BBC Capital

Quora Column

New managers: Don’t make these newbie mistakes

Ricky Gervais stars as inept middle-manager David Brent in The Office (BBC)

Ricky Gervais stars as inept middle-manager David Brent in The Office (BBC)

Congratulate yourself — you are no longer a worker bee!

Unfortunately, basking in the warm afterglow of landing a promotion to team leader quickly fades for many people as they find themselves faced with a reluctant or even mutinous new team.

Most professionals still aspire to take a step up the corporate ladder to a management position with a better salary. But the management school of hard knocks includes a lot of beginners’ mistakes. And

if you’ve ever worked for a newly-minted manager — or been one yourself — you know those cringe-worthy mistakes can stick with you for a while.

We went to question and answer site Quora to find the most common mistakes new or inexperienced managers make.  

  

You’re fired!

Stephanie Vardavas  experienced one of the toughest new manager tasks — one many handle poorly — immediately after assuming a more senior role. She wrote: “On the very day I was first promoted to Vice President at one job, I had to fire someone. It was awful but necessary (he was stealing), and it toughened me up for the few times afterwards when it was necessary to make that kind of change.”

“Having said that” she added. “I've seen new managers fire people just to flex their muscles and prove that they can, and that's just horrible.”  

Performance problem anxiety

Jason Sobel who works for a data analytics firm in California pointed to a mistake that can haunt both manager and employee. “New managers tend to have a hard time correcting performance problems. It's extremely un-fun to tell someone they are not doing well, put them on an improvement plan, or fire them,” he wrote.

“Yet delaying any of these actions has worse and worse consequences the longer it goes unaddressed.” Sobel added:  “It's a terrible part of the job that nobody likes to talk about but it's critical for [the organisation’s] health.”

 Ian McAllister, General Manager at Amazon, agreed.

 “If you take note of performance issues early you can give gentle, corrective feedback. If you're too slow to notice you [then] have to give stronger feedback, and the performance issues may be harder to reverse,” he wrote. Another common blunder: not documenting this poor performance via email. He wrote: “[It] helps employees understand the gravity of the situation… and it is also helpful to have on hand if it comes time to terminate the employee.”

Do-my-old-job syndrome

Yishan Wong, a former director of engineering, highlighted the most common mistakes new or inexperienced managers in his sector make. “Doing hands-on work themselves: This is possible if the team is very small… but once the team gets larger, the manager should not be doing it.”

“The mistake in thinking is two-fold: the new manager is more comfortable with their own hands-on role, so, when they are confronted with problems that can be solved by either doing the job themselves or delegating the job and teaching/encouraging/assigning someone else to do it, they choose to do it themselves and (secondly) the perception that their team will not respect them unless they ‘lead from the front’,” Wong observed.

The anti-delegator

Michael Lopp, flagged ‘taking on too much’ as a primary error for most new managers. The new manager ‘vicious-cycle’ starts with an ‘I can do everything’ approach and escalates to ‘I can do everything by myself.’

“They are reluctant to delegate control to someone else — they try to do it all. Problem is, they sign up for [more] work than they can do by themselves, which leads to two significant failures ― the quality of all of their work drops or work starts falling through the cracks,” he wrote.

Lopp added: “Letting go of doing the work is tricky, but the gig as a manager isn't doing quality work, it's doing quality work at scale.”

What’s your name again?

Jesse Bridgewater,Data Scientist at eBay pointed out a people-problem amongst new managers. “The biggest mistake most managers make is not working to find out what really motivates each person on the team. This is one of the hardest things to do because people often do not think about their motivations in a conscious way.”

Bridgewater believes the most productive and creative people are primarily motivated by a desire to change the world in same way (impact) or to constantly improve/expand their core skills. 

Looking backward

Patrick Moore who works for global communications firm, Alcatel Lucent, added: “Let the team do their job while you manage the larger picture — many new managers fail to get that they are no longer a ‘worker bee’ and try to keep doing their old job.  Of course that means they fail at the new one.”

Have you found yourself the victim of an inexperienced new manager? Let us know at BBC Capital on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/BBCCapital or on Twitter  @BBC_Capital https://twitter.com/BBC_Capital