7 Things I Learned Going From Managing 0 to 25+ Employees

Before I launched GovLoop, I had never truly managed people at work.

If you asked me in an interview, I would have said I had, because I had managed the intern program, managed a group of volunteers, managed IT projects, and even managed contractors.

But managing a team of full-time staff is different than all of the above. The fun part about GovLoop and growing the team has been also learning a lot about management and management styles.

Here are seven lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1) Hiring is Everything – By far, the most important thing you can do as a manager is to hire well. In an average year, you will spend 2,000+ hours with this person on your team. Isn’t it worth spending an extra five hours sourcing great candidates (reaching out to friends, listservs, universities) or an extra three hours on real reference checks? If you get hiring right, your life as a manager will be a lot easier.

2) Over-communicate – There’s plenty of cheesy lines about how much you need to over-communicate and I’ve read numerous books that state this. But it wasn’t until I managed did I really see it in action. On the positive side, if I stated a simple mantra (Get 1% better every day is my favorite) often enough, I would hear others start to say it in meetings and even in on-boarding sessions with new staff. On the contrary, if I didn’t, I would hear other people describe various projects and their goals/mission very differently than the original way I meant it.

3) But Also Under-communicate – At the same time, a manager needs to over-communicate, I also had a real problem with talking too much. Personally, I like to brainstorm and am always reading, so in the beginning I would always share ideas about everything. It took me awhile to realize there were real negative consequences to this – people were unsure if that email was a requirement (you have to do this) or just an idea. Also, the boss’s ideas can often trump a brainstorm – if I were to share my opinion at the beginning of a meeting or in an email ahead of time, it would actually curtail a good discussion. As a manager, it is important to pick your times when to share an opinion.

4) Create a Battle Rhythm – Every organization needs an operational battle rhythm for how it operates. At GovLoop, our core battle rhythm is we have a bi-weekly all-hands meetings, a weekly email with status updates of all the key projects that I send weekly (but primarily updated by others), weekly small team meetings, and individual 1 on 1 weeklies with staff/manager. This all rolls up to a quarterly plan with quarterly goals, a quarterly leadership off-site, and (if we have a good quarter) a team celebration. Overall the sets a good cadence for the team with regular enough check-ins, key statuses for everyone, and a quarterly nature to make strategic adjustments.

5) Remind Folks of the “Why” – The reason I created GovLoop was to provide a place where government employees could connect and learn how to do their job better from their peers. While that is obvious to me as we grow, it’s easy to forget the “why” — for me, this is a passion and a mission but for a new person, it’s a job. We’ve done this in a number of ways – we have a culture where we share great quotes from our community via email and Slack. We try to have every member of the team talk to at least two members a month to hear what they are working on and ways we could better. And myself personally, I host career advice sessions for our top VIP members and featured bloggers as a way to give back.

6) Don’t Avoid the Issue – As employees, we’ve all had those times when you just wanted the boss to step up. That might be helping shine light on a process that is broken, an employee who is not performing, or a product that is simply not performing. As a manager, you can’t avoid the issue – your job is to address the problem head on. Sometimes it requires you to handle it yourself and other times it requires simply bringing the issue to the forefront and prioritize it as something that needs to be solved. Every time I took a little longer on an issue or waited for it to just work itself out…it never did. But when addressed quickly, dealing with those issues has enabled us to grow and strengthen.

7) Have Fun & Be Human – It sounds simple but too often we forget at work that is just a series of people and we all want to do good work and have fun. Sometimes that is fun traditions like at GovLoop we get a bobblehead for a person’s work anniversary. Or sometimes it’s just taking the time to have a normal conversation on a Friday afternoon (maybe with a beer from the fridge). Good managers know how to keep these items going on, and you know you’ve done well when you are no longer setting those items but others are taking the lead.

As a manager, your role is to set the stage for the team to be successful. To me, the key ingredients are an awesome team, clear priorities, work that matters, a battle-rhythm for process, and having fun along the way.

It’s not rocket science, but it’s hard. But it’s one of the most rewarding jobs there is.

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