Discover the big disconnects in performance management today in the 2024 State of Performance Enablement report.

Finding Success as a First Time Manager

By Betterworks
February 25, 2022
8 minute read

Managers are the key to unlocking business results through employee engagement. They account for a startling 70 percent of the variance in team engagement, research from Gallup finds. But for a first time manager, that much responsibility can be overwhelming — especially if you were promoted for being an effective individual contributor, as most people are.

As work shifts, what companies need from managers is changing, too. More companies need people leaders who can inspire trust, facilitate better outcomes, and lead team members to personal and professional achievements.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to become a manager for the first time and how to lead your team to greater success.

What Does It Mean to Be a Manager?

Managers have traditionally been promoted for being high performers, but the work expected of you as a manager is completely different from the work you did as an individual contributor.

Becoming a manager means becoming a facilitator of your team’s work to help them achieve the best results. Managers are expected to drive performance, review and improve performance, set team goals, and develop employees. 

Managers are also expected to maintain a healthy environment for team members and to understand how external social trends and factors affect individual team members. They are also responsible for driving business results while balancing employee safety, well-being, satisfaction, and growth. If it sounds like a tough job, it’s because it is.

Becoming a Manager for the First Time: How to Prepare for Leadership

What we expect from managers is evolving, and that makes serving as a successful manager that much more challenging. The typical management position is evolving into a people leadership role. First time managers need time to learn not just how to manage processes but also how to lead people. Leadership depends more on building a solid foundation that inspires team members to follow and grow — and potentially take the lead themselves.

First time managers need to develop a management style that resonates with their team and company culture. 

Developing the Right Mindset

Many successful managers follow the “servant leadership” model. Here, your role isn’t just to tell team members what to do; your role is to support them as they achieve their goals.

As a servant leader, your role is to remove roadblocks to your employees’ success, allowing them to shine. Enabling employees to work more effectively serves the needs of the business and gives your team members more control over their work.

12 Tips for First Time Managers

First time managers are juggling a lot of responsibilities. Here are some first time manager tips to help you kick off your journey as an effective leader.

Set Up One-on-Ones to Get to Know Your Team

Healthy interpersonal working relationships with each of your team members is the foundation of good management.

Make time early in your tenure as a manager to schedule personal check-ins to get to know your team. Keep a regular meeting with each team member on the calendar to stay in touch with your reports, especially if you don’t see them in an office every day.

Focus on Building Trust

You can’t be an effective manager without fostering trust between you and your staff.

Managers need to trust that employees can carry out work without needing to be micromanaged. Employees need to trust that managers will provide all of the required resources (including advice and support) and remove roadblocks so they can move forward.

Employees need to trust that they can bring concerns to their managers and have those concerns resolved. They also need to know that, if they trust you with their professional interests and development, you will help them to achieve their goals.

Build trust by asking employees about what they need, listening to their concerns, and taking action to help them. They need to see your commitment demonstrated through actions.

Find a Good Mentor

It’s challenging to rate your own performance as a manager, and your employees may not be forthcoming about your progress in your early days in the role. A mentor can help you put things in perspective and offer valuable first time manager advice.

Find an experienced manager who can serve in this role. Meeting with a mentor will help you set goals for your personal development as a leader and help you reach those milestones. Mentors can help hold you accountable for your growth and provide advice when you encounter challenges at work.

Learn from Other Leaders

Think about the managers you’ve had whose leadership resonated with you. What elements of their leadership style were most important to your success? What did those leaders do differently that improved your confidence or work outcomes?

With these answers in mind, think about how you can manage others the way you’d like to be managed. If a manager helped you feel supported and confident when tackling a challenging task, for example, be conscientious about providing that same support to your team members.

Remember that different actions resonate differently from person to person, but keep the golden rule in mind as you develop your personal leadership style.

Be Specific With Your Goals

There’s often a disconnect between employees, the company strategy, and the results employees are supposed to deliver. Managers are largely responsible for closing the loop between people, strategy, and results.

A robust objectives and key results (OKR) program can help managers drill down into company goals and set team objectives that are specific and aligned with the business strategy. Managers can implement best practices to ensure OKR success, including setting clear metrics for monitoring team progress toward goals. 

The more specific your goals are, the easier it is for employees to gauge their own performance and see where they stand.

Stay Involved

Managers must keep tabs on several moving parts. First, managers need to stay involved with the work to address employee concerns and remove roadblocks as (or before) they arise.

Managers also need to stay involved in each employee’s professional development. Help employees find tasks and projects that will help them hone their skills and continue to live their full potential at your company.

As employees learn new things, work with them to apply learning outcomes in their daily work. Include learning goals as part of their personal OKRs.

Focus on Small Wins First

Reaching for big goals can be overwhelming, especially for a first time manager. But you don’t have to make big gains immediately to keep your team moving in the right direction.

Break big goals down into smaller milestones. Use your team OKRs to do this effectively. If one of your quarterly objectives is to improve your project management software and processes, identify how to break that goal down into smaller components across different owners. 

The more small wins you and your team achieve, the more reasons you have to celebrate. Checking off these smaller goals can improve engagement and morale while keeping team members invested in moving forward.

Remain Approachable

Employees need to be comfortable approaching their managers with concerns about their tasks or workloads or to ask for help.

Work on building positive, trusting relationships with your team so they never hesitate to come to you. Take advantage of personal check-ins to build that rapport by demonstrating interest in them as people (not just as employees), offering praise for small wins, and acknowledging their contributions.

If you’re in a hybrid or remote environment, set up regular check-ins that leave room for social banter or schedule a virtual coffee date. Once your employees know you as a person, they’ll feel more comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns.

Adopt a Results-Oriented Mindset

In an increasingly hybrid environment, managers may not see employees completing their work. Trusting that employees are working in this environment can be challenging for first time managers.

Managers must learn to look at results over processes. Employees should have the freedom to work flexible hours from wherever they work best, as long as they turn in good work by the deadline. As work becomes increasingly project-driven, it will become easier to rely on results to assess team performance.

Be Open to Criticism and Feedback

Managing employees means committing to learning — especially from your reports. Managers must lead with humility and acknowledge that being the manager doesn’t mean their reports don’t have valuable insights to offer. 

Be open to hearing from team members about how you’re doing as a manager, what you’re doing well, and what could be improved.

Collect employee feedback, especially during performance conversations. Implement 360-degree feedback to gather input from employees regarding your performance. This will help you become more collaborative and demonstrate that you’re both working toward the same goal.

Avoid Micromanaging

First time managers may feel compelled to micromanage how work gets done, but employees need some space and control over their work. Managers who hover over employees or constantly criticize their work will only alienate their reports.

Micromanaging means focusing too much on how employees are operating (to the point of getting in their way). There are points when you need to check in or raise concerns, but there are points when you need to step back and trust that your team will get the work done.

Striking that balance is challenging, but you can rely on cues from employees to find it. If an employee comes to you with a question, they may need more guidance. But as they become less receptive to feedback, you may need to step back and reassess how involved you are in their work.

Don’t Fear Failure

A lot of first time managers build failure up as something to be avoided at all costs. But living with a constant fear of failure puts you and your team at a disadvantage.

Failure will happen at some point (and more than once, too). You can work with those failures to learn how to improve and grow. 

Agility is key to navigating rapid changes, but to manage an agile team, you need to fail fast to learn fast. Allow your team to try new things — as long as you’re tracking the data and analyzing the results to learn from those experiences.

6 Resources Every First Time Manager Needs

First time managers don’t have to navigate new situations alone. Here are some valuable first time manager training and learning resources to help you acclimate to your new role.

“The New One Minute Manager”

Broken down into three basic categories, Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson’s “The New One Minute Manager” helps readers learn to manage employees using one-minute goals, one-minute praisings, and one-minute redirects.

The purpose of this book is to help managers find meaning in what they do and to help employees do the same.

“New Manager Playbook”

This resource from BizLibrary helps first time managers acclimate to their roles. Download this ebook for free to learn how to step into your new management role with ease. This ebook includes advice for managing former peers, developing goals, and generating business results in your new role.

“The Current World of the Manager” Webinar Series

Gallup hosted a webinar series in 2021 outlining the changing obligations and expectations inherent in managing in today’s work climate. The series looks at the external factors that shaped management in the new economy, including the pandemic and social trends.

“Good to Great”

Moving from a good company to a great one relies on successful managers at all levels. Check out “Good to Great” by Jim Collins to learn how you can support your company’s transition from just good enough to exceptional.

“The New Manager’s Workbook”

To help their teams thrive, first time managers need to learn to navigate complex situations. From hiring employees to helping staff members improve their work, Randy Clark’s “The New Manager’s Workbook” can guide you to better leadership.

Psychological Safety Tool Kit

Managers are responsible for helping employees feel psychologically safe in the workplace, especially in a team environment. 

The Psychological Safety Tool Kit will help you become more aware of when team members might be feeling unsafe (especially those from historically excluded groups) and provide guidance for creating a healthier, safer workplace.

Accept the Challenge of First Time Management 

Becoming a first time manager can be overwhelming. You’re taking on a lot of responsibility for yourself and your team. Delivering business results while also helping the members of your team grow can create a lot of pressure. But if you can master leadership skills at the management level, you can lead your team to greater success.

For more tips for first time managers, watch this speaking session: What Does it Mean to Be a Manager Today and How Can You Help New Managers Succeed.