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Through the lens: how to have impact as a new manager

6 min read

Stepping into a managerial role can be a daunting experience. As well as adjusting to new expectations, relationships (and for some company culture) you also have a team of people to support, inspire, and coach.

Developing people so they reach their full potential is a huge part of the role for anyone who leads a team. It comes with a whole new set of skills, like adaptability, patience, communication, self-awareness, and trust to ensure you facilitate effective team collaboration.

Managing in remote-focused times also comes with its own challenges. Alongside adapting to new ways of working, less opportunities to connect with one another is impacting our mental health and wellbeing.

There’s a lot to think about (and manage).

Naturally, nearly all new managers will find it challenging to juggle the expectations of this new position, let alone being able to impact how the team perform or how motivated they are. Which, unfortunately, is why the world of work is increasingly seeing managers who are unprepared and unsupported in their role.

So, what exactly can new managers, and companies consciously do to get it right?

HappyHQ recently chatted with Rob Smith, Founder of Ollivier People and Development Ltd who shared his thinking on typical challenges for new managers, onboarding priorities for new starters, and why the new ways of working could be helping managers become more intentional.

Over the past 8 years, through his online coaching and workshops, Rob has helped over 1,000 people develop their leadership and management capabilities. His expertise is in helping leaders to manage with purpose, have impact and deliver performance.

Q: Before training to become a leadership coach, you worked in the corporate world for 15 years – what inspired you to become a coach?

In my early 30’s I was having a tough time in life outside of work. I’d never had any exposure to coaching at the time, but a good friend introduced me to a life coach, and I was hooked by the experience.

It was a period of immense self-exploration that really challenged my perspective of life and work. I can honestly say that the experience was the biggest catalyst for change in my life and a massive development curve.

I loved the process so much that I started investing in coaching courses and developing my own coaching skills. At the time I was managing a team at work and everything I learnt on these courses started to influence how I supported my team. I came to love the “people development” side of my job so much that I realised my calling was to coach professionally. 

And that’s how it all started!

Q: When it comes to new managers, what are some of the typical challenges you’ve seen?

I remember when I first started managing, my biggest fear was not having the credibility to have an impact. I was confused about what my approach should be and how the team felt about me.

Did the team respect me? How do I run the meetings? How do I manage performance and behavioural issues? Should I be telling the team what to do? How much time should I spend helping? How do I motivate the team?

So much to think about! It felt like a minefield, incredibly stressful and the experience definitely took me out of my comfort zone.

I think most new managers experience a combination of at least some of these challenges.

For most people, they get promoted into management because they’re good at their job, right? Being responsible for a group of people is a totally different challenge that requires a different set of skills.

Q. How can managers balance performance and autonomy to avoid the micromanagement trap?

Setting clear expectations is the most important conversation a manager can have with their team.

If everyone is aligned and agrees on what success looks like and how they are going to achieve their objectives, the team will be empowered to be autonomous and perform.

Honestly, if you do this well there will be no need to micromanage, you’ll simply be there to support the team as they need.

Q. How can new managers prioritise team wellbeing during the initial stages of relationship building?

When you first start managing somebody, I highly recommend setting aside two hours in the diary and spending the time to build the relationship. You’ll start to be able to relate and you’ll earn their trust.

Be genuinely inquisitive about their life, their environment, their goals and ambitions. Also, focus on understanding their strengths and working out how you can utilise them.

People are energised day-to-day when they use their strengths. When people have the opportunity to use their strengths, they are more positive and productive.

Also, be really intentional in how you support people to do their job. Are you clear on what is expected? Do you have everything you need? How can I support you?

That would be a good start.

Q: You’ve said before that most managers struggle to make an impact on influencing the performance and development of their team, why do you think this is so?

They simply don’t know how. Not all new managers go through a structured onboarding process in a similar way that a new employee might.

Very few people naturally possess the tendencies that great managers have. If you look at Gallup research, it’s roughly 1 in 10. The odds are against you from the outset.

This is why intentional management development initiatives are so important. Unfortunately, a lot of organisations don’t consciously understand what great management looks like. If you don’t understand it, how can you develop it within your culture?

New managers in particular suffer from mirroring the bad habits and poor management practice from their own boss, and so the struggles perpetuate through the business.

More often than not new managers aren’t set up for success unfortunately.

Q: Do you think the new ways of working make this even harder?

There’s no doubt in my mind that managing remote teams is harder for obvious reasons. Less visibility with your team is clearly going to make communication less fluid and it raises other challenges as well.

That said, I’m finding now that managers are being far more intentional in their conversations when they do speak with their team. Their meeting agendas are more precise, and the contact time is more outcome driven.

In my mind, remote working is making some managers better at their jobs.

As an example, I guarantee that pre-lockdown people weren’t having the depth of conversations about wellbeing they should have. Yet we know wellbeing is such an important part of engagement and performance at work.

Managers are now becoming more comfortable and skilled at having these conversations. Surely this can only be a good thing?

So yes, I think new ways of working do make things tough, but I also believe it forces managers to consider more deeply about how they support their team.  

Q. Many companies still opt for traditional formal yearly appraisals, but what are the benefits of regular on-going individual conversations?

Simply put, you can’t be effective as a manager if you’re not speaking with your team regularly.

Your main function as a manager is to support and coach your team to improve, reach their potential and perform every day. You can’t support that as part of a formal yearly appraisal.

The very best managers are those that have regular conversations with their team discussing goals, giving regular feedback and coaching throughout the year on progress and development.

If you do this well, there is no need for a formal yearly appraisal process as everyone is constantly aligned and understands their performance and development objectives.

Can we do away with the yearly appraisal please? 

Q: Finally, for managers looking to successfully create impact, how would you summarise your top actionable tips?
  1. Be the coach not the boss. Your job as a manager is to help the people that work for you to be better every day.  It isn’t to tell them what to do.
  2. Invest the time in building trustful relationships with your team.  Every challenge you face as a team will be easier if those relationship are strong, and you understand each other.
  3. Have regular conversations with your team about setting expectations, giving feedback and coaching on progress and development.
  4. Have a clear vision for your team which they are engaged with. People want to know what the bigger picture is and how they can contribute.
  5. Prioritise the tasks and activities that have the biggest impact on your team’s success. If you can do this consistently, and to a high standard, you give yourself a great chance.
Q: In your opinion, what should companies be doing to support their people to be better managers?

Having a structured onboarding program designed specifically for managers would be a huge step forward for most businesses. It would give mangers the confidence and platform to have more of an impact.

I also think mentor programs have huge value if the relationship and outcomes are set up in the right way.

There are lots of ways in which you can support developing better managers. What I would say is that, regardless of what initiative you adopt, I recommend that the senior leadership team attend the same training. At a cultural level, great management starts at the very top of the business.

As companies navigate their way through the future of work and a hybrid workforce, it is important to ensure that no one gets left behind – literally and virtually.

HappyHQ helps companies easily recognise, implement, and sustain important culture changes.

Get in touch if you want to find out more.