Performance Management: Are Your First-Time Managers Overreacting?

As a first-time manager, you want to make a good first impression by demonstrating confidence and capability in managing the work of others. But new managers sometimes get over-invested in people and projects. As a result, they can overreact—getting too excited or upset when things don’t go exactly as planned.

Leadership expert Scott Blanchard, co-author of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new First-time Manager learning program, says new managers sometimes approach their first assignment with the same energy new parents have with their first child.

“I remember being a new parent—you worry about every little thing,” explains Blanchard. “Every sniffle is a trip to the emergency room. You find yourself freaking out all the time. But by the time you get to the second kid, you have a whole new perspective. And if you get to a third or fourth, the kids practically raise themselves because you’ve gained experience—you don’t overreact to things like you did before. New managers are sometimes like new parents in that regard.

“As you become experienced as a manager, you are able to respond on a scale that is appropriate. Your energy, tone, and actions are more nuanced. Managers who have been around for a while draw from a larger barrel of knowledge and experience than new managers. They tend to be more patient and calm when things don’t go as planned because they’ve seen it many times before.”

According to Blanchard, experience also teaches managers how to set things up with team members in the beginning so that performance management doesn’t become an emergency issue later on. Blanchard believes first-time managers need to be prepared for four types of conversations: goal setting—to establish performance expectations; praising—when things are going well; redirecting—when a mid-course correction is necessary; and wrapping up—bringing closure to a task or project. Each of these conversations can pose challenges for new managers.

“Many first-time managers find themselves behind the eight ball from the start because they don’t do a very good job with goal setting conversations. If goals aren’t clearly understood, everything slides from there.

“When goals are vague, people can easily get off track and their performance may require correction later on. This will take the form of a redirecting conversation. Managers also won’t have as many opportunities to catch people doing things right and have praising conversations if goals aren’t well established in the beginning.”

According to Blanchard, most new managers err on the side of not being clear or direct enough. This often happens when a new manager is promoted over a group of peers. New managers usually prefer to be seen as supportive, not overly directive. That approach can backfire as soon as the first project deadlines are in jeopardy or when performance standards aren’t being met.

“In our new program, we spend a lot of time on redirecting. When a new manager is not skilled at redirecting, they tend to be either unduly critical or so vague that the direct report walks away not sure what to do next.

“The proper way to tackle a redirecting conversation is to first share an observation and then listen. Use open ended inquiry questions to get the other person to talk about what is happening. Redirecting conversations are best when the direct report is doing most of the talking.”

The desire to be seen as supportive means that most new managers are better prepared to engage in praising conversations—but Blanchard still sees three areas for improvement.

“First, is the praising useful and specific? ‘You did a great job’ is not a praising conversation. You need to call out the person’s specific behavior and the positive impact it had. Second, give the person time to reflect on what they’ve achieved and allow them to internalize it, Your goal is to help them develop strategies for self-motivation. Finally, the biggest challenge with praising conversations is taking the time to have them. New managers often try to do too much all at once and don’t have an organized way to provide praising as often as they should.”

The last area Blanchard focuses on in the new First-time Manager program is helping new managers become more effective with wrapping up conversations. This area has broad appeal because of the growing realization in the HR community that annual performance reviews aren’t effective.

“Regarding wrapping up conversations, we teach new managers the importance of providing feedback on a frequent and consistent basis. We teach them how to bring projects to a end, celebrate success, and learn from mistakes. The wrapping up conversation allows managers to measure success, review performance, and keep things moving forward. This is not a once-a-year conversation. It has to happen often if you want good results.”

With skill training and practice, Blanchard believes new managers can get off to a much faster start than they would by using a typical trial and error approach. This can prevent overreactions that can damage a new manager’s reputation and effectiveness.

“As a manager, you need to react appropriately. If you overreact, people can lose respect for you and see you as less credible. It doesn’t do any good when the manager is the one who’s the most freaked out. By developing skills in goal setting, praising, redirecting, and wrapping up, new managers can equip themselves with the tools they need to get off to a great start in their managerial careers.”


Would you like to learn more about setting up your first-time managers for success?
Then join us for a free webinar!

First-time Manager: Performance Management Essentials

Wednesday, February 24, 2016, 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time

Join Scott Blanchard, co-author of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new First-time Manager program, as he shares the skills and techniques new managers need to master. Drawing from the design of the new program, Blanchard will share:

  • The three challenges all new managers face—managing self vs. managing others, moving from peer to manager, and developing soft skills in addition to hard skills
  • The four conversations all new managers need to master—goal setting, praising, redirecting, and wrapping up
  • The four communication skills all new managers need to develop—listening, inquiring, truth-telling, and endorsing

Making the jump from individual contributor to manager is exciting and challenging. Make sure your people get off to a great start in their first managerial role. Explore the essential education components that give your new managers their best chance for success.

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