How To Manage Like A Pro When You Have No Idea What You're Doing

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On the list of common things people are afraid of, managing a large team for the first time falls somewhere between getting attacked by a shark and having dinner with your in-laws.

But your transition from lowly associate to all-powerful manager didn’t happen overnight. Since your first summer internship you’ve been preparing for this role. Your experience and work ethic have finally been recognized. You’ve been promoted to a title and paycheck that reflect your real worth. You've been given a team of talented underlings t o lead confidently into success and financial prosperity.

… Now what?

If you’ve recently found yourself in a managerial position and have no idea what you’re doing, don’t worry: You’re in good company. Most first-time managers are stellar individual performers who are highly effective at delivering results on their own. However, they likely have little-to-no experience getting things done through other people.

Thankfully, there’s an entire industry devoted to helping you become the manager everyone wants to work for.  We spoke with Jerry Hauser, CEO of The Management Center in Washington, D.C., to get some practical tips on how new managers can delegate like a seasoned pro.

Don't make it a popularity contest. Focus on results.

According to Hauser, the first thing new managers should do is “get clear on why you’re getting paid the big bucks.” While you may be the most sociable guy in the cubicle, chances are good that you aren’t being promoted to keep people happy and make new friends. You were promoted so that you could deliver a certain set of results, and sustain and grow those results through the effective management of your group. “We see a lot of new managers who get so hung up on wanting to be liked or wanting to be popular,” Hauser says, “that they don’t end up delivering what they’re supposed to deliver.”

If your team is running a user survey for a big client meeting, you need to make sure those results are on your desk with time to spare, even if that means keeping them late to get it finished. Be considerate of your team’s time, of course, but don't forget: Besides managing your staff, you have your own work to deliver, and more importantly, your own boss to keep happy. So while it might not put you in the running for Most Fun Boss of the Year, remember that your first responsibility is to the company that gave you this opportunity.

Provide a road map, and stay within reach.

How do you go about delivering results? Most new managers take one of two approaches: Either they assume their teams are completely self-sufficient and need no guidance whatsoever, or they think they're dealing with utter incompetents who can't do anything without significant hand-holding. Both of these approaches typically end up causing more work for you in the long run.

Hauser advises managers to guide more and do less. “Spend more energy on the guiding than most managers do,” he says, “and you’ll get to spend less energy actually doing the work yourself.” What does that look like in practice? Hauser suggests using something called the Delegation Cycle:

Step 1: Lay down the law.

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Delegation Cycle

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When you give a team member a project, don’t just do a quick rundown of what you want and when it’s due. “Invest the time in sitting down and saying, ‘Let’s be really clear and talk through what success looks like on this,’” Hauser suggests.

In other words, what would it take to delight you? What are the key components of this project that must be included, and what extra step could your staff take that would make your life a whole lot easier? Give them quantitative and qualitative targets to aim for, but let them figure out how to get it done. Your team will feel more empowered to take initiative — and you’ll do less of the legwork.

Step 2: Don't go AWOL.

After you assign a task, don’t disappear. “So often new managers think that’s it: ‘I’ve had a conversation with somebody, I’ve asked them to do something, my piece here is done and now it’s up to them to deliver,’” Hauser says. Inevitably, they learn the painful lesson that assuming things will happen the way they’re supposed to without some continued guidance is a recipe for disaster. "Even incredibly well-intentioned, skilled staff members will deliver something different from what you expected if you’re entirely hands-off through the process.”

Staying engaged doesn’t mean suffocating your team. After all, Hauser notes, “you don’t need to eat the whole pie to know what it’s going to taste like.” Instead, take a slice of the pie. Check in at key points along the way to see how the work is shaping up. If it’s a memo, ask for a bullet-point outline so you can see the direction he's going. If it’s a fundraising appeal, ask to see the first paragraph. That way you can keep your hands in the process just enough to ward off any major structural or miscommunication errors before it’s too late.

Step 3: Connect the dots for next time.

The report is in, the event is over, the case is closed, but… your manager responsibilities are not quite finished. Whether your team executed the project without a hiccup or the whole thing was a complete disaster, it’s now your job to turn it into a learning experience for the next time.

Build debriefs into the process so that your staff comes to expect both positive and constructive feedback on a routine basis. This helps to reduce the fear associated with feedback and sets expectations for performance on the next task. “It can be a quick chat on the way home from an event or an hour-long debrief after a major project,” Hauser says. Either way, the reviews let your team know you mean what you say, and that when you ask them to do something at a certain level, that’s what you expect every time.

Step 4: Consider the best approach on a per-project basis.

The same delegation techniques won’t be applicable for every situation. Before you hand out a project, assess the stakes involved and evaluate the team member who’ll be carrying it out. “If it’s a brand new staff member who’s never done something before, and it’s high stakes  — you’re delivering something for the CEO of the company or for a major client  — you’re going to be really hands-on along the way,” Hauser says.

Conversely, “if it’s a staff member who’s done something a million times before, they’re highly skilled at it, they’re motivated to do it, and/or it’s not the most high-stakes project, then you’re going to be a little more hands off on the project.”

Put "manage team" on your to-do list — literally.

Now that you've gotten your team working seamlessly, it's time to build management techniques into your schedule, so they don't get pushed aside by your own day-to-day tasks. While check-ins, debriefs, and expectation-setting can happen on an ad hoc basis, Hauser suggests designating a set time at the beginning of each week to go over your team's workload and track progress on ongoing projects. That way, if something comes up and you don't have time to debrief after an event or a major deadline, you have a safety net built in so you can still give your staff constructive feedback on schedule.

Good management takes years of practice, but so long as you understand the basic fundamentals, you'll be able to do your job effectively and ensure your team can do theirs. 



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