7 Tips for First-Time Managers

When I founded GovLoop, I had never truly managed people. As GovLoop has grown, luckily I’ve been able to build a great team of 25+ individuals where I’ve managed many aspects of the team myself as well as hiring a great number of excellent managers.

In this journey, multiple times I’ve helped promote an excellent individual contributor into a management role. For first-time managers, it’s always a journey to develop your own management style and rhythm. However, I’m often asked for tips about getting going.

So, here are my seven management tips for first-time managers:

  1. Spend 10X time on recruiting. The #1 piece of advice I have for managers is make sure you get awesome players on your team. It’s easy to be an average recruiter – wait to see who applies to your job online, do average interview sessions, and light reference checks. But think about it – you spend 2,000 hours with these people every year. Over-invest in getting the right players – promote your opening across all networks, learn how to interview well, and dive into reference checks.
  2. Set clear expectations. Everyone wants to know the game they are playing and what’s expected of them. The worse bosses continually change the game and rules and you never know where you stand. The best bosses have clear expectations of the role and hold those expectations accountable
  3. Trust but verify. No one loves a micro-management, so don’t be in the weeds on everything. And also delegation without verification is abdication. In the end, your employees work is on you. So my favorite framework is trust but verify – give assignments and room for employees to achieve but verify the work is being done and help along the way. Also, the amount of trust and verification should not be consistent over time and across tasks and that’s ok. It’s likely you’ll want to spend more time verifying with a shorter-leash at the beginning of a relationship or on an important project but you’ll want to extend the trust over time and depending on assignment.
  4. Have a clear operating rhythm. A clear operation rhythm for how you and your employees will communicate and work is essential. Constant feedback is essential in any manager/employee relationship. Stay consistent on holding 1 on 1s weekly even if it is only 30 minutes and set aside a longer 1-hour session (ideally over lunch) to talk broader discussions like career path and setting larger goals. I like using a standard working document to track ideas we both need from each other and goals as a starting point for these conversations.
  5. Tell stories of the why. We focus so often on the what to do and how to do it. Yet, as individuals, we crave hearing more of the “why.” Spend time telling stories of the “why” we do what we do. Why doing our jobs helps X people or leads to Y result.
  6. Be human. In our lives, we spend more time at work than any other place. Be authentic and human at work. Share your life and your vulnerabilities. Learn about people’s families, hobbies, and interests. Going to a place of work where you know people care about you every day is a true joy.
  7. Adapt individually. Each employee is unique and it is important to read what is important to them and what makes them click. Some folks may be hyper-ambitious and what fires them up is getting involved in a stretch assignment beyond their normal duties. One person may like public praise, while others just appreciate a hand-written thank you note. Know your crowd.

Bonus tip: Last but not least, don’t beat yourself up too much. Early on as a manager, I was constantly worried if I was doing a good enough job and felt like I was underachieving. Over time, I grew into my own skin and realized no one is perfect and to try to grade myself on a curve (vs other managers not vs the perfect manager). As a first-time manager, the key is simply to start with the basics and keep on learning and adapting over time.

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William Tewelow

Great article. I know you didn’t write it for my sake with me in mind, but I am a new manager and I greatly appreciate the tips. Some of those issues I am facing right now.