Getting the promotion that leads to managing people for the first time should be something to look forward to. It should be an exciting opportunity. But in reality, many new managers find the transition from being one of the team to the head of that team a difficult and stressful experience.
There are not many role changes that involve such a variation in responsibilities as the one from team member to manager. A new manager is often promoted having become an expert in their previous role. Moving on to being a manager means taking on a completely different job role requiring different skills and knowledge, which they have never needed before.
One particular area of concern that comes up time and again in Acas training sessions is how to behave towards the team. It is a common concern and can be especially difficult if they were previously a team member and have existing friendships within the team. It can be tempting to continue acting like ‘one of the team’ or ‘asserting your authority.’ Unfortunately both approaches are often detrimental to a team’s motivation and performance.
Continuing to act like one of the team can have a serious impact on team performance. It brings to mind images of David Brent, trying (and failing) to be friends with all his staff and therefore never making any decision that might affect his (imagined) popularity. While friendships can continue after a promotion to management, a manager needs to keep a clear distinction between a friendship and a working relationship.
Not having a clear distinction is likely to cause difficulties very quickly. The issues should be clear. Staff will often quickly become demotivated if their manager does not act like a leader and avoids making difficult decisions. Part of a manager’s role is allocating and prioritising work, dealing with leave and resolving any issues that may arise. A manager who simply wants to be seen as one of the team will struggle with the responsibility of these decisions. Instead they become viewed as a ‘walk over’, with some employees taking advantage of their lack of leadership and others becoming increasingly irritated by it.
Problems can also arise if a new manager attempts to stamp their authority on the team. Malcom Tucker from The Thick of It probably highlights this approach in extreme. The result is likely to be low productivity levels, increased absences and poor staff morale.
At Acas we have seen these management examples time and again in the back stories to employment tribunal claims or advisory meetings on how to reduce staff turnover or improve staff engagement.
Good communication is always key. Rather than simply carrying on where the previous manager left off, it can be really beneficial if a new manger takes the time to talk to each team member as soon as reasonably possible. Having a one-to-one chat with each team member provides a good opportunity to clarify what the working relationship will be, what each other’s expectations are and address any potential issues. Doing this can help prevent difficulties such as concerns around favouritism, colleagues’ resentment, or fearing making a decision that may affect a friend.
Managing people can be tough, stressful and tiring but it can also be one of the most rewarding jobs when in charge of a motivated team that is performing well. While there are a lot of skills and responsibilities that a new manager must learn, taking the time to talk to each team member about the change and having clear distinctions between friendships away from work and the working relationship is a good first step.
Tom Neil is information and guidance writer/editor at Acas