She’s good at getting all of her Do List done and loves people. But she’s never managed anyone besides her family and a few assistants for her practice. Basic talents, but no insights. I gave her a quick course in what I thought she needed to know starting in a new management position.
- Discouragement. The absolute worst that she could do on that new job was to do okay. She could not fail. Turns out she knew this. But she wanted to be more than just okay. So I told her she would have times in the first few months where she was sure they’d made a mistake in hiring her (out of dozens of applicants). She’d be sure that she wouldn’t be able to get it. It’s just standard in most any job, but especially in a management job where you don’t know your staff.
- Fresh Eyes. Your first two weeks are the most important time of your employment there. Not so much for the impact you’ll make. They expect you to bumble a bunch of things when you’re new. The first two weeks are important because it is the only time you will have a fresh view of the organization. You will want to dismiss lots of what you see, figuring that you are just too new to understand. And by the second month, you will have forgotten most of what you noticed when you were new. Take the time to note all the things that look out of balance, workflows that don’t work and any questions you have. Make sure it all gets documented. What are the things you figured out on your own that you wish someone would have told you?
- Reading. If you could only read one business book, given your existing skills and personality, read this one: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. It is for advanced managers, but it is in no way a difficult read. It’s dirt simple. For example when you are working your way up the ladder, it makes sense to offer suggestions on a project that someone shows you. It makes you look contributory and collaborative. But when you are the boss, you don’t get to do that. Your “suggestions” are often taken as orders because you have too much power in that exchange. So you need to trust your people to do it their own way, unless there is a real problem you need to head off at the pass.
- Productivity. The larger your ambition (like improving the association) the more likely it is that you will no longer be able to complete your Do List. You will always have more things to do than you have time for. The art of getting things done will boil down to which things you choose to do and when. Ultimately it comes down to knowing what not to do. Get in the habit of looking for things that don’t need to be done, even if they’ve always been done. Look for things you can delegate or drop all together.
- Debriefing. It is a poorly understood concept. Basically, it’s active learning from an event that is already over. We tend to learn passively, wrongly believing that we can remember all that went wrong from the event and passively vowing to not do those things next time. By building a formal process, one with specific questions and invited guests, we make our learning active. We learn more and better. What have we learned? What can we do better next time? Who else should we include in the event or the debrief? You can even debrief alone, by documenting what you learned in the form of a white paper or blog post, for others to learn from. We write better, and therefor learn better, when we write for an audience or a coach.
What made this advice work for her was that it was tailored to her current understanding and skill set. If she’d never managed anyone before, the ideas might have been more basic. Have someone who understands business debrief your early days and it will make the whole experience more rewarding and productive.