(Illustration by Jefferson Miller)

Dilemma of the Month: What Are Managers Supposed to Do, Anyway?

Back Article Mar 3, 2023 By Suzanne Lucas

I feel like a terrible new hire. This is my first job as a manager, and I’m in over my head. My employees ignore what I tell them to do. I went to HR for help, and the HR manager said I needed to figure it out. Help a struggling new manager.

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There are three things you need to know.

1. Most managers are winging it.

2. Companies do a terrible job of training managers.

3. Many HR people don’t know how to manage people, either!

In other words, you’re not alone. You are nowhere near alone! People get promoted to management roles because they are good at doing the work, but managing the work is nothing like doing the work. This means new managers are all in over their heads.

But I already know you’re going to be an awesome manager. How? You recognize that you are in over your head and that you’re doing something wrong. That means you are open to learning, and that puts you head and shoulders over many of your peers. 

So here’s what you can do to move forward.

Sit down one-on-one with your employees.

You’re not only their new boss; you’re new to the company! So it’s highly possible that they are ignoring you because your ideas won’t work — or because they secretly hate you because they loved the old boss who let them get away with everything. Or they could just need some time to warm up to you. It’s hard to know unless you talk with them. Here’s what you should say and why.

“Now that I’ve been here for a few weeks, I really want to get to know everyone and learn how to make things better by talking to the experts.”

You acknowledge that you need to learn and that the employees are the experts at what they do. This is not just sucking up to try to get on their good side. People do generally know their jobs better than their bosses — especially their brand-new bosses. 

“How long have you been here? What did you do before? What are your long-term goals?”

Get to know the employees, and make sure you listen and even take some notes — especially their long-term goals. But make sure you don’t hold any of it against them. If your team is full of accountants and one of your employees says, “I’d really like to be a Broadway star,” don’t immediately sideline that person. You want your employees to be honest, and the best way to do that is to support them in their honesty. And remember, no one stays in a job forever, so regardless of why they want to move on, most of them will quit one day.

“What are three things I can do as a boss to support you?”

Make sure you take notes on these things. If you don’t, it’s obvious that you are asking for management points but have no intention of following through. Of course, things like “double my salary” aren’t going to happen, but “post the schedule two weeks in advance” is something you should consider. 

“What are three things you’d like to change?”

If you’re wondering why I suggest three each time, giving people limits actually helps them answer the question. On open-ended questions, people sometimes provide too many answers and sometimes not enough. Asking for three helps people prioritize and say what they want to say. Again, take notes on this.

Follow up with everyone.

After you’ve spoken with all your direct reports, don’t stop the conversation. Consider what they’ve said, implement some of their ideas (even if you don’t want to), and make sure you follow up.

The most important thing is letting them know you listen to what they say. You may disagree, and you may do things differently, but you are listening. When your employees learn that you will listen to them, they will start listening to you. It’s a trade-off.

Check in with your boss.

Just like your reports need to check in with you, you need to check in with your boss. Ask for feedback. Let your boss know what you struggle with. All these things allow your boss to support you. If you pretend that everything is fine, things won’t get better.

Implementing change, knowing what is going on, getting your employees’ support and following your manager’s guidance are necessary to succeed as a new manager. Combining all this should make your way smoother. 

And don’t panic. You’re doing fine. Managing is a new skill, and it takes time to learn.

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