I’m not ready for management

My manager, of the section I’ve been in since August, is transitioning to retirement.  In the past six months, he’s been not at work more than he’s been at work – mainly using up his holiday and long service leave.  A number of people have stepped into his role and run the section during this time – my equals, and other ‘higher’ staff moving from one role to another.

The time had come for my six weeks in the chair/office.

My former manager, whom I worked under for 2.5 years, put my name forward to act in this management role for the six weeks. This former boss, in recent restructures, has moved a peg up the hierarchy, so what he says goes!  I know that he wouldn’t have suggested me if he didn’t think I had some of the skills required to do the job.  On the other hand, without some practice at a role, it would be hard for me to know if I was suited to it too.  And of course, in our company, career progression rests a lot on your ‘dress rehearsal’ in a role, and they see what you’re really made of!

Today marks the 6th day as the manager of a team of about 8 staff.  Since Monday, I’ve even moved into the office, and had ‘closed door’ meetings – something our company never did until recently.  Sign of the times I suppose.

I don’t think I realised how many emails I’d be copied into.  How do you file messages you get as a FYI that ping around between people?  How often should I bombard my team with the messages I’ve been asked to pass on?  I have a pretty good email filing system for my ‘normal’ role, and for my previous role, but for six weeks, I wonder if I should be structuring things or just letting it be a box of ’email clutter’ for the six weeks.

Besides emails, people call.  And I take notes: of calls; of chats; of meetings.  If I don’t, I can’t recall the facts.  What do I do with these bits of paper?  How do I arrange them?  When are they obsolete?  I can’t file them under projects (as I did in my first role here) and I can’t file them under dates (in my usual role).  They just seem to spawn and spread any logical boundary!

The biggest thing that I’m struggling with is learning just how little work is being delivered by my some of colleagues, and how I can change that, even by 5%, so the company can deliver of it’s end of financial year goals.  There’s next to no risk of being fired in my company, and despite being in the critical infrastructure industry, there’s often little urgency in day to day work!  I just want to ‘get back in the trenches’ and get stuff done – within my own patch, and help wherever I can.  I’ve been told, point blank, to give the management role a good go, and therefore ignore all my usual responsibilities in the trenches.  It feels really uncomfortable to feel like I’m not working, but just managing (just asking people where things are at, when they’ll be done, what the problems etc etc etc).

It’s clear I can’t be rank and file from 29 to retirement.  I know this.  However, I’m definitely not prepared or adjusted to some of the logistics, and the ideas of ‘work’ that come from being part of middle management.  Any advice would be welcome – practical or philosophical.

17 Replies to “I’m not ready for management”

  1. Sounds like you are on a steep learning curve. My husband transitioned into management many years ago, and now runs his branch of his company. Pretty much all he ever does is go to meetings, deal with emails, and deal with takeovers, mergers, lawyers, budget forecasts and big picture 'where is the company going' sort of summits.
    It took him quite some time to realise that his job was to assemble an excellent team, and give them every support to do an excellent job while he protected them from being messed about from higher up in the hierachy. Being a practical engineer like you, he found it so hard to step away from what he saw as the 'real' work of the company, whereas in actual fact, his engineering background means he can promote and advocate the work his engineers do in the wider company, and give them every opportunity to work harder and smarter, a role they can't do, as they are just busy doing their own projects. I see his role as being quite like a parent's – we can't live our kids' lives for them, but we provide a safe, secure environment, and give them lots of training and opportunities so they can be the best people they can be.
    Good luck with your new role. Remember, you are in the worst possible part of the learning curve now – the newness has worn off, but you aren't yet in the groove of experience. A time of terror! Hang in there:) And find someone to talk to about your filing issues. My husband has lots of different email folders that he files things into, after answering them. Only handle an email once! But there may be an experienced person in your company who can give you some pointers. Good luck!

    1. Oh Jo, your run down of your husband's job makes so much sense to me. I'm so ingrained, I can't see the wheat from the chaff!

      You wrote so much, and no manner of words I reply with will explain how helpful your comment was to me. I'll keep climbing this steep hill/curve, and get in the groove soon enough!

  2. Bleh, this runs into management and productivity – and there is a whole industry spawned just to addressing email!

    Back to you –

    It's not just wearing two hats, you now sit on two layers / tiers (working "in" the business, and working "on" the business). And organisations are designed as such – managers, and workers – because it is well known that psychologically we do not have the headspace to think broad and also work on details at the same time. Like being on the runway vs being in the control tower.

    On getting control of your email:

    1) Your normal role – has an operational process to it, where you probably file by functional task or project. You know it like the back of your hand and it works well. So keep this system.

    2) The new management role – where often emails are cc'ed for FYI or are people based where they need a decision made. Don't try to fit these into your normal categories. Instead, this is about making it into a proritisation system (especially when one's inbox become's one's todo list) of how your process your emails:

    a) Create three folders (customise to your own labels) :
    – To Action / To do
    – Delegated / Waiting For
    – To Read Later / Bucket / Kitchen Sink
    – and Archive (if you don't already have this).

    b) Processing:
    – The <2 minute rule: If it takes less than 2 minutes to respond, do it. If its junk, trash it immediately.
    – The >2 minute rule: if you need to action it, stick it into the "To Action" folder for processing in a chunk (essentially a todo list). Block out a period on your calendar to work on that item, if it is time sensitive.
    – The 'Can I delegate it" rule: if you can respond or pass it onto someone else for action immediately, use the <2 minute rule then stick it into the "Waiting for" folder. You wont need to action again until they reply. There is where a lot of emails get stuck into round robins of email chains. Every so often, go through this folder to nudge the slackers who haven't gotten back to you.
    – The FYI rule: for emails that get cc'd FYI because you're management. Either stick it into the "Bucket/Kitchen Sink" folder for reading later, or "Archive" it because there are no action points and its a dead end email. You can always search through this folder later when you need the information.

    Many swear by this to get your inbox down to Zero. For your reference, this system is part of David Allen's "Get Things Done" book, which has a cult following amongst many managers I know, albeit slightly modified for their use case.

    Good luck. I'm curious to see what you end up doing to solve this!

    1. Also, you don't need to file communique under 'Dates' as your email is already time/date stamped and can be easily filtered / ordered by this parameter within a folder.

  3. For meetings, calls and notes, and even online newspaper articles and recipes, I use an app / program called Evernote. It syncs across your phone and browser (like google products).

    In meetings:
    I just put my phone down, turn on the voice record and Evernote records the meeting as a note and saves the file by date/time. That way I don't take notes and can focus on facilitating / interacting in the meeting.

    While taking a phone call:
    If I write notes on paper I use Evernote on my phone to take a photo of it, digitise it immediately into a document (which OCR's it), and then saves the file by date/time.

    That's it. When I need the information, I go searching for it. If I need it organised by project, I file each note (voice record, photo, document, business card, even recipe) into a notebook.

    And if I read something on the internet, for example an article that I want to keep for reference or a project later, I can clip it from my browser and it will save it (like a newspaper clipping) long after the firewall goes up and the article can no longer be accessed.

  4. Back to your title "I'm not ready for management" – Yes you are!

    Management is so much more than just productivity tools, its mostly about removing the barriers, providing the tools/environment, and giving opportunity/motivation to do the best to their ability in their jobs, and that is one thing you are very good at! I know from first hand experience.

    BluedayJo said it very well when she likened it to how we approach raising children.

  5. Yes, looking at that post title…you are ready for management, Sarah!

    But you must be absolutely drowning in info / learning curve stuff at the moment. I loved Sharon's suggestions above for dealing with emails and also notes.

    As for people doing little work, with little chance of being sacked…this was my old job all over. It's one of the main reasons I left – it drove me batty seeing people "play the system" and seeing our clients wear the results. I don't know what the answer is. "Performance management" didn't seem to work (and only got the managers off side.) I do like your comment about raising performance by a %, even 5%. That is probably the best way to tackle it: incrementally.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing other comments from the Managers out there who read your blog. Most of all though: GOOD LUCK! It's a great opportunity and if I'm reading this right, is it a set 6 weeks at this stage? If so, it will be absolutely full-on but also has an end date, while being a gold-mind of experience. So happy for you, what a great opportunity! (And I hope you are not stressing to the level that I stress over "new work roles", lol!!)

    1. Hahaha you call tell all that in a title? Sharon's a dear (RL) friend, who seems to have devoured my blog today 😀

      You're right, it has to be incremental change, and honestly, in 6 weeks, I'm not sure how likely I will be able to do something that will endure, but I think the key is to think small steps to a bigger goal (sorta like my monthly health resolutions, rather than making them all year long!)

      It's just a set six weeks, but given they need to fill the role for about 6 months, there's a chance my number will come up again after the other people who can 'act' in the role have had their 6 weeks. It is nice to know it has an end date, where I can return to my comfort zone, basically making this a trial.

      I'm not stressing that much, just adjusting to the new work routine. Crazily, outside of work, I'm upping the workouts and implementing a healthy eating, and starting SES, so I'm pretty jam-packed with 'change' at the moment. I'm tired, but not an insomniac (yet!)

  6. The main thing to remember when 'managing' people (especially if you're in a new role) is that you can't change things overnight. It's also hard to accept that other people do not work like you do and changing that is a slow process. In a new role I always set goals – where I want to be in 6 months, 12 months, etc it helps but you can't do that if this is a short term thing.
    My phone used to ring all day, every day and I kept a notebook handy for taking notes…but I only answered the phone when I could. I 'trained' people to use my answerphone and then would return all the calls in one sitting when I able to give it my full attention.

    I started in middle management at 28 and it was so hard – especially as I was 'young' – but you can do this!

    1. So true – as much as overnight changes are the fantasy, right?

      Thanks for your advice Laura – I think there is wisdom in training people to your 'style' of receiving information. I know in other situations, I've made it explicitly clear to people that I prefer a chat message or email to just arriving at my desk or calling me. Those who follow that, I seem to feel myself giving a much warmer reception, and more valuable advice/guidance/help.

  7. I have no advice for how to save all the bits and bobs of info you get but as to not being ready for management, everyone starting out needs to build new skills and capabilities as they take on new roles. Your previous manager clearly wants you to have the opportunity: to learn and to demonstrate your strengths. Enjoy the challenge.

    As Jo says, better to have an engineer in management that someone with no or little hands on experience in the industry. I wouldn't like managers in my area to come from accountancy/business. Much better to have experience and knowledge in the field.

    1. Thanks Lucinda, I'll try to loosen up and let this period teach me what it can, over time I'll some to see what skills are needed, what techniques work better than others etc.

      It is nice to have some hands on experience in the 'day to day' and I'm learning more about what other people I sit next to do, which is quite interesting.

  8. Hi Sarah, I agree with everyone else's comments! I have decided that being a manager is really being a facilitator – the job is to ensure everyone has the training, time and resources to get their job done. On a day to day basis, I spend most of my time removing everyone's barriers to getting work done – whether it is a conflict with a coworker, unproductive work habits, or having ineffective procedures to work with. A lot of it is keeping up morale and encouraging team work, which can be done either by example, or by encouraging the efforts of the "good sports" in the department who make the workplace better for others. It could mean issuing a challenge – or it could mean knocking off for 45 minutes and sharing birthday cake! By the end of 6 weeks, your brain will be buzzing with ideas about how to make the workplace better!

  9. Great job on this Sarah! I wish I have read this earlier this year. Even so, still this would come in handy. With a clear image of the position (management position in this matter), you'll have a much better idea of whether you're ready for the part and if it's the right suitable for you and your occupation. Among the hardest factors I found about being a manager is learning ways to properly inspire my group. In the beginning, it feels like individuals ought to just recognize just what they have to do– as well as do it. And even often, that actually does take place. However there's more to leadership than to aiding your staff members fulfill the minimal demands of their works. Your task is now to inspire your group to go above and even beyond, to finish their jobs with interest, and that can help their colleagues obtain their objectives.

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