Jo* was a relatively inexperienced people manager when she was promoted to take on a larger team. “I was very excited at being given the opportunity, but also a bit worried,” Jo said. “Most of my direct reports were older than me, some by two decades, with significantly more knowledge and experience.”
Initially, Jo got off to a rocky start. She lacked confidence in her capabilities and second-guessed her decisions. In her attempt to establish her authority, she was worried about agreeing to team member ideas in case it made her look as though they were leading by proxy.
Recognising her lack of confidence for what it was, Jo’s boss sent her on a management essentials course. During this course Jo had two ‘lightbulb’ moments:
- even though she lacked formal training, she was more experienced than she realised; and
- her team’s experience was nothing to be afraid of.
“I became determined to embrace their knowledge and leverage it,” Jo said. She established a buddy system in the team, with the more experienced team members buddying those with less experience, including herself. In her case, she explained that she wanted to learn more about how they did their jobs, so she could not only better understand how they performed their roles, but manage their skills and time to everyone’s benefit.
“My direct reports felt more valued when I recognised their skills and contribution to the business,” Jo said. In turn, they were happy to share their knowledge with her and other team members; having more people able to do their job took pressure off them, too. As Jo’s confidence improved, so did team morale.
6 Tips for Managing More Experienced People
As a manager, there will be times when the people in your team are more experienced and knowledgeable than you. “That’s a good thing,” Jo said. “It’s not only an opportunity for you to learn from them, but if you leverage their experience, it will increase the likelihood of your business succeeding.”
Here are Jo’s 6 tips for managing people who are more experienced than you.
1. Embrace what you bring to the team
If your manager wanted more people with the same experience as your team members, they would have hired them. Instead, they hired you. They want your leadership abilities, because they know that you will unite the team and help grow the business. “Embrace what you bring to the team and have confidence in your ability to deliver the goods,” Jo said.
2. Respect your team’s experience
Apple’s Steve Jobs said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” You want to surround yourself with experienced people who have proven success in their role. Show respect for and use their ideas and knowledge. Let them shine publicly. When they look good, you look good, too. When they succeed, so do you.
3. Don’t micro-manage
Once your experienced team members have clear directives on what they need to deliver and when, let them get on with their job. Respect that they are experienced enough, and professional enough, to deliver what is expected of them. Check in with them regularly (e.g. weekly or fortnightly) for a progress report and to see if there are any issues they need your assistance with. “Otherwise, just get out of their way.”
4. Acknowledge what you don’t know
It’s okay to admit to a team member that they are more knowledgeable than you in some areas. “But rather than presenting it as a weakness on your part, present it as an opportunity for them to shine,” Jo said. Take advantage of their experience to reduce pressure on you; where appropriate, these team members can step up and take on more responsibility.
5. Build a knowledge exchange
Look at each team member’s skill set and identify opportunities for you to learn from each other. For instance, you may be well versed in project management skills, while they may be well versed in digital marketing. You can educate each other in your respective skill sets so that you both grow. “Remember: no matter how experienced you become, there is always the opportunity to learn something new,” Jo said.
6. Seek their input and buy in
This is particularly useful when you join a team. Talk to them about what is working and what could be done better. Seek their input on what to change, and how, in order to drive operational improvements and new revenue. Then put together a list of actions, starting with ‘low hanging fruit’. Share the actions with your team and acknowledge their input. Even if you don’t take on all of their ideas, they will be very happy that you:
- listened to them;
- respected their input;
- didn’t just listen to feedback, but acted on it.
Obtaining your team’s buy in also means that any changes you implement are more likely to be accepted. This is an important change management strategy, too.
*Not her real name.
Managers Anonymous shares mistakes managers have made, and the lessons they have learned from them. They help managers to learn from others so they can avoid the same headaches. Do you have an experience you would be willing to share for the benefit of others? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
© This article is by Laini Bennett, MBA