Dawn Sillett: Seven traps for newly promoted managers – and how to stay out of them

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You’ve been promoted – congratulations! I hope you take the time to celebrate your achievement and reflect on what got you this recognition. When you’ve done that, watch out: there are traps awaiting the unwary, especially if you haven’t had responsibilities for managing other people before. I see these 7 traps catch newly promoted managers out over and over, so here’s what to watch out for and what you can do to get off to a flying start in your new role.

Trap1. Working towards the wrong targets

I meet heaps of people who’ve been promoted, usually into a role that involves managing others, and a worrying number of them are somewhat vague about what the key requirements of their new role actually are. This isn’t quite as nuts as it might sound: giving someone a new job title and adding to their work can be a great way of retaining talent when budgets are tight, yet everyone’s so busy the follow-up sometimes leaves a bit to be desired. The newly promoted people know their new job title for sure, but they’re often far less clear on what doing the job well actually looks like and what their priorities are.  Is this you? You’re not alone. In the absence of clear goals and priorities, it’s no surprise if you default to operating pretty much as you did in your previous role, whilst trying to figure out what to do differently.  Don’t wait for enlightenment: it might come in the form of criticism that you’re not proving up to the mark (even though you weren’t told what the mark was). Instead, ask your line manager for a meeting at which you will put forward what you believe your goals and priorities are (make sure you balance task and people management), get their input and agreement, as well as the support you will need as you step up.

Trap 2. Hanging on to all your old role’s tasks

Stepping up can be scary, because it puts us back in the position of being a novice and less confident about how we’re doing – which is in marked contrast to the ease with which the old job was getting done prior to promotion. You’ll be sorely tempted to hang on to all your old role’s tasks because they’re a comfort zone of things you know well and can do quickly.  But don’t be tempted: you’ll stifle people in your team who could take on these tasks and you won’t be able to devote enough time and energy to your new work. Try to do both your old job and your new one and you’ll be working all hours, heading for burnout. When you clarify your new role’s expectations with your manager, take the opportunity to identify what tasks you’ll be handing over, and which team members will be best to take them on.

Trap 3. Saying ‘it’s a @±*! job but I had to do it

The first thing many newly-promoted people are tempted to do is get shot of all the tasks they dislike. Dumping, rather than delegating often follows, accompanied by the words, ‘well it’s a @±*! job but I had to do it’. Even if this is what you were told at the time, it’s really not the most motivating thing to hear – and it’s probably also inaccurate. Think about it: ensuring purchase orders are up to date may not be the world’s most taxing task but it’s a key element in the organisation’s cash flow position, so in the big scheme of things getting it right actually matters. Give people the big picture of where the task you’re asking them to do fits in to what the organisation needs to achieve and suddenly it won’t be such a @±*! job.

Trap 4. Letting good effort go unnoticed

Think about how you’ve felt when someone remarks on a job you’ve done well – it can really make your day. Well now it’s your turn to do that for everyone in your team. When they do something well, say so. Be specific – chances are they may have no idea what they did that earned your praise, and if you simply high five them and say ‘well done’ they’ll still be no wiser, so identify the behaviour you’ve observed and describe the positive impact it’s had. Be sincere – us humans can spot a fake from miles away. If you’re thinking ‘ but it’s their JOB! Surely I don’t have to praise them for that?’ you need to start cultivating the habit and noticing the effect it has.

Trap 5. Not dealing with under-performance when it happens

This is The Big One. When you’ve just been promoted, you’re understandably very wary of turning into The Great Dictator. Yet you need to find the sweet spot between that and simply not doing anything about performance that isn’t up to the mark. Putting off the conversation because ‘they’re busy’ or ‘they’re my mate’ will only allow the problem to fester and make the conversation, when it finally happens, harder to have. Talking about performance – great, good or below expectations – is now a significant part of your job.

Trap 6. Tolerating toxic team behaviour

If one of your team is a bully, if the office banter is getting obnoxious, if the tone of internal emails is getting snarky, these are symptoms of toxic team behaviour. You need to act and nip this in the bud. If you don’t not only will this unremarked behaviour get worse, the situation could get serious and potentially legal. By all means ask HR’s advice, but do take action and be clear with people about what is – and what isn’t – acceptable behaviour.

Trap 7. Being too matey with your team

Now you’ve been promoted you’ll need to earn your team’s respect. Being matey with your direct reports and wanting them to like you won’t help you achieve that, and risks blurring the boundaries you will need to have in place to manage effectively. Of course you can celebrate birthdays and enjoy a little socialising beyond work (particularly if that’s a big part of your organisation’s culture), but don’t overdo it. What if you were all great mates before the promotion? Tough as it may seem, you may all benefit from a bit of distance for a while, to allow everyone to get used to the new structure and roles. Take the opportunity to rekindle and strengthen your social life beyond work.

Dawn Sillett is Managing Director of Zoomly, which specialises in focused training and coaching to help people boost performance and accelerate their career progress. She is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon

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