Bec* was thrilled to have her first management role. Albeit, she had one direct report and two contractors, but it was a good start. Six months later, the company underwent a major restructure and she was promoted to manage a team of 16 people.
“I was warned that some of my new direct reports were unhappy that a rookie manager was in charge,” Bec said. So she met with each team member, wanting to understand how their roles were going and what help they needed.
One man in his fifties, Jim*, explained that the restructure had caused some disruption. He asked Bec to be mindful of this when conducting their upcoming mid-year performance reviews as it had impacted performance for some team members. “My impression was that his heart was in the right place,” Bec said. “I thought he was trying to guide me as a new manager.”
Nonetheless, Bec was new to performance reviews and sought advice from the HR manager on how best to conduct them. She shared what Jim had told her. The HR manager told her to mark people down for not delivering on their KPIs.
“She said that if I didn’t, the team would regard me as a soft target and would keep making excuses not to deliver,” Bec said. Plus, if they continued not to perform, the company needed an official record so they could be performance managed. Bec’s instinct was that this was not the best way to handle this situation. Because she was so inexperienced, she didn’t trust her instincts and did as she was told.
“It didn’t go well. My new team was upset,” Bec said. They felt they were being unfairly penalised in their reviews and that there were mitigating circumstances for their performance.
Jim was angry and embarrassed. Not only had his advice been ignored, but he had told the other team members that Bec had taken his advice, and all would be okay. When they received their final reviews and they had been marked as under delivering, it was an unwelcome surprise.
“If I had my time all over again, I would have handled it differently,” Bec said. “To start with, I would have trusted my gut instinct.” Here is what Bec would do now as a more experienced manager, undertaking performance reviews for a team she’s just started managing:
Lesson 1: Manage team politics
Jim was an unofficial leader in my new team; he was the elder statesman and he was respected. If I had made him feel heard and valued, he could have become an advocate for me in my new team. It was a missed opportunity and a hard lesson learned. If I had my time again, I would have taken him aside and shared (without breaking confidentiality) how I intended to act on his feedback, knowing it would make him feel appreciated and that he’d likely share it with the team. That would have mitigated any unrealistic expectations, too.
Lesson 2: Consider past performance
Regardless of whether I was new to the team or not, I should have taken past performance into consideration:
- Those who usually perform well should have been given the chance to redeem themselves in time for their next review.
- Those with ongoing performance issues needed to be provided with a structure to help them succeed, such as a buddy system and skills training. Someone like Jim would have made a great buddy.
By offering a solution rather than just a penalty, with clear expectations around deliverables, I could have built a rapport with each team member, letting them feel like they have my support. Giving them a second chance would also have motivated and encouraged them to step up and to prove themselves to both me and to the business.
Lesson 3: Seek advice from other managers
Now, if I need advice on what to do with a people management issue, I turn to another more experienced manager in the business for advice, before talking to HR. Your HR manager is an important and valuable resource, particularly to confirm employment law requirements, but they are not always experienced people managers themselves. What works in theory does not always work in practice. Other managers often better understand the dynamics within a business and provide solutions that are more palatable to that company’s culture.
*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