Advice for New People Managers (+ Q&A!)

Vanessa Kahn
November 1, 2021
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You know what they say: folks quit managers, not jobs. With The Great Resignation in full effect, you don’t want your top talent leaving because of bad management. Even worse, you don’t want your direct reports leaving because of you. 😩

So, what can you do if you’re a first-time people manager who’s ready to learn and grow? 

The bad news: 
According to this study, most managers don’t understand how to coach. Did we mention that 45% of managers report they never received formal training? 

The good news: 
Communication, relationship building, and ultimately good management are learnable! 

We sat down with Bonusly’s VP of People Ops, Vicki Yang, to excavate tips from her extensive people management experience. If you’re a first-time people manager, Vicki’s advice is tailor-made for you. Let’s dive in. 🤿

Bonusly Team Collaboration 600x300-png

So you're a first-time manager? 

VK: How did you get your start in people management? 

VY: A lot of people don’t have formal training and they just jump into management. I worked for this nonprofit when I first started, and I was told I was going to manage two people because they needed me to. I had no idea what I was doing. When you start out, a lot of it starts with “Ok let’s just try to manage the work, who’s getting what done?” A lot of people go into people management because it’s the next level—they look at it as a promotion. I loved a quote from Marcus Wermuth at Buffer that said, “People management is a career change, not a promotion.” Your job as a people manager is pretty different than an individual contributor, even if you’re a Player-Coach, meaning that there are still things you’ll do in addition to managing people. 

“People management is a career change, not a promotion.”- Marcus Wermuth, Buffer


VK: What’s the biggest misconception about people management? 

VY: There are misunderstandings on who’s responsible for what and how to get there, especially when it comes to things like career development. A lot of people try to make sure their direct reports are developing their career and heading towards a promotion. A manager tends to be more of a guide for direct reports, but there’s a responsibility on both sides. A lot of times people managers will say “this is how I got there, if you do that same thing, you’ll probably get there too.” Good managers can share what they’ve done and then the individual takes the pieces that might be good to incorporate and scraps the pieces that are not going to be helpful for who they are. 

Need more management tools? Download our Working Agreements template!

VK: What do you wish you knew about people management and people ops when you got started? 

VY: I’d check out Hypercontext's letters written to first-time people managers. Then, go and figure out what it means to be a people manager. Find people managers whose styles you really admire, then go figure out how they do it. With people management, there seems to be a desire to rush to the “end” (ie. being a great manager), but the “end” only becomes the “end” because you’ve experienced all of these things along the way. Have patience with yourself and understand that you can do all the reading you want about how to manage a low performance, for instance, but it’s going to be different when you actually have to manage someone who’s not performing well or fire someone. Be patient with yourself and know that some of these skills can only come with time and experience. 

VK: What’s a common mistake you see new people managers making?

VY: There’s a natural gravitation towards continuing the same work you’ve been doing and then trying to layer that on top of being a people manager. As an individual contributor, you have control over all of your work. When you transition to a people manager, you don’t have that much control anymore. If you want that control, that can easily turn into micromanagement. On the flip side, if the person isn't performing, it's not micromanagement, it's just management. When someone's not doing well you have to get more specific with them.

"When you transition to a people manager, you don’t have that much control anymore. If you want that control, that can easily turn into micromanagement."-Vicki Yang, Bonusly


VK: What tools are best for getting to know your direct reports? 

VY: Some favorites include:

VK: What are the best resources for new people managers? 

VY: Here are some great ones:

We hope this insight from Vicki has helped you realize that the path to people management isn’t always linear, and you’re never alone on the journey. We’ll leave you with a quote from the great Tina Fey: “In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.”

Want more helpful employee engagement tips? Dive into this guide  ⬇️

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