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Advice for a First-Time Manager

by Jeff Gau on July 19, 2018

I remember when I became a manager for the first time early in my career at Marco. I was asked to lead our miscellaneous machines product line (paper shredders, time clocks and calculators). It doesn’t even sound important, and it wasn’t. Many people didn’t know it existed or what it was. But I was excited for the opportunity. I jumped right in. 

It led to future management positions and eventually to my current role as CEO. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of seeing many professionals become managers for the first time or join our company as a manager. It definitely can be a defining moment in a career. Here’s my advice to make the most of the opportunity:

  • Set the pace early.
    I wanted my position as manager of miscellaneous machines to be the start of a long career in management. Even though it was a small business unit, I didn’t discount the opportunity to have an impact and advance my career. Communicate your short-term goals and take action early. You need to contribute right away because people are keeping score.

  • Send a message.
    When you start as a new manager, people are sizing you up. Send a signal on your style and what’s to come. As the new guy in charge, I was intentional about getting results early so I brought the products that were stored in our warehouse and moved them to the sales floor to provide demonstrations and visual impact. Instead of telling the sales team how one shredder produced a straight cut and the other produced a cross cut, I showed them so they could see the difference and better communicate the benefits to their clients. Value your work and others will do the same.

  • Do something impactful immediately.
    If I had to rank my advice, this would be the most important. Activity defeats doubt. Do something. Make a commitment in the first 90 days to initiate something that will have a positive impact on your area – and possibly the larger organization. It may be starting something new, stopping something that’s not working or fixing something that’s broken.

  • Understand your team profile.
    Early on, take the time to get to know and understand each of your team members. If you’re new to the company, this will be critical to get them to work with you – not just for you. Identify who you think will be your top and average performers. There also may be some team members that you can’t keep on your team. Plan for that. It’s not recommended to do a complete overhaul, but anti-sponsors need to go as soon as possible, or they will destroy your team and your success.

  • Host effective meetings.
    Meetings are an opportunity for you to engage your team. They should be held consistently – at a regular frequency and typically at the same time. You don’t have to do all the talking. Share the agenda with others by giving them an opportunity to lead and present as well. Focus the meeting on exchanging and discussing information on timely topics. Keep the agenda fresh and focused on what’s needed.

Management requires a shift – away from your own skills to leveraging other people’s skills. Your activities will change. You likely were chosen for the position because you’re a doer – a go-getter. You’re going to shift from doing your job to helping others do their job better.

You’ve created an opportunity for yourself to become a manager. Now go make the most of it.

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