Achieving Success as a New Manager

Achieving Success as a New Manager

by Peter Daly and Michael Watkins, coauthors of "The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Leaders at all Levels"

The actions you take during your first few months in a new job powerfully influence your overall success or failure. Transitions are pivotal, in part because everyone is expecting change. But they also are periods of great vulnerability for new leaders who lack established working relationships and detailed knowledge of their roles. New leaders who fail to build momentum during their transitions face uphill battles from that point forward.

Research on transition management points to seven core principles that can help new managers take charge more effectively. In The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Leaders at All Levels, coauthors Peter Daly and Michael Watkins lay out seven fundamental principles for success.

These principles apply whether you're in the public or private sectors.

Clarify Expectations

Because no other single relationship is more important, you need to figure out how to build a productive working relationship with your new boss and understand his expectations. You also need to understand and factor in other key stakeholders' expectations. This means carefully planning for a series of critical conversations about the situation, expectations, style, resources and your personal development.

Match Strategy to Situation

There are no universal rules for success in transitions. You need to diagnose the situation accurately and clarify its challenges and opportunities. For instance, start-ups -- whether agency or unit -- share challenges quite different from those you would face while turning around an agency in serious trouble. A clear diagnosis of the situation is an essential prerequisite for developing your action plan.

Accelerate Your Learning

You need to climb the learning curve as fast as you can in your new organization. This means understanding its mission, services, technologies, systems and structures, as well as its culture and politics. Getting acquainted with a new organization can feel like drinking from a fire hose. You have to be systematic and focused about deciding what you need to learn and how you will learn it most efficiently.

Secure Early Wins

You need to translate expectations and your diagnosis of the situation into a set of goals you will achieve by the end of your first year. These goals should consist of results to be achieved and behaviours to be changed. You also need to figure out where and how you will get early wins to build your credibility, create momentum and lay the foundation for achieving your longer-term goals.

Build the Team

If you are inheriting a team, you will need to evaluate its members and perhaps restructure it to better meet the situation's demands. Your willingness to make tough calls and your capacity to select the right people for the right positions are among the most important skills you will call on during your transition. You will need to be both systematic and strategic in approaching the team-building challenge.

Create Alliances

Your success will depend on your ability to influence people outside your direct line of control. Supportive alliances, both internal and external, will be necessary to achieve your goals. You should therefore start right away to identify those whose support is essential for your success and to figure out how to line them up on your side.

Manage Yourself

In the personal and professional tumult of a transition, you will have to work hard to maintain your equilibrium and preserve your ability to make good judgments. The risks of losing perspective, getting isolated and making bad calls are ever-present during transitions. There is much you can do to accelerate your personal transition and to gain more control over your work environment. The right advice-and-counsel network is an indispensable resource.

If you follow these principles you will have a successful transition. Failure to heed any one of them, however, is enough to cause potentially crippling problems. It's all too easy to end up caught in vicious cycles that sap your valuable time and energy, and perhaps even derail your career.