First-Time Manager? Here’s What You Need to Know

Advice for first-time managers on navigating the transition from IC to managing a team and setting them up for success.

First off, congrats on being promoted to a managerial role! ✨

As a first-time manager, you're likely excited about the new challenges and responsibilities that come with the job. However, it's normal to feel a bit overwhelmed and uncertain about how to succeed in your new position. 

With the help of the Elpha community , we’ve gathered top tips and strategies for new managers. This guide offers advice to help you navigate this transition and set your team up for success. 🎉

We’ll cover:

  • Transitioning from IC to manager

  • Identifying your management style

  • Making your 1:1s meaningful

  • Building rapport with your team

  • Promoting psychological safety

  • Encouraging feedback and performance review cycles

Remember, becoming a successful manager takes time and effort, but with the right skills and mindset you can create a culture of success and growth within your organization. Let’s dive in! 👇

Transitioning from IC to manager

While your technical skills and expertise may have been the focus of your previous role, as a manager, your responsibilities will shift to overseeing and guiding your direct reports and making sure your team is successful.

“Most people are used to excelling in their role as an individual contributor (and that's likely why they got promoted in the first place). Management is a whole new beast, though. For example, the skills that make someone a great engineer and those that make someone a great engineering manager are starkly different,” says Anna McLaughlin, Director of Product at onDiem. 

When you are managing people for the first time, there may be a gap between your current capabilities and the requirements of the new position. Be kind to yourself in this transition period.

“It’s tough to give a standardized timeline, but I’d imagine it would take any new manager at least a quarter to adjust to the new role in terms of getting to know your reports, setting up new cadences with your team, and aligning on priorities,” says Erin Gunaratna , VP of Product Marketing at Chargebee.

She advises first-time managers to also be ready to adjust their perspective on what it means to have a “productive day”:

“Managing people is a BIG time commitment, so you need to be prepared for that. In my first few months as a new manager, I viewed it almost as sucking time away from my job, which was totally wrong. It’s a very weird transition to spend more time with your team discussing their projects, giving feedback, etc. than it is to spend that time doing your own work – especially if you’re transitioning from a high-performing individual contributor.”

When Heather Zweig , Talent Partner at Elpha, was a product manager she would create reminders for herself about the essential components of her managerial role.

“I had the three important things I was for my team written down and on a sticky note on my monitor. It helped in moments where I needed to remember what my role was in conversations.”

If you are expected to still contribute as an individual contributor while being a manager, it might be a good idea to talk about expectation setting with your own manager. 

“Don't be afraid to ask for support! Your manager will likely know you are new to the role. Asking for support — coaching, help navigating your new role within the team, etc. — shows that you care about doing a good job,” adds Erin. 

In the transition from IC to manager it’s important to ensure business continuity. That means clearly identifying the processes that are critical to maintaining the continuity of the organization’s operations and that these aren’t disrupted by the change in management. That could range from establishing clear roles and responsibilities for your team members to dealing with more administrative tasks like PTO requests or making sure your team is staying within budget. 

“Business continuity when there's a manager change is surprisingly challenging, and depending on the circumstances of the prior manager's departure - you may have an operational headache to deal with right away. Is the prior manager still around? Grab them and pick their brain, both on the role and the team,” says Emily Tsitrian, CEO and co-founder of Yeeld.

Identifying your management style

As a first-time manager, you may need to reflect on what management style works for you and your team. Are you a hands-on manager who likes to be involved in every detail, or do you prefer to delegate tasks and trust your team to get the job done?

“There are different management styles and though it might be helpful to look within your organization to reference other styles/approaches, your style should reflect your personality as well as what works in terms of how you relate to those you are managing,” says Wenlin Tan, Menstrual Health and Well-being coach.

Emily Feairs, CEO at Emily Feairs Coaching, suggests thinking about your role “not as 'managing people' but as the person who gets everything out of the way so the team can do its best. Ask more questions than you answer and make it your job to uncover their greatness, not their weaknesses.”

Learn about your team’s communication style, decision-making approach, and how they handle conflicts or challenges. This awareness can help you lead your team effectively and create a positive work environment.

“I've learned that you really have to embrace diversity – not only in backgrounds but also in communication and work styles – to be an effective manager. You have to be in tune with how your team communicates and make sure you are meeting them where they are, otherwise, you might as well be speaking a different language,” says Ife Ishola, Product Manager at Omnipresent.

“Always keep an open door and understand how people prefer to communicate. Remember, some folks are introverts who don't want to be put on the spot in a group setting. Or maybe that's how someone else shines. Learn how people communicate best and give them the tools to succeed,” says Tara Wilson, Principal Consultant at Data Beeline.

Making your 1:1s meaningful

To build strong relationships with your team, start by showing genuine interest in their work and personal development. Schedule regular 1:1 meetings to check in on your direct reports and get to know them on a personal level. Consistency is key when it comes to these meetings, so make sure to keep them regular and reliable.

“Moving them around every once in a while is one thing, but often I hear how managers will regularly cancel 1:1s, be 10-15 minutes late, or worse do them only a couple of times a month. If you can't be relied upon to go to a 30-minute meeting for your direct report, how are they going to be able to rely on you for what's important?” says Anna McLaughlin. 

She explains that being consistent isn’t just about showing up to the meeting at the agreed-upon time, but also following through on requests post-meeting consistently. 

“Being consistent in solving their issues, or at the very least explaining why you couldn't solve their issue, shows that they can go to you for anything.“

Don’t make 1:1s a tactical meeting. They’re an opportunity to get to know each other better and answer any questions or concerns your team member may have.

“1:1s are not really about productivity, it's about hearing your team member and holding space for them,” adds Krystal Persaud, Co-Founder and CEO at Wildgrid.

In this exchange, Emily Tsitrian suggests :

“Write down everything they tell you - from their experience working for the company, to their professional goals, to the name of their kids/dog/spouse. You'll be in "listening mode" for a while – so don't share too much about what your vision is or what your plans are for the team. Right now, you need to be a sponge and a source of calm optimism.”

Building rapport with your team

Learning how to listen is crucial for building trust here. 

“Be present. Listen to understand and ask clarifying questions. Put the time in at the beginning of your role to build trust — this helps people cultivate autonomy in their roles and comfort with coming to you when work gets tough, confusing or frustrating,” explains Elizabeth Thompson, Operations Specialist at LinkedIn.

Taking the time to learn about what motivates them is essential for their success. Kelijo Boney, Talent Program Manager, advises ,

“Find out how your team likes to be shown appreciation and recognition. If you've heard of the "five love languages", there are also appreciation languages for work. It makes a huge difference in productivity, communication, and comradery when people feel valued and understood in their workplace.”

The more you know your team at a personal level, the better you are able to provide support and guidance that adapts to their individual needs. But also be pragmatic about what makes sense to adjust given the team’s needs.

“Over-adjusting your management style to every person prevents you from learning repeatable management processes and creates challenges in enforcing expectations across a team,” says Ardith Smets, Product and Growth Marketing Leader.

Promoting psychological safety

All of these efforts may be in vain if you do not create a supportive work environment where team members feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas without fear of retribution. 

In Rachel Bell’s words, psychological safety means creating a “space where your team trusts they can share ideas without being criticized, questions without being judged, and ways to make things work more efficiently/better without being told "this is how we always do it"”.

Encourage open communication, actively listen to your team members, and be responsive to their needs. Foster a culture of respect, empathy, and inclusivity, and lead by example to create a psychologically safe workplace that supports the mental health and well-being of your team members.

According to Ioana Hreninciuc , Chief Product Officer at Homa Games, “a good benchmark of psychological safety for me is if people can say "I have made a big mistake" in public, basically own up to something that went wrong, and receive support instead of criticism. Another one is if they can share their concerns about toxic behaviour or personal challenges (e.g. anxiety, burnout) and genuinely be listened to and have their concerns be followed-up on and addressed.”

Encouraging your team to set boundaries for themselves is also a great way to create a work culture that supports their wellbeing. Kelijo Boney shares

“I like to draw the line between work hours and non-work hours. When a team member signs off, I don't send emails etc. I don't want them to feel like they have to check it, so I schedule the communication to go out during their work hours. For asynchronous work, that strategy may not work as well but I encourage my team to create those off-the-clock boundaries and I respect the boundaries they put in place.”

Encouraging feedback and performance review cycles

Be proactive about eliciting feedback from your team. By modeling this behavior, you create a culture of feedback and open communication where team members feel comfortable engaging in honest conversations regarding their career development and growth.

“Open the door for two-way feedback. As a manager, you want to normalize the concept of frequent constructive feedback that is solution-focused and growth-oriented. By scheduling check-ins with your team and asking for ways to improve on your end, you set the standard that feedback is welcomed and valued,” says Devon Climer, Founder of My Communicoach.

Heather shares how she makes it a point to ask her team members about their preferences for receiving feedback beforehand:

“I like to ask my direct reports if they prefer feedback in written form or during meetings. I also ask them about the timing of feedback, whether immediately after and event or after some time has passed. I also ask them how they like to receive positive feedback – individually or in front the team. Understanding how and when people prefer ad hoc feedback is essential.”

Performance reviews are great opportunities to provide constructive feedback, recognize your team’s achievements, and set clear expectations based on your direct reports’ goals and aspirations. 

“It's helpful to level set where your people want to go in their career. That helps you frame up things that come up against that overall goal. Do they want to be a manager? Do they just want a raise? Do they only work the job for experience? When you give feedback in the context of what their greater goal is, people are more open to hearing it because they know you get them,” explains Kristie Lee, Marketing Career Coach.

Kelijo Boney adds :

“Every person's 100% is not the same and each individual should not be held to another person's 100%. I see this happen often in performance reviews where managers score by comparing the efforts of one team member to another instead of treating their team members as individuals with different strengths, weaknesses, and methods of accomplishing goals.”

On the other hand, sharing feedback along the way is key as Erin Gunaratna shares

“One of the best pieces of management advice I’ve received is that nothing discussed in a performance review should ever be a surprise. That mindset will force you to share honest feedback when you have it, and give employees a chance to hear it and adjust.”

To close it off, Bianca Jefferson, Product Design Manager, shares one of the most powerful phrases you can have in your toolkit as a manager: "I don't know, but I'll find out". 

She explains, “As managers, we sometimes think we need to have all of the answers, but that's not true. You don't have to have all of the answers and you shouldn't fib your way through a knowledge gap. It's so much better to take it as a learning opportunity for both you and the person who's asking the question, and it sets a good example for them to do the same.”

The TL;DR for first-time managers:

  1. Understand that moving from an IC role to a managerial position requires a shift in focus from technical skills to overseeing and guiding a team, which involves adjusting to new responsibilities and expectations while ensuring business continuity.

  2. Reflect on your preferred management style to effectively lead and communicate with your team, while considering their diverse communication styles and work approaches. But remember to find a balance, since over-adjusting your management style comes with its own set of challenges.

  3. Build strong relationships with your team members by scheduling regular and reliable one-on-one meetings, being present and attentive, and creating a supportive space for open communication and personal growth.

  4. Listen actively, show appreciation, and take time to understand what motivates each team member to foster trust, productivity, and a positive work environment, enabling you to provide tailored support and guidance.

  5. Create a psychologically safe workplace by encouraging open communication, respecting boundaries, and leading by example to ensure team members feel comfortable expressing themselves and sharing ideas without fear of judgment or criticism.

  6. Proactively seek feedback, normalize constructive feedback, and conduct performance reviews with clear expectations and recognition of achievements contribute to a culture of continuous growth and development within the team.

👀 Looking for your next managerial role? Check out Elpha's job board for companies that invest in management training for their managers.

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