10 Actions For New Managers

My team grew in February, and three new members became line managers for the first time. As a newly graduated MBA with over ten years of line management experience, I wanted to give them some immediate actions to help them in their first six to 12 months. I have previously written about my approach to leadership and management, but I wanted something simple and practical that would allow each person to begin developing their management style. I went through my MBA and undergraduate texts and collected together some resources, three of which I share below:

5 things new managers should focus on first‘ by Anthony K. Tjan, from the May 2017 edition of the Harvard Business Review, suggests the following:

  • Establish a leadership philosophy
  • Focus on the day to day of management and leadership
  • Be clear about your communication and your top priorities
  • Set common values and common standards
  • Remember that it’s okay to be scared and vulnerable

I firmly believe in setting common values and standards and being clear about your top five priorities. Establishing a leadership philosophy, however, might be challenging while establishing yourself in a new role. The best takeaway from this list is to focus on day-to-day management and leadership, organising your resources (people and funds) to achieve your objectives. This organising can be done simply by listing your deliverables and their due dates and, working with your team to allocate tasks and monitoring them, adjusting task allocations to ensure you hit deadlines and quality expectations.

The book ‘The Making of a Manager‘ by early Facebook employee Julie Zhou has a great definition of the job of a manager; “Getting better outcomes from a group of people working together.” The book suggests a great manager is someone whose team “…consistently achieve great outcomes.” Zhoe recommends managers arrange their tasks into three buckets: 

  • Purpose (what): ensure your team knows what success looks like and cares about achieving it.
  • People (who): Ask yourself: are the team set up to succeed, have the right skills, and are motivated to do great work? Build trusting relationships, understand their strengths and weaknesses to make good decisions about allocating work, and coach individuals to do their best.
  • Process (how): set out how the team works together.

The famous productivity book ‘Getting Things Done‘ by David Allen suggests six horizons of focus to define work:

  • Ground: Calendar/Actions
  • Horizon 1: Projects
  • Horizon 2: Areas of Focus
  • Horizon 3: One-to two-year goals and objectives
  • Horizon 4: three to five-year vision
  • Horizon 5: Purpose and principles

This list presents a valuable hierarchy of activities for new managers from day one, compiling a complete inventory of actions and dates and capturing this into a shared calendar and to-do list to identify multi-task projects and assign areas of focus and accountability. Once these things are working correctly and everyone is producing consistently good work, focus can expand to thinking about annual objectives and a three-year vision to guide which work to priorities and set the direction for the team. After the first year or two, once the manager is established, experienced, and has work under control, they may prefer to take a strategic approach, start from horizon five, and work backwards. However, trying this from day one might cause missed commitments and poor outcomes.

Ten actions for new managers

I settled on the following ten actions for the new manager’s first six to 12 months. The steps start from immediate one-to-one activities and gradually move out in scope and from individuals to the team. You can quickly fix many problems by talking to your direct reports 1:1 and face to face each week and tracking the resulting agreed-upon actions in a to-do list and calendar. However, developing trusting relationships at a team level may take a long time with many shared experiences. Each step should be satisfied before moving on to the next.

  1. Have a 1:1 for 30-60 minutes every 1-2 weeks​
  2. Track all agreed-on actions using a shared to-do list​
  3. Co-create achievable quarterly and annual objectives with clear successful, strong, and exceptional performance targets​
  4. Create a detailed development plan for each role and personalise it based on the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and their long-term career goals​
  5. Cultivate psychological safety​
  6. Spend time planning as a team​
  7. Have a mixture of shared outputs and personal responsibilities​
  8. Develop a clear vision for the team supported by key performance indicators​
  9. Create weekly, quarterly, and annual cycles​
  10. Develop trusting relationships​

This list will evolve and change as these new managers develop and as new line managers join my area. I will detail some of these actions and how I teach them when they come back into my work focus, and I may justify the list and its order at some point with the detail I share with new managers on my teams. 

If you are a new manager or supporting a new manager with their first direct reports, I recommend reading ‘The making of a Manager’ and then ‘Getting Things Done’ to support this list or to develop your own.