I had an all-too familiar conversation with a newly-promoted manager recently. She had excelled in her role as a Logistics / Customer Service staffer and was literally grabbed from the ranks on the abrupt departure of her manager. She now has 16 staff reporting to her, no job description and no clear guidelines for the role other than to, “Keep the customers happy.”

“Customers!?” she sputtered at me. “I never see or hear a customer. I spend all my time on the most petty and minuscule personnel issues. It’s like running a kindergarten!”

“Boss, I’d just like to let you know that the SAP inputs I need from Alice haven’t come in, so I won’t have my report for you by close of business. Also, I’d like it noted for the minutes, that Alice is a poopie-head!”

My top-line advice to her:

  • If no-one in management is telling you what to do to make your part of the business healthier, you decide what you would do to make a difference. Then draw up a fairly detailed picture how you will effect these changes, walk in to your boss and tell him that’s your plan for the next 3-6 months. Don’t go in with problems, go in with solutions and a plan.
  • You are in a unique position to know which of your former colleagues excel at which part of the job and which of them are clock-watching and couldn’t give a damn. Assign the former into the right-fit roles for them, and manage the latter out of the business.
  • You have inherited the majority of your team; some good, some bad, all of them under-managed by the previous manager (hence the abrupt departure). Work with HR and use the performance management system to closely track performance in these early months. Stay long hours if you need to, in order to get to grips with this. This information will be invaluable – to the strong performers, as you can track their outputs and help them up to speed on parts of the job they struggle with; and with the weak performers, to identify strengths and sort the wheat from the chaff.
  • In building the team going forward, hire 100% for attitude. Be positively, ruthlessly, Darwinian in your selection techniques. You may end up hiring someone who has zero experience with the products, the technology or the role profile, but teaching these things (appoint mentors from within the group to assist) is a lot quicker than trying to inculcate the ‘right attitude’ in another human being.

What would you add?

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