Five Practice Patterns for Succeeding as a New Manager

For many, stepping into a management position can bring a mix of excitement and doubt. On the one hand, it’s a recognition that we’ve done a great job in our functional role, and are ready to take the next natural step up in the organization. On the other hand, this can be a step into the unknown. We may or may not have a clear image in our mind of what it means to be a good manager. We may be enthusiastic about the new tools and resources available to managers, but also feel the training in them is lacking.

Even in the best of times, new managers are often thrust into a leadership position before having built all of the necessary skills and capabilities. I’m hearing more often from organizations that need to elevate people to management roles, but recognize they need a better way of doing so. This has always been the case, but several trends are making this more urgent. Seasoned managers, a.k.a. baby boomers, continue to age out of the workforce. There are many job openings at the moment, and people are leaving for better jobs. Some are choosing not to return to their old jobs after working from home, creating open positions. Some are stepping away from the demands of management altogether, seeking better work-life balance.

On top of all of this, in the future, many new managers may increasingly find themselves working and managing remotely, at least part of the time. The absence of face-to-face interaction, casual conversations, and human interaction can present unique challenges for communication and trust-building. Even a person who feels not completely ready for their new role can succeed by learning on the job. This does require that the new manager has a good coach or mentor. However, for all of the reasons above, there may also be a shortage of these people. What else can organizations do to set their new managers up for success?

How to Set Up New Managers for Success

There are at least three things senior leaders must do to set up new managers and front line leaders for success. The first is to place the new manager within a stable system. Choppy waters aren’t the best place to teach a person to swim. Ideally, the organization follows a basic daily management framework. At a minimum, this consists of daily standup meetings to set the tone for the day, review the prior day’s leading and lagging indicators, remove obstacles or solve problems, and communicate with other parts of the organization.

Second, it’s important for the senior leaders to clearly specify what the manager is expected to do, and what skills this will require. This should go beyond a job description document outlining roles and responsibilities. Senior leadership may need to reflect on what cultural behaviors they want, and how these translate into skills. A quick path to failure is to select the new manager based mainly on technical skills and neglecting people-centric ones. These may include motivating, giving feedback, setting compensation, resolving conflicts, and so forth.

Third, we need to provide the rising manager with a set of transparent and explicit practice patterns. This is the “how” for the clearly specified “what”. Practice patterns should be specific to a particular situation and designed to build a habit through repetition. Practice patterns provide a reference that allows a coach or mentor to observe and guide a new manager. Drawing from the continuous improvement body of knowledge, here are five examples of practice patterns for succeeding as a new manager.

How to Instruct, Build Good Relations and Improve Methods

The first practice pattern is Job Instruction or JI. It’s designed to get people fully trained and adding value in the shortest possible time. Its simple 4-step approach is easy to learn and helps to prevent common problems that arise from poor instruction. The JI approach begins with breaking down a job, clarifying the major steps and key points, and preparing the instructor and learner for transfer knowledge and verify the results.

The second practice pattern focuses on how to resolve interpersonal conflicts and foster good relations between people. This is known as Job Relations or JR. It’s much broader in scope than JI, covering communication, recognition, setting expectations as well as helping people expand their abilities. These topics can be the most challenging for some new managers, particularly when they have been promoted based on their technical achievements rather than interpersonal skills. In addition, the failure to set and maintain good relations is arguably the largest reason that people grow dissatisfied at their job. This is a pattern that all levels of management should practice.

In a modern organization, it’s part of everyone’s job to find ways to make the work safer, easier faster, and better. Frontline managers benefit from having an objective and structured way of doing this. The J-program known as Job Methods accomplishes this. Job Methods focuses on improving work processes by making the best use of the people, equipment, and materials available to get the most done. Like the Job Instruction and Job Relations programs, JM follows a 4-step approach.

How to Make Sure People Have the What They Need

One way to most basic ways a manager can keep people motivated, engaged, and productive is to make sure they have what they need to succeed at their job. The TWI J-programs go a long way towards this aim. Job Instruction provides training in the skill and knowledge to do the work. Job Relations provides a foundation of good relations, with a fair and transparent way to resolve differences between people. Job Methods gives people a way to examine their own processes so they can fix things that bother them. But there’s another pattern for making sure that people have the tools, material, and information they need close at hand to do their job, day in and day out. There is a structured way to make a place for every needed item, to put everything in its place, and prevent clutter from building up. It’s known as 5S, for the five activities of sorting, setting in order, sweeping, standardizing, and sustaining. A good first step for a new manager is to work with their team to clear out what’s not needed, make sure they have everything they need, and work on a plan for keeping things that way. It may sound simple, but removing time and attention lost to searching, not finding, or switching back and forth often contributes to a huge boost to productivity and morale.

How to Make Time for Managing

It’s no use having access to these proven management tools and resources if a new manager’s day is so full that they have no time to learn and practice them. Time management is also a key skill. Fortunately, there is also a proven way to find and make time for managing. This is known as a DILO analysis which stands for “day in the life of” a new manager or frontline leader. The new manager tracks how much time they spend on different activities, over a period of days or weeks. This often identifies meetings, reports, or other activities that they can reduce or stop doing, in favor of more value-added activities.

How to Keep Progressing as a Leader

There are two additional highly recommended routines for managers to build on, after getting comfortable with the basic five. The first is the improvement kata, which is a good all-around pattern for developing scientific thinking through problem-solving. This does require working with a coach who is well-versed in kata. It’s not structured for solo or self-directed learning. So it’s not as immediately accessible as the previous five patterns. The DILO analysis sets a foundation for structuring a repeatable, successful day through leader standard work. Senior leaders who are looking for ways to structure a program for developing new managers should definitely study and practice these two. This way, they can help the new managers to keep progressing as leaders in their organization.

Management Patterns Build Trust

Following a set of patterns like these increases transparency and trust. The leadership sets expectations and provides an objective way of meeting them. The rising manager has a routine to fall back on, rather than relying only on personal experience or expertise to succeed in their new role. And the team members can see that there is a predictable and fair way that their manager gets things done. Practicing patterns help to remove some of the concerns a new manager may have about whether they are ready for their new role, replacing it with confidence that their leadership has prepared simple, structured approaches to succeed in their new challenge.

2 Comments

  1. Rodney Robbins

    August 23, 2021 - 10:49 am
    Reply

    Great article. Very well thought out. I would like to suggest one improvement–make Go-and-See as your standard practice. Our corrective action team finds that Go-and-See is practically a super power. By going to the work site with an open mind, talking to the people who do the job every day, and putting our own hands (or at least our own eyeballs) directly on the actual equipment, we learn amazing things. It really is like a super power! Go-and-See also prevents the new leader from making silly mistakes. The habit of going and seeing should be developed early.

    • Jon Miller

      August 23, 2021 - 11:51 am
      Reply

      Good point Rodney. Thanks for the valuable addition.

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